A tradition I could not go through the season without . . . because my house would just not smell right at Thanksgiving unless my Grandma’s stuffing, buttery, sagey, oniony, was roasting in the oven. I love to open the door and come into the kitchen from the cold outdoors just to smell that wonderful smell. It takes a little bit of preparation for this recipe, so I thought I’d remind you about it now, to give you time to think about if you’d like to try it this year. Unless you already have a traditional stuffing that your family could not live without! Then, of course, forget about this!
You can find the recipe on page 64 of my Autumn Book — but it’s so easy, with so few ingredients, here it is in a nutshell:
The way my mom did it . . . I remember her, three days before Thanksgiving, laying the bread out on cookie sheets; putting the pans on top of the hutch, on the washing machine, anywhere my seven brothers and sisters and dogs couldn’t get at it. Nowadays, I set up my ironing board in my pantry and it works perfectly. The bread is the plain, cheap stuff; get two loaves of white, one loaf of brown. For three days, I turn the slices in the morning and before I go to bed at night. I want them to be hard as rocks. Fancy bread and/or trying to dry them in the oven does not work. Packaged bread crumbs don’t work either. This is very old-fashioned way of doing it; my grandma’s mom made it this way too. ♥
You need a big bowl, preferably the kind you remember from your childhood.
My Grandma always came the day before Thanksgiving . . . on Thanksgiving morning, the bread would be ready; she and my mom, and now me, fill our clean kitchen sinks with the hottest water our hands can stand, about six inches of water, and then, one at a time, we dip each slice of bread in the water, and immediately wring it out. You can see my finger marks in the bread above. It gets thick and chunky, doughy, chewy; you break it up, just a tiny bit, not too much, into chunks and bite-sized pieces.
When you’ve done all the bread, you melt 2 sticks of butter in a large skillet, then slowly sauté six stalks of chopped celery and three medium chopped onions until softened . . .
While that’s happening you take an entire jar of dried sage leaves (not ground), and do what my mom and Grandma taught me to do: pour a little into the palm of your hand and rub it together over the top of the bread bowl; then, before you drop it in, look at it closely and discard any large or woody stems. Continue rubbing the sage until you use the whole jar. Then pour your onions and butter over the bread and, using your hands, being careful not to burn yourself, mix it all together well. Now the tasting, which at our house was a family affair, I think half of it was eaten while we were tasting! My dad was the final judge: He always knew . . . more sage? More butter? Salt, oh yes! It needs to be just a little bit salty, the turkey will absorb it . . .
You can add any other ingredients you want to make this your own; people always ask me if they can, and yes, I’m sure it would be delicious with cooked sausage, apples, nuts, oysters, or prunes, if you are of that ilk; but we have never done that and never would, because we are stuck in our ways; we like it plain and simple; the texture is glorious; with gravy, it’s pure poetry. Have it your way, as the song goes, because tradition requires that you make yourself happy!
I miss my grandma very much; she was my friend. See that ring on my finger? She gave that to me for my thirtieth birthday; I’d been trying to pull it off her hand since I was two and she finally gave up. She’s in heaven now, but when I smell her cookies baking, or her stuffing roasting on Thanksgiving Day, she’s here.♥ And that is why family food is so important, and why traditions mean so much.