Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I was a deprived child: My parents made me eat green leafy vegetables, low-sugar cereals, and worst of all, bread made with twigs and berries.

My dear departed grandmother fixed me sandwiches on white bread with iceberg lettuce. My aunt gave me Honey Smacks cereal for breakfast, which had at least a day's worth of sugar per serving. But they both lived on the East Coast, and we only traveled there a few times during my childhood, so my malnourishment, practically, dragged on for years between visits.

     All this depravity made me love Thanksgiving, and not just for the almost-burned marshmallows (read: sugar) on top of the sweet potatoes. See, my mother bought white bread once a year: the week of Thanksgiving. She used it to make the stuffing that was fought over in our house, and she would leave it out overnight, uncovered, to let it get a little stale before tearing it into pieces for the stuffing. There were always fewer pieces of bread on Thanksgiving morning than there were the night before, since I would steal a piece or three and either eat it plain, or make The Quintessential Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. Or both. Except of course we didn't have Quintessential American Peanut Butter in the house, since it is filled with sugar and stabilizers, so I had to make do with Earthy Crunchy All-Natural With Oil That Rises to the Top and Stains Your Shirt When You Stir It Peanut Butter.

Pumpkins are appearing everywhere, November issues of magazines are out with their plethora of ideas for Thanksgiving, and I made a pumpkin pie the other day, so I was inspired to do a little trial run this month in preparation for next month. Plus, I had some chestnuts waiting to be used and happened to come across a recipe for stuffing that included chestnuts, so clearly the stuffing stars were aligned. The recipe was actually for cornbread stuffing, but all I had was blue cornmeal, which creates a grayish batter (and bread). And truth be told, it was probably past its prime, so I decided to use white bread instead. I purchased the loaf in the late afternoon, and naturally was hungry as I drove around town running a few more errands, so the loaf was noticeably smaller by the time I got home. However, I have learned through careful study over the years just how many pieces I can inhale while still leaving enough for the stuffing, so all was not lost.

My mother's stuffing was a slightly odd mix of influences, yet worked somehow: onions and celery (but no carrots, so not a true mirepoix), sauteed mushrooms, lots of butter and broth, parsley, and water chestnuts. Yes, water chestnuts. They added a bit of crunch, but not a jolt, which my mother deemed necessary to balance the mush that the white bread turned into. I've recreated her stuffing before, and liked it, but I wanted to try something a little different. But not as different as, say, persimmon stuffing, which I've also tried before and didn't like. At all.

The recipe I was halfheartedly following called for mirepoix, plus apples and chestnuts, along with a little parsley and the butter and broth I was used to. The chestnuts were a pain to prepare, since the inner skins didn't come off easily, and they were a bit chalky in the cooked stuffing, so I either didn't pre-cook them well enough or they had been sitting in the produce section for too long. Next time I will try jarred chestnuts, since their flavor is lovely. I really liked the apple bits, and the carrots gave color and texture to the stuffing, so those may make an appearance next month as well. And of course, my beloved white bread anchored the whole thing so nicely, just as I knew it would.

The cardinal rule of stuffing seems to be Add Whatever Floats Your Boat, be it water chestnuts or corn bread or sausage or mushrooms. Or persimmons. Which I love, but not in stuffing. While I don't know the exact evolution of stuffing, I would guess that on the first Thanksgiving or two, there were some ingredients that needed to get used up, and so creating an absorbent edible layer inside the bird that caught all those fatty yet flavorful juices was just perfect. Just like my mom's stuffing. And mine. And yours.

Technically, this is dressing, not stuffing, but I just can't bring myself to put it inside a raw bird. Salmonella and I are not friends.

A trial run just isn't a trial run without cranberry sauce. Or marshmallows.

NB: Fortunately I have about 5 pieces of white bread left over, which are waiting in the freezer for the perfect occasion to be eaten.  Such as after I eat the green leafy vegetables in my fridge. Or a bowl of low-sugar granola. Or a sandwich with Twig-and-Berry Bread. With natural peanut butter, of course.

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