Thanks for the dressing
When I was growing up, my Mom was in charge of making the pies and the dressing or Thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa Dennison’s house.
Thanksgiving was always a big deal for our family. We spent the day at their home — mostly at 515 N. Central when we were growing up. All our Dennison cousins would be there and we’d play indoors or outdoors — if the weather permitted.
What I remember about Mom’s stuffing was the smell of sage and poultry seasoning as she mixed it together and then baked it the next morning. I grew up thinking that everyone was eating the same stuffing my Mom prepared.
Boy was I wrong!
There’s no way of knowing whether the Pilgrims actually served stuffing at their original harvest feat. But given the abundance of both wild game and rice, it’s likely the first Thanksgiving dinner featured some kind of bird with a wild rice dish alongside it. New Englanders continued to take cues from their environment when it came to stuffing, and chestnuts became a popular addition. Boston cookbooks gave recipes for oyster-based stuffings — with and without breadcrumbs. Thrifty Mennonite mothers, meanwhile, used up mountains of leftover mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. Perhaps the least known of all stuffing varieties, it contains both mashed potatoes and stale bread, along with plenty of butter, to create a dish often served as a casserole alongside the bird.
This talk of “stuffing” and “filling” would be sacrilegious to Southern cooks, who insist that “dressing” be served — and that this dressing be cornbread-based. The name of the dish first appeared when Victorian sensibilities took offense at the blunter term “stuffing” in the 1850s. The moniker stuck in the South, where the dish made use of a staple of traditional tables: cornbread. Pork was often added, either in bacon form or, more commonly, as salt pork. Since many Southern cooks had plenty of stale biscuits to spare, a biscuit-based dressing became standard in parts of the Deep South.
In the American West, cooks developed their own stuffing recipes, blending traditions from the South and North to create new delicious dishes. San Franciscans took advantage of all their leftover sourdough, creating a bread base that added a tang to the turkey. Cooks in the Pacific Northwest used seafood in stuffing, adding not just oysters but clams and mussels, too. The recipe below is an updated look at a traditional San Franciscan one, complete with sourdough and a double apple punch in the form of chicken apple sausage and diced Granny Smiths.
My late husband, Don, loved Thanksgiving and everything about it. The first time I tasted his dressing, I said, “This doesn’t taste like my Mom’s.” He laughed and informed me no one made dressing like he did.
The Thanksgiving dressing was his pride and joy. There was no recipe written down because Don had made it so many times it was instinct. The basics were the same as other dressings — Pepperidge Farm herb seasoned and cornbread stuffing, celery, onion, eggs, giblets and pieces of turkey from the neck and Bob Evans sage sausage — definitely not the dressing of my childhood.
When we lived in Savannah, Ga., I tasted stuffing that included cranberries, brown rice, wild rice, walnuts, pecans, sourdough biscuits and, of course, oysters. When you have that experience you realize just like our country, Thanksgiving is as different as our regions and backgrounds.
For Don, the entire Thanksgiving feast was prepared for one reason — to enjoy the stuffing, gravy and turkey. Oh, he’d eat my homemade cranberry sauce and pumpkin or pecan pie, but he couldn’t wait to dig in to the stuffing, gravy and turkey. It made him happy.
Our last Thanksgiving together — just a little over a month before he died — we cooked together in our beautiful kitchen in our home at 39th and Drayton. Don had designed the kitchen with the help of a designer at Home Depot. That Thanksgiving in 2008 was the only time I tried — unsuccessfully — to get him to share his dressing recipe with me.
To this day, I’ve never been able to replicate his dressing and believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve come to realize part of the magic of Thanksgiving are the memories of the food, smells and people we love — whether they are still with us or not.
I’m sharing some of my favorite dressing recipes — including one that is the closest to Don’s dressing. I’d love to hear what your favorite dressing recipe. Email them to me!