Dressing? Stuffing? Oysters? Sausage? White Castle?

Spent a good part of the morning getting rid of the markups and track changes in a Word document. I did not invite them, and it was beyond annoyance to evict them.

This entry is not one of the food, food, food items I had in mind yesterday in yesterday’s blog, but the issue surfaces every year, so I thought it would be worth exploring. As Turkey Day nears, I’m again pondering dressing vs. stuffing, and the varied contents of said accompaniments.

The consensus seems to be that geography determines the terminology. North of the Mason-Dixon line, it is generally stuffing, and it includes bread, celery, and onion with a heavy dose of herbs. It is always cooked inside the turkey, food scares notwithstanding. South of the M-D line, it is called dressing and often contains cornbread or oysters or other exotica local to the area.

One person on Chow Hound said in Amish country it was called “filling,” which I vaguely remember from visits to the food counters operated by the Plain People at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.

These descriptions of stuffing and dressing are gross generalizations of course. Several Hounders had a great theory: It’s stuffing if it goes inside the bird, dressing if it doesn’t, even if the ingredients are identical. I wish the other folks had indicated where they were writing from, or at least the origins of their families when they voted for one or the other.

A history of the terms suggests that it was all called stuffing until the Victorians decided the word wasn’t delicate enough for their sensibilities, so the term “dressing” came into vogue.

All this theory is fine, but the contents are what’s important. I don’t know what our family did in the early years, but by the time I became aware of Thanksgiving cooking, my mom always started with Pepperidge Farm stuffing (not dressing) and then added ridiculous amounts of butter, in which she sautéed onions and celery, added some sage, thyme and whatever. I think she used chicken broth to moisten it, but usually the stick (or more) of butter took care of any dryness. As noted, the stuffing always went inside the bird, though whatever didn’t fit in the bird went in the oven when the turkey was almost done. Even though we lived an area that should have used oysters, we avoided them. When I was a kid, there was a serious ban on shellfishing because the Sound was so polluted. I am happy to report that Connecticut blue-points are back, but I still haven’t tasted a turkey stuffing with oysters.

Daddy said when he was growing up in New Iberia, Louisiana, his family ate turkey for Thanksgiving. I don’t remember that he ever declared in the stuffing/dressing issue. He did say they always had goose for Christmas with an oyster-cornbread stuffing. I’m going to have to try that sometime, even if I don’t eat the goose.

Of course regional variations abound. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that California recipes might include wild mushrooms and chestnuts, or even artichokes (yum!) in a base of sourdough bread (double yum). Southern recipes might substitute rice for cornbread, with ham or tasso and maybe chicken livers. (That’s getting awfully close to Dirty Rice, which would probably make a good stuffing.)

Other possibilities include the addition of apples and dried fruit, which seems to be duplicating the contents of mince pie. And the Spiced Apple-Sausage Stuffing with Cranberries and Brandy horns in on the mince pie and the cranberry sauce. On the other hand, Lemon Barley Stuffing with Shiitakes, Hazelnuts and Chive Butter sounds fabulous if a bit light on the flavorings to stand up to the turkey.

The weirdness increases with a recipe that calls for 18 White Castle hamburgers, and one from Epicurious that includes red mustard greens and currant and another called Aloo Gobhi Stuffing with potatoes, cauliflower and curry powder. This last one seems a bit of a disconnect since the recipe is clearly from India – shouldn’t those folks be celebrating their liberation from the Brits and not the Brits’ conquest of the Native Americans in the New World? In that same list the recipe with crawfish and collard greens (called “stuffing” I note) sounds fabulous – I’d skip the bacon. Ditto with the artichoke and Parm cheese, minus the sausage.

I’ll provide my recipe for vegetarian (not vegan) Thanksgiving tomorrow, after the onions and mushrooms have sautéed, the rice has steamed  and the soybeans have pressure-cooked.

One Response to “Dressing? Stuffing? Oysters? Sausage? White Castle?”

  1. 2010 in review « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] Dressing? Stuffing? Oysters? Sausage? White Castle? November 2009 […]

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