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My Stuffing is Better Than Yours

By James Parker, November 9, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by James Parker
Every Thanksgiving, I brace for the inevitable “my stuffing is better than your stuffing” debate with my wife Erin. Growing up in the south, my stuffing is cornbread based. Hers is sourdough bread based, befitting of her Northern California upbringing. I’ve seen other changes in the Thanksgiving I remember as a kid — fresh cranberry relish replacing the red gelatin lump of my childhood, for example — but I have stubbornly remained loyal to the pecan cornbread stuffing of my youth, making it every year in honor of my southern roots. Talking about stuffing with others is an even broader exercise in diversity. I’ve found a great many commonalities, but even more differences that I have incorporated into my own recipe. The one thing all stuffing dishes share is copious amounts of fresh vegetables – a reality that has our produce buying office abuzz as we count down the days to Thanksgiving. Fennel, just before harvest Like roses for Valentine’s Day, the volume spike in key Thanksgiving vegetable staples is enormous. Sales in items like celery, fennel, green beans, mushrooms, potatoes and common herbs like parsley increase exponentially over a normal week’s movement in the four days leading up to Thanksgiving. Because of this, we have to plan further out in order to secure additional supply. A further complication is the change of seasons. Already we see some of the regional and local grower supplies shrink as shorter days and cooler nights take their toll on plant growth. Even in the warmer states where we typically grow our fall and winter produce, the threat of wet and unseasonable cold weather is always with us this time of year. Another seasonal challenge is Christmas trees — trees and other holiday greenery take a ton of trucks out of circulation, making the competition for what remains fierce. Thanksgiving celery in the field I’m fortunate to be able to meet almost all my Thanksgiving needs locally, even this late into the fall. My recipe for pecan cornbread stuffing has changed a bit since my great aunt Ce Belle made it, but it still has the basic ingredients:
Aunt Ce Belle’s Pecan Cornbread Stuffing: I package cornbread muffin mix – enough to make an 8x8” pie or cake pan (roughly a pound) Medium yellow or white onion (coarsely chopped) 1 fennel/anise bulb (top discarded – coarsely chopped) 3 tablespoons olive oil (or pecan oil if you can find it) 1 ½ cups celery (tops included, coarsely chopped) 2/3 cup curly parsley (chopped) ½ cup green onions (chopped) 3 tablespoons fresh thyme Salt and pepper to taste 1 small loaf of sourdough bread, cubed and dried (or 8 oz of your favorite pre-cut bag stuffing) 12 oz fresh pecans (coarsely chopped) Chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth
  • Bake your cornbread and set aside to cool then cube.
  • Meanwhile, in a large skillet combine the onion, fennel and oil and sauté for a few minutes and then add the celery, parsley, green onions, thyme, salt and pepper. Continue sautéing for a few more minutes, until the celery color gets deeper and the vegetables are well combined.
  • I like to roast my pecans briefly (2-3 minutes) to bring out the oils and the toasty flavor.
  • In a large mixing bowl combine your bread, cornbread, sautéed vegetables and pecans until well blended, adding the broth to whatever level of moisture level you prefer (I generally used an entire 14-oz can or two cups if I am making fresh turkey broth).
  • Stuff in bird or bake separately for 25-30 minutes, or until the top browns and gets crunchy.
I am proud to say I have made inroads converting Erin’s family to my southern stuffing style, but I’m really not trying very hard. Truth is, I like her northern California stuffing too — as well as all the other new and different things her family brings to our Thanksgiving table. What’s your favorite twist on traditional Thanksgiving dishes? Think your stuffing is better than mine? I would love to extend the "mine is best" challenge to everyone.




Jaclyn says ...
My family has a great stuffing recipe that is a Thanksgiving staple: oyster stuffing. There are oysters cooked right in with a batch of the regular stuffing. It is so good and is something a little different that everyone appreciates every year. Although, I'm not quite sure where the recipe or tradition started. My family is Italian and most family get-togethers have that traditional Italian-American theme. It might be a recipe harking back to that coastal town in Italy my great-grandparents came from...
11/09/2010 8:16:38 AM CST
Alan Cooper says ...
Sourdough. No oysters or sausage. NO fennel. Keep it simple. No crunchy stuff.
11/09/2010 12:52:27 PM CST
jonolan says ...
Aside from my not using fennel and tending to use diced turnips instead, our recipes are very similar. I guess there's no point in my entering the “mine is best” challenge. :-)
11/09/2010 12:56:03 PM CST
Mary Lynn C says ...
I am of Cuban ancestry and our dressing is traditionally a mix of ripe plantain and picadillo. The ripe plantain is boiled and mashed and mixed with the picadillo, which is kind of a Cuban version of the Sloppy Joe. My mom would not use this only for turkey at Thanksgiving, but for chicken during the rest of the year. Some Cubans stuff their turkey with congri, which is a mix of black beans and white rice, cooked together. Both are yummy variations on the regular bread/cornbread stuffing route. Happy eating!!!
11/09/2010 12:57:09 PM CST
SusieBee says ...
Everything I'm trying for the past few years is around "healthifying" traditional recipes. Tested a light version of a great pumpkin cheesecake dessert-got rave reviews and it really cut down the calories and fat from a more traditional version. http://eatlittleeatbig.blogspot.com/2010/11/recipe-for-light-pumpkin-cheesecake.html
11/09/2010 1:06:27 PM CST
Donna says ...
I am from the south and I never had it with pecans. However, one twist you may like to try instead of cranberries try peaches. They are delicious with the dressing. Would love to see her receipe too just to compare. I once had dressing with oysters in it. I don't really care for oysters so I was a bit shy of trying it but I gave it a try and it was delicious! It was a lady from LA that brought it to a party as a potluck you barely knew there were oysters. Haven't seen or heard of a receipe for it and unfortunately she had left by the time I got the nerve to try it.
11/09/2010 3:40:15 PM CST
Linda Lorenzo says ...
This is also a (far) northern Californian stuffing recipe via my Aussie mother - Crumbley Bread Dressing - (it does not get all glooey, sticky). Saute: 1 1/8 cup butter (no counting of calories on holidays) 3/4 cup chopped onion 1/4 cup chopped celery Add to: 18 cups day old bread cut in 1/2 inch cubes,crusts removed (please none of that pre-packaged stuff)that have been tossed with 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1 tsp sage, 2 shakes of nutmeg. Add to above: 1/2 lb mild Italian sausage salt & pepper to taste (I admit the salt) Stuff turkey or cook separately. If it seems to be too dry add some broth from the broth you are making for the gravy. If you have any left (we actually increase this recipe as we are stuffing fanatics) it makes a great crust for a turkey quiche.
11/09/2010 4:50:34 PM CST
Linda Lorenzo says ...
oops forgot to say saute & drain sausage before adding to the Crumbley Bread Stuffing (above)
11/09/2010 4:52:41 PM CST
Lizzy says ...
I prefer cornbread stuffing to the sourdough stuffing until today..Whatever changes have occurred we sometimes tend to stick to our old times...
11/11/2010 9:59:58 AM CST
Batya says ...
My Stuffing is Better than Yours VEGAN STUFFING Saute in Olive Oil: Onions, Carrots, Celery. Garlic, Sea Salt & fresh ground black pepper. Chop up whatever leftover vegetables you have in the fridge. Chopped Walnuts. Handful of dried currants. Handful chopped parsley. Bread Cubes. Herbs - whatever you like: ie: sage, savory, dill, thyme... Cup of Vegetable stock or broth. Dash of sherry wine, Tamari. Taste for seasoning... correct seasoning. Either bake by itself, or stuff into squash: par-cooked Acorn, or smallish Hubbard squash and bake until done.
11/11/2010 10:02:29 AM CST
Kim M. says ...
You didn't state an oven temp. if baking separately. What do you recommend?
11/11/2010 11:20:03 AM CST
bepkom says ...
350 degrees will usually do the trick if you're baking it separately. Just be sure to keep in mind that oven temperatures can vary slightly. Enjoy!
11/11/2010 11:21:13 AM CST
cookie says ...
My family does corn bread stuffing with sausage and lots of shitake mushrooms. home made cornbread is a must with the usual celery and onions. although stuffing the bird is yummiest we now buy extra drum sticks and put them on top of the stuffing while baking. this give moisture and yummy turkey taste without taking moisture out of the bird.
11/11/2010 6:52:59 PM CST
Marcy Raykowski says ...
Our family grew up on cracker stuffing. We just love it and it is the best. This was passed down from our dad who made it for us when we were growing up. And as adults we now make it. Our dad came from Poland and perhaps got the recipe from his mother. You put celery, onions, etc., in it just as you do for the bread stuffing.
11/12/2010 4:50:44 PM CST
Katharyn J Fletcher says ...
Mom Fletcher's bestest stuffing recipe ever FYI - if it's in the bird - it's stuffing - if not it's dressing - We ate it from IN the bird for over 50 years and no one got sick... I'm just saying Ingredients 1-2 loaves cheap sandwich white bread that's NOT Wonder Bread - you know - the stuff that's on sale for Thanksgiving 2 med or one large cooking onion - white or yellow - 1/4 inch diced - must be fresh - dried onion NOT ok 1 bunch celery with tops = 1/4 inch diced 1 bunch fresh parsley - stems removed and finely minced 6-8 fresh sage leaves - finely minced - or 2-3 tsp. poultry seasoning or Bell seasoning - or fresh sage AND seasoning 2 eggs beaten 1 can good chicken stock or homemage stock 2 cups 1 stick butter or margarine Salt and pepper to taste Directions: night before or early morning of T-Day: tear bread into 1/2 inch cubes- crusts are ok to leave on - dont be too anal about the size. Spread on large cookie sheet and let dry out overnight or in low oven until slightly stale. In large skillet: melt stick of butter or margarine - saute onion and celery til just slightly softened. Do NOT allow to brown. In large mixing bowl - add sauted onion celery and butter to bread cubes - add minced parsley, beaten egg, salt, pepper and sage or poultry seasoning and just enough chicken broth or stock to moisten slightly - mix gently but thooughly with hands Stuff the body cavity of the turkey and the neck cavity and secure skin over the neck cavity with a skewer to hold in the stuffing. Whatever doesn't fit put into a casserole dish and bake for the last 45 min to an hour with the turkey or separately . Really really good leftover and really really really good on a sammy with leftover turkey and cranberry sauce on a hot or cold turkey sammy. You're Welcome
11/12/2010 7:47:12 PM CST
melissa says ...
I think your family should make both versions, they both sound delicious.
11/12/2010 10:14:15 PM CST
Patricia Kirby says ...
I grew up with the traditional sage dressing but as I started a catering business I needed to make something very memorable to advance my business I came up with several versions on the time honored dressing and lets be honest this IS the dish that is waited for all year when it comes to Thanksgiving. You can have dressing all year but it never tastes as good as it does on Thanksgiving.
11/13/2010 5:16:10 AM CST
Jamie says ...
Turkey Quiche!? That sounds delicious!
11/13/2010 2:33:08 PM CST
nancy kruse says ...
Looking for the packaged cranberry stuffing by Chatham. Do you know where I can find it?
11/14/2010 6:34:55 PM CST
Jan says ...
I make my stuffing with half pepperidge farm herb stuffing, an half pepperidge farm cornbread or sourdough both are good. I suate in olive oil 1/2 medium yellow onion with 2 stalks cellery till soft then add to stuffing. I also saute fresh mushrooms till soft then add, they keep the stuffing most. I put manderine orange slices drained an cut into 3's. I use 2 teaspoons sage, an home made chiken broth to stuffing about 2 cups. Bake at 350 for 30 mins an um um um good. The smell in our home is the wow factor. It taste so good you won't believe it till you taste.
11/15/2010 1:21:54 PM CST
Wags says ...
Here's a simple tip. Use a crock pot for your stuffing on whatever family recipe you use. Buy Turkey stock and use that as your liquid. It is available this time of year. Use the low setting. Do a trial run to see how long your stuffing recipe takes and then Thanksgiving morning will be easier. You might have to add more liquid, but that is trial and error. I love real turkey stuffing and you will find your stuffing tastes almost as good as real stuffing in a turkey. It simulates the cooking atmosphere a stuffed bird has. Plus you don't wind up over compacting stuffing in a bird and don't suffer oven baked pan turkey stuffing problem of being dried at the edges.It is so easy and you can us a thermometer to insure it is cooked high enough and done. Without stuffing in a turkey it cooks quicker and won't over-roast. And it is safer. Happy Thanksgiving!
11/15/2010 2:46:50 PM CST
david says ...
Stuffing is not an easy thing but thanks for making it easier. Kudos.
11/15/2010 3:55:27 PM CST
Joann says ...
My dressing is similar but different, and it changes a bit from year to year. I usually cheat and start with a mix, one cornbread based and one herbed, some good chicken broth, either boxed or homemade if I have any handy, then add freshly sauted onions & celery, sometimes mushrooms, then something for sweetness, chopped sauted apples or pears, and dried or fresh cranberries. Left to my own devices, I'd probably experiment more with fruits (oranges w/ cranberries & pecans sounds awesome) and veggies, but the family wants a consistant recipe (with no mushrooms for the kids' version). I might try adding the pecans this year!
11/16/2010 10:14:22 PM CST
Jessica says ...
Nothing is better than the good ol' southern style cornbread stuffing. Thanksgiving is all about comfort food and family-both of which are a very big deal here in the south. Love from Austin, Tx
11/17/2010 6:07:38 PM CST
marsha says ...
I have never made cornbread stuffing and am a bit anxious because my stuffing has always been popular. However, I have become gluten sensitive and I waould like to try cornbread. Why do most of the cornbread stuffing recipes that I see also require another bread in addition to the cornbread? Is it necessary? Thanks, Marsha
11/17/2010 8:47:38 PM CST