Ancestral Dish: Stuffing Wars

Once I was a food section copy editor, and each year I fact-checked glowing Thanksgiving stories of the hallowed family traditions reflected in each cholesterol-busting side dish.

And I felt a bit left out. We make a fine Thanksgiving feast at my house, with all the proper things. But we really don’t have any truly unique ancestral side dishes.

The only noteworthy side dish was the stuffing, not because it’s unusual, but because it was the focus of a fierce tug-of-war between my parents. (Which is also not unusual. People are passionate about stuffing. Or dressing. Or whether it’s called stuffing or dressing.)

It was a face-off between Her Mother and His Mother, but indirectly, since my father’s mother, sadly, had died before Dad and Mom met.

Early on, Mom made the stuffing His Mother’s Way, but over time, she persuaded Dad to prefer it Her Mother’s Way. And Her Mother’s Way was what we grew up with.  But first, they had to fight the stuffing wars.

Her Mother put eggs in the bread-cube and broth mixture.
His Mother didn’t.
Her Mother tossed the moistened bread cubes in the buttered frying pan that you sautéed the celery, onion and garlic in.
His Mother didn’t.

You’ll notice that this is a list of things His Mother didn’t do. So, what did she do with the stuffing?

I don’t know.

I’ve heard it said that family history tends to pass from mother to daughter. Family recipes certainly do. Because of this, I know quite a bit about how my maternal grandmother cooked, but I have no idea what it was about my dad’s mother’s stuffing that made him dig in his heels like that.

bread cubes + eggs

To egg or not to egg? A stuffing controversy.

Was it just a matter of Mine Vs. Yours? Or did she go in for exotic add-ins like oysters or pancetta? (I doubt it.)

Finally, is there a moral to this story, other than that some of us obsess about stuffing?

Why, yes – the annual reminder that Thanksgiving is the big chance for families to gather the old stories, to write down the heritage recipes before it’s too late.

In fact, consider participating tomorrow in the first National Day of Listening, by setting aside one hour to record a conversation with somebody important to you. Click the link for lots of ideas, including practical tips on breaking the ice.

And if there’s a heritage recipe you’ve been itching to get hold of, well, get hold of it while you can. Otherwise it might just turn into an amusing story about something that His Mom (or Her Mom) made, but nobody can ever taste again.

Which seems like a shame.

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, all!


One Comment on “Ancestral Dish: Stuffing Wars”

  1. westchesterdead says:

    Thanks for that post. Very inspiring.

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