No denying it, Americans love the bread-based side dish integral to the Thanksgiving feast. Whether baked in a casserole dish or stuffed inside the bird, we want it just the way we remember it from our childhood.
Holidays conjure vivid memories of happy times, and food always plays a role. Each year as I plan my Thanksgiving menu, I ask everyone what favorite foods they would like to see on the table. My Southern-style cornbread dressing — the kind Granny and Aunt Mary taught me to make — always outranks the turkey. To vary the recipe, even slightly, would surely be risking a riot.
Historically speaking, as the United States expanded, settlers got their first taste of regional staples, and European immigrants all brought their favorite flavors to this uniquely American holiday. To find oysters in your stuffing would not have been so different at the historic first Thanksgiving feast. Oysters and other types of shellfish were common stuffing ingredients in Britain and across Europe as a complement to fowl, fish and game. Oyster dressing continues to enjoy favored status in New England and eastern coastal states, while cornbread rules the South.
The Pennsylvania Dutch use potatoes in their stuffing, which they call “filling,” while dressing in the southwestern states takes on a spicier tone. For Italians, it’s Italian sausage, pancetta, and even pasta. It’s really about what you like.
Change is difficult, but this year I’m going to risk a family feud by breaking out of my Southern roots. This holiday season, I’m going to take the small step of baking my stuffing inside the turkey. (If you do the same, be sure the center of the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165 F for food safety reasons.) As an additional side, I may try a little oyster stuffing, just to see how it goes over.
As my New Year’s resolution, I vow to try a few new recipes. After all, dressing and stuffing are good year-round with many types of meats, so there’s no reason to reserve this side dish for the holidays. Who knows? Maybe I’ll discover a favorite recipe and create a new family tradition. I think Granny and Aunt Mary would be proud.
• Classic Cornbread Dressing Recipe
• Onion & Oyster Stuffing Recipe
• Southwestern-Style Dressing Recipe
• Cranberry Relish Recipe
• Pennsylvania Dutch Recipe for Potato Filling
• Italian Dressing Recipe for Thanksgiving
Check out Grit’s roundup of holiday recipes sure to please any palate.
Carole Howell is from North Carolina. She enjoys writing and grows muscadine grapes and blueberries. She helps coordinate her county’s local apple festival every year.