Ah, the sacred American Thanksgiving Dinner. From sea to shining sea, millions of cooks who can recite their family menu while asleep, spend weeks scouring newspapers, magazines and food blogs for at least one recipe that might liven the menu but not upstage aunt Gloria’s lime Jell-O with marshmallows.
Seen objectively (Right!) most Thanksgiving dinners are unbelievably rich, pretty bland, carbohydrate loaded and dessert-heavy. And we love them anyway.
What makes that meal sacred, edible proof that things are under control? It’s UGs, those Untouchable Givens that appear on every Thanksgiving table every year, always cooked with the same recipes and challenged only occasionally (most often unsuccessfully) by an unsuspecting guest or a family member looking for a fight.
Not all the food on our tables are UGs. Non-UGs, other foods, some that are dependably delicious also are included, but they often are experiments resulting from the scouring, trendy foods featured in the media (how is it that the idea of deep frying a turkey morphed from fraternity prank to an acknowledged culinary achievement?), or sometimes a treasured UG brought by a guest.
Our family UGs are roast turkey, giblet gravy, fresh cranberry chutney, tart green salad, mashed potatoes and two pies, pumpkin with whipped cream and homemade mince with hard sauce. Stuffing, by far my favorite food on the table always has been a part of the meal, a definite G, but neither my grandmother, my mother nor I ever used the same recipe twice. So, when I became head Thanksgiving cook, like they had before me, I spent at least a month before Thanksgiving reading stuffing recipes, hoping I could find the tastiest, or most creative (usually weird), or most traditional (impossible) or most healthful (loser: if you don’t want all that butter, keep watching football and gnaw on raw celery) stuffing ever.
Then, fifteen years ago in the midst of one of my pre Thanksgiving stuffing recipe search missions, I asked my friend Judy what stuffing recipe she used. “It’s not really mine,” she said, “it’s the one my mother in law made every year. It might not work for you though because it’s so simple.” That stung!
The following week, five minutes into our Thanksgiving dinner, Mother Thomas’s Stuffing earned the coveted “U,” for our family and then for many thereafter who have eaten it and passed the recipe along.
Judy was right; the recipe is disarmingly simple to make. It also calls for hazelnuts, a homegrown Northwest treasure.
Mother Thomas’ Stuffing*
I recommend at least doubling this recipe. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to your weekend turkey sandwiches.
1 ½ loaves store bought white French bread
1 ½ cups Washington hazelnuts, skin on and coarsely chopped (Holmquist Duchilly nuts are top choice; flavorful and thinned skinned)
1# unsalted butter, melted
2 large yellow (local organic) onions, peeled and chopped
4-5 stalks local (organic) winter celery (much more flavor)
3-4 eggs, beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup chopped fresh sage leaves
- Cut bread into cubes, put on a sheet pan and dry them in a 250º oven for 15 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes.
- Sauté chopped nuts, onions and celery and sage in butter over medium high heat. In a large mixing bowl, toss sautéed items with bread cubes, distributing all ingredients evenly.
- When you are ready to stuff the bird, bind stuffing with beaten egg and season to taste with salt and pepper. It should be barely moistened, not at all sticky (the juice from the bird will moisten the stuffing). Stuff the bird loosely with a very gentle touch and plenty of air space. Stuffing doesn’t mean jam it in tight. If you do, it will be gluey.
- Cover the remaining stuffing and refrigerate it until 30 minutes before you serve the turkey. Pour about ¾ cup of pan juice from the turkey over the stuffing, cover it tightly with foil and heat it at 250º (preheated oven) for 30 minutes.
*Mother Thomas, Judy’s mother-in-law from Wenatchee, WA, was very well known as a gifted home cook. Word has it that this recipe was passed down from her mother. Once you try it, my guess is that you will be passing it down as well.
Organic winter vegetables are available until Thanksgiving at many farmers markets.
Washington Farmers Markets open after October in Seattle include: University District; West Seattle; Seattle-Fremont; Seattle-Broadway; Pike Place Market. Outside of Seattle you can visit: Bainbridge Island; Bellingham; Granite Falls; Keyport; Port Angeles; Poulsbo; Raymond; Vashon; Tacoma-Proctor Farmers.