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 harvestLike 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 fieldI’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 thymeSalt and pepper to taste1 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.