Saturday, November 22, 2008

You Want Me To Put My Hand Up What?!!

Stuffing. Some call it "dressing", but I can't figure out why. All I know is that in order to prepare this stuff (no pun intended) and make it taste as yummy as possible you must stuff your hand up a turkey's ***. Or as my 8 year old would say, "Up his donkey."

And where did this weird stuff originate anyway? I found some neat online trivia on the history of stuffing. It appears that people have been "stuffing" foods, namely animals, for EVER. Ok, for years. But ever has such a nice ring to it. Apparently stuffing a turkey for Thanksgiving really caught on once Stove Top made it possible to do it very simply and cheaply. Thank you Ruth Siems.

The Victorians, I read, were not all that happy with the "improper" sounding term stuffing. They are the ones who decided to call it dressing. (Who knew?) It was originally called farce, from the Latin farcire (see #6 in the link on farce). I particularly like the term forcemeat. As in, force the meat up the animal's donkey - if you catch my drift.

Although I do not agree with any stuffing recipe (for Thanksgiving, or any other holiday meal for that matter) that calls for meat in the stuffing. I prefer, as my family has gently pounded into my preferences for 20+ years, a simple, yet eloquent, stuffing. No need to "change it up." No trying to "one up" last year's stuffing. No folks, holidays are made with simplicity of tradition. And in our house, that tradition involves not f'ing up the stuffing.

I will never forget the year that my mom let her sister-in-law bring the stuffing. It was the last year she ever let anyone help with food, ever. There were, I am not kidding, water chestnuts in the stuffing. Water Chestnuts. In. The. Stuffing. I shall not comment much more about this horrible memory.

But just for nostalgia's sake, imagine you are eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Turkey. Mashed Potatoes. Gravy from a jar. Green Bean Casserole. Sweet Potatoes. Canned Cranberry Sauce, in the shape of the can. Homemade Stuffing. Savory, smooth, salty, satisfying, er....ow!! What the heck was that? Why is there something crunchy in my stuffing? Did I just lose a filling? You put what in the stuffing? Water chestnuts? Aren't those traditionally used in Chinese cooking? Do I look Chinese? Do they roast turkey's in China and serve them on the fourth Thursday in November?

Oh it was fun let me tell you.

Of course, I have lots of other *fun* Thanksgiving memories involving food screw ups. Years, and years let me tell you, after the Water Chestnut Incident, as it's referred to in my family, came the Mouthwash Mashed Potatoes. Would you like to know how those three words got strung together?

Well, my mother has always been a pretty good cook when it comes to Thanksgiving. It was one of the very few times during the year when I was growing up that she cooked a meal, so we were very happy to have it. Not only that, but really, it was good.

As the years went on she kept cooking this meal but she also began another tradition with Thanksgiving - getting completely sloshed the night before. Most years this was no big deal. But the year in question she had apparently stayed out a little too late. Like until the sun came up the next day.

She had invited me and my husband (now, but not at the time) over for Thanksgiving. It was the very first time she would be meeting her future son-in-law back in that first year when we were living in sin. Unfortunately, she was a bit drunk, er...hungover, when she started dinner.

Anyway, my future husband, being the gentleman he is, took large servings of every dish offered. My brother and I were at the table with him, my mom exhausted and laying on the couch. My brother and I began to eat and both immediately stopped. We gave each other "the look" and knew there was something terribly wrong with the meal.

My husband cleaned his plate, smacked his lips, and graciously complemented my mom on the wonderful food and asked for seconds. My brother and I looked at him like he was nuts. He winked at us and said, "The mashed potatoes are so thin and watered down I could rinse my mouth out with them, " as he turned to the stove to get more. We broke into hysterical laughter while he kept this totally straight face. It was so bad I almost peed my pants.

My brother and I asked him, out of my mother's earshot, why he was going back for more. Clearly, in the absence of my mother's sanity, she had boiled the potatoes too long and then added way too much milk before mashing. He said, "Gotta make her feel good, first impression and all. Now give me that shaker of pepper. I'm going to need the whole thing to get another serving of these down."

We now compare, in absence of my mother of course, all bad food to the Mouthwash Mashed Potatoes. We are an odd bunch I tell you.

Included for you holiday viewing and tasting is my family's stuffing recipe, credited to my Grandfather:

Bread, white, cheap, torn into pieces
Butter, melted
Onions, chopped
Celery, chopped

Mix together by hand, preferably little 3 to 6 year old hands, and shove up turkey's donkey.

**For those of you who may actually try this and want a more "serious" version of the recipe and instructions:

1 loaf of bread per 8 lbs. of bird. (So, for example, 1 1/2 loaves for a 12 lb. bird.)
1 lb. of melted butter per loaf of bread.

Tear up the bread and put it into a big bowl. Chop up some onion, however much you like. 2 medium sized is usually what I do. Chop up 3-4 stalks of celery. I like to include the leafy parts, they have lots of flavor. My family of origin did not do that. Add celery and onion to bowl with bread. Sprinkle with pepper and salt. Melt butter over low heat on stove top. Pour down over bread, celery, onion, salt, and pepper. Mix together by hand. I like to let the kids do this because it's very fun and messy. Shove up turkey's donkey. Cook turkey according to Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook poultry directions for turkey roasting with stuffing. :)


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