Why is Thanksgiving the King of all the food holidays? Is it the turkey? I don't think so. We all like a good bird just fine, but seriously, it's not what we think and talk about as our favorite part of the meal for the rest of the year. Is it the stuffing? Now there is the stuff that food dreams are made of. There are many of us who believe that, in fact, the Thanksgiving feast is all about the stuffing.
I know that in my family, I have to make three stuffings. My grandmother's potato and bread stuffing with bacon which looks like dark mashed potatoes, which every one of my nine brothers and sisters eats several plates of, swimming in gravy. Then I make bread stuffing with chestnuts and sausage for my husband, and a wild rice stuffing for my mother because if you have ten children you are the queen, and that's just all there is to it.
Some people think it's all about the sides: their favorite leek and onion casserole, cranberry orange relish, or brussels sprouts with pancetta. And then there are the dessert lovers who live for the pumpkin mousse and the bourbon pecan pie. But honestly, I think that the reason Thanksgiving is the reigning food holiday is because we all get together as a family and devote the day to sitting down and eating together. We think about the meal for weeks ahead of time. We plan for it. We prepare. We cook, and most importantly, we all sit down and eat together.
Our families may not be traditional. Our families may be small and quiet, or large and highly dysfunctional; or a combination of all of the previous attributes. It doesn't matter. Our families may be the people we choose to be our families, but on Thanksgiving Day, it's all about how food has brought us together. And that's what makes it the food holiday above all others.
And just in case I got your mouth watering when I mentioned my grandmother's mashed potato and bread stuffing with bacon, here you go. It graced the Thanksgiving tables of my my Irish grandmother in Pennsylvania and is still being served to her many great grandchildren today You don't have to tell your cardiologist about this if you only make it once a year. Enjoy!
Mama's Turkey Stuffing
5 lbs. of large Idaho potatoes
1 lb. Bacon (good quality)
2 medium sized onions (each about the size of a baseball)
1 loaf of bread stuffing
1 stick of butter
2 Cups of milk
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon of Bell's poultry seasoning
1 Teaspoon Celery salt
1 Teaspoon Sage
Peel the potatoes and cut each potato into thirds. Put the cut up potatoes into a large, wide pot. Cover the potatoes with water and add about one heaping tablespoon of salt. Cover the potatoes and bring to a slow boil, (i.e., turn the heat down somewhat as soon as it starts to boil). It will usually take thirty-five to forty-five minutes to cook the potatoes. You can test the potatoes for doneness by sticking a fork into them. They should not be hard when you stick the fork in but they should also not be breaking apart in the pot. As soon as they are done, turn the heat off and drain the water from the pot.
While the potatoes are on the stove boiling, you should cook the bacon and the onions. Take a large, deep frying pan with a non-stick surface and cook the bacon on low heat until it is lightly browned. Remove and drain on paper towels. While the bacon is cooking, you need to dice up the two onions. Cook the onions in the bacon grease until they are translucent. Put the bacon, onions, bacon grease and 1 cup of milk into a blender and blend them all together.
After the potatoes are cooked and drained, add one stick of butter, 2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, one tablespoon of Bell's Poultry Seasoning, 1 tsp celery salt, 1 teaspoon sage and about one cup of milk and hand mash the potatoes. (With seasonings, as you know, you can always add more but you can't really reverse it if you added too much.)
Cut the crust off one loaf of stuffing bread. Then, take a bowl of water and dip a handful of bread into it and then squeeze out the excess water. (Be sure not to squeeze the wet bread too hard or it will knot up into balls.) Brush the bread with your hand across the grating screen into the potatoes. Do the entire loaf of bread that way. Then add the blender full of bacon and onions and milk on top of the bread and potatoes, and hand mash the whole mixture together again. Then take an electric hand mixer and beat the whole pot on high speed until the mixture is fairly smooth and not lumpy. You should taste it periodically to see if you have enough flavoring in it. You might need to add a little more poultry seasoning or a little more salt or pepper, depending on the taste. Once it is thoroughly beaten, you then simply transfer it to a large casserole dish or two smaller casserole dishes.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 °F. Add drippings from the bottom of the turkey pan to the casserole dish(s). You need to make holes so that the drippings can go down into the stuffing as opposed to laying on top of the stuffing. Then cook the stuffing for about one hour. Do not cover the stuffing when it is cooking.
This recipe and many other family favorites are available on DishandDine.com. And the Holiday Recipe Challenge is underway! Join the fun and submit your family's favorite recipe for this week's challenge: Stuffing! Your recipe could be featured on DishandDine's Today's Hot Dish next Monday!