We’re a nation of division these days. This Thanksgiving, let’s call out one division and lay the blame where it belongs:
Yes, the home of Betty Crocker, bad breakfast cereals and canned biscuits is the reason we can’t agree on the most basic part of our national Thanksgiving meal — dressing vs. stuffing.
People, this argument has history and it definitely has regional underpinnings.
But the confusion around the debate? I am laying that right at the factory door of General Mills, and the invention of Stove Top Stuffing.
Being a daughter of Georgia, there was no confusion about what went with turkey in our house. It was dressing, whether it was made with cornbread or bread, whether it went inside the bird or beside it. Dressing wasn’t just something you had at Thanksgiving, either: It might go inside and around a roast chicken for Sunday dinner, or under a pork chop at a diner. We always had leftover cornbread and biscuits hanging around, and my people were a frugal tribe.
The first time I heard the word “stuffing” associated with anything besides pillows was a TV commercial, circa 1972: It was for a new product, something mysterious called “Stove Top Stuffing.”
Stuffing? It looked fluffy, it sounded homey . . . and I had no idea what it was. I turned to my mother for a translation. She was dismissive: “That’s just what Yankees call dressing.” (I’ll apologize right here for her use of the “Y” word..)
I shrugged and turned back to “Happy Days,” as enlightened as I needed to be. What fool would make dressing on top of the stove? Obviously the same kind of people who would put a hot dog on a grill and call it “barbecue.”
If I had asked a culinary historian, I would have learned that “stuffing,” originally defined as anything you put inside something else, changed to ”dressing” in the Victorian era.
Apparently, the idea of “stuffing” anything was a little too close to things that might be (whisper it) sexual, and we couldn’t have that, could we? So the stuffy Victorians turned to “dressing,” something that went on or with something else: Birds shouldn’t be naked, any more than humans should be. Dress that sucker, Horace.
How that divide became regional is a mystery: Who was more stuffy than Victorian-era New Englanders? Yet somehow over the years, they took back “stuffing” and Southerners stayed with “dressing.” It stayed simple and easy to understand for years. If we had to figure out which was which, we just said “stuffing goes inside the turkey, dressing goes beside it.” Even when it didn’t.
Then came Minnesota-based General Mills, eager to cash in on America’s desire for convenient carbohydrates. General Mills messed us up completely: Stove Top Stuffing wasn’t presented as something you stuff into something else. It was pitched as a fast side dish, as something you could serve beside fried chicken or pork chops.
In other words: They took our dressing, put it in a box and confused the entire country. National understanding has gone downhill ever since.
It’s time we go back to the basic principle of our Founding Parents and respect our regional quirks. Call it whatever your family wants to call it, wherever you want to put it.
But please: Don’t make it from a box. Even a Victorian would find that shameful.
Kathleen Purvis; 704-358-5236.
Cornbread-Sausage Dressing With Apples
Maybe it’s heresy to mix cornbread and bread in dressing. But I’ve found that cornbread alone can be too gritty. Mixing it with slightly dried French bread cubes gives the best of both worlds, especially when you add in apples and pecans for right touch of fall and harvest season. Use a heavy hand with the liquids: Dry dressing is bad dressing.
1 loaf French-style bread, cut into 1-inch squares12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
2 1/2 cups diced yellow onion
3 tart apples, such as Jonathan or Winesap, cored and diced, peels left on
1 pound bulk sausage, such as breakfast sausage with sage
3 to 4 cups coarsely crumbled cornbread
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 cups toasted pecan halves
About 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 lightly beaten eggs
Spread the squares of French bread on a sheet pan and toast lightly in a 325-degree oven, stirring, occasionally, until dried out but not browned. Set aside to cool. (You can toast the bread the night before and leave it at room temperature.)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch or 3-quart baking dish. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly until tender and lightly colored, about 10 minutes. Transfer the onions and butter to a large mixing bowl.
Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet and add the apples. Cook over high heat until lightly colored but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Add to the onions and butter in the mixing bowl.
Add the sausage to the same skillet and cook over medium, stirring and breaking up into bits, until cooked through. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and add to the apples and onions, reserving the drippings. (Onions, apple and sausage can be cooked ahead, covered and refrigerated before assembling dressing.)
Add the dried bread and crumbled cornbread, herbs and pecans to the mixing bowl. Use your clean hands or a large spoon to mix well. Add broth and eggs and mix well, making a mixture that is very moist but not soupy. Pile into the prepared baking dish, packing down a little if necessary to make it all fit.
Cover with foil and bake about 30 minutes. Remove foil and add a little more broth and the reserved sausage drippings (or turkey drippings) if it looks too dry. Bake about 15 minutes longer, until crusty on top.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings, or enough to stuff a 20-pound turkey.