by Betty Thompson

Two cooks given the same ingredients can create quite different products.
Photo by B randi Easter

" The turkey should be cooped up. Three days before it is slaughtered, it should have an English walnut forced down its throat three times a day and a glass of sherry once a day. The meat will be deliciously tender, and have a fine nutty flavor."

Mrs. Stephen J. Field's 1890 advice for turkey stuffing in Stateman's Dishes and How to Cook Them is probably not what you had in mind.

Stuffings and dressings as we call them, or forcemeat as they were called in old cookbooks, are simply well-seasoned mixtures used to stuff meat, fish, fowl and a variety of vegetables. (The word forcemeat comes from the French farcir, "to stuff.")

Recipes from 17th and 18th century cookbooks included corn bread, sausage and sage; bread crumbs, chestnuts, onion, celery and savory; bread, ground toasted almonds with cream, stiffly beaten egg whites and nutmeg; bread, mushrooms, hard boiled eggs, salted pecans and sherry. The recipes this month are a mixture of old and new.

Mom's Sage Dressing is a tested winner. But how about Wild Rice and Filberts? This stuffing is a mix of textures, with brown rice, mushrooms, prunes and sausage. Try Italian, basil-garlic or chicken-apple sausage or toasted almonds and dried apricots in place of the prunes and filberts. I like to use the meaty portabello mushrooms.

Southwestern Stuffing served on rounds of acorn squash is a variation of an old theme. Bacon, hot green chilies, fresh corn, creamed corn and salsa along with cumin and sage spice up the corn bread. If you'd like more heat and a good smoky flavor, add one minced chipotle pepper.

Recipes for stuffing can lose a lot in the production. Two cooks given the same recipe can create quite different products. Variations occur with choice of bread, size of pieces, degree of dryness, coarseness of vegetables, quality and quantity of broth, and amount of mixing.

Here are a few words of stuffing advice:

My mother always stuffed the turkey. This requires careful handling, i.e., stuffing the bird just before putting it in the oven and removing all of it as soon as the turkey comes out of the oven to avoid unfriendly bacterial growth. Or you can bake the dressing in a casserole.

Use the giblets and turkey broth in the dressing to enhance the flavor. In place of the dressing, stuff a peeled onion, several stalks of celery and cored apple pieces in the turkey to flavor it and the pan juices for the gravy.

Stuffing is a feast essential (at least for some of us) that can be made as you like it.


Mom's Sage Dressing

To vary this traditional recipe, add 1/2 cup walnuts and 1 diced, tart apple.
2 pounds white bread (French)
2 quarts turkey broth (from boiling giblets and neck)
1/4 pound margarine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
2 eggs, beaten
1 large onion, ground
5 stalks celery, ground
1 carrot, shredded
Giblets and neck meat (if desired)

Several days ahead, tear fresh bread into one-inch pieces and let dry on cookie sheets. Simmer giblets and neck in hot water for an hour or until tender. Remove meat and finely chop or grind, reserve stock.

To one quart of the stock add melted margarine, seasonings and beaten eggs. Keep the other quart plain for adjusting the amount of liquid needed to wet the bread.

Place bread in a large bowl, top with ground giblets and ground vegetables. Add the quart of seasoned broth and toss all ingredients together lightly, taking care not to mash the bread. Add only enough remaining broth to moisten the bread sufficiently.

Mix as little as possible. Stuff in turkey or place in a buttered 9-by-13 baking dish and bake one hour at 375°. Makes approximately enough for a 12-pound turkey.


Wild Rice and Filbert Stuffing

11/2 cups short-grain brown rice
1/2 cup wild rice
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound link sausage, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup filberts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pitted prunes, cut in half
1/2 cup finely minced parsley
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Wash wild rice and combine with brown rice and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat, cover and cook for 50 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand another 10 minutes.

Sauté sausage and drain excess fat. Add onion, garlic and mushrooms and sauté until tender. Gently toss rice, sautéed sausage and vegetables and remaining ingredients. Stuff the turkey or place in a buttered casserole dish and reheat 30 minutes at 375°.


Southwest Stuffing

3 medium acorn squash
1 pan corn bread (8-by-8), any favorite recipe
4 strips diced bacon
1 onion, chopped
2 Anaheim green chilies, seeded and chopped
1 cup corn
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1/2 cup fresh salsa (Casa Lindra is good)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
one 8 1/4-ounce can cream style corn
11/4 cups chicken stock
2 eggs
Olive slices for garnish

Pierce whole acorn squash to the center with a paring knife. Microwave eight to 10 minutes depending on the size of the squash, or place on a baking sheet and bake at 375° for about 45 minutes.

Cool slightly. Cut an inch off the stem end. Cut two or three slices crosswise about one and one-half inches thick. The number depends on the squash size and serving size. Remove seeds with a spoon. Place rings on a greased baking sheet, brush with butter.

Prepare corn stuffing mix. Sauté bacon and drain excess fat. Add onion and peppers and sauté until tender. Add corn, cumin, sage, salsa and pumpkin seeds. Crumble corn bread coarsely.

Mix eggs, cream corn and chicken stock together, and add to bread along with sauteed vegetables. Mix gently until combined. Fill each squash round, mounding the mixture. Bake in 375° oven about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Garnish with sliced olives. Bake any leftover stuffing in a dish.

Betty Thompson is a food writer, traveller and teacher of local cooking classes.

The North Coast Journal Table of Contents