[Note from Serene: I've been hanging on to this recipe of Chris's until the cool weather returned. And now I'm at school and wishing I had stuffing to eat! Thanks, Chris, for another great story, and for introducing me to another new food!]
I think that all of us who cook want to duplicate items our moms cooked. However, much of the time moms cook by touch and feel and experience, and don’t write down a recipe. Decades later, you remember something she used to make but can’t duplicate it for lack of a recipe.
My mom made the best stuffing imaginable. We used to look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas simply because we’d get turkey with her stuffing. I remember being in the kitchen when she’d make it, and what I could remember of it was that it was a combination of potatoes and bread with spices and onions. But, I didn’t want to experiment and I thought to myself that the stuffing recipe was lost forever.
However, I recently bought a cookbook called A Taste of Acadie, by Marielle Cormier-Boudreau and Melvin Gallant. Acadie, or Acadia, is the name of the area of Nova Scotia inhabited by French-Canadians. A goodly number of them left for warmer climes in Louisiana, and turned from Acadians into Cajuns, keeping their taste for fish but leaving other food preferences behind.
A quick flip through the book will show that the great resource on which a goodly amount of Acadian cookery is based is the potato. Rappie pie is made from grated potato with the water squeezed out, layered with meat and baked. Potato pancakes also feature.
The first time I went through the book I didn’t pick up on the Acadian stuffing recipe. However, a week or so ago I came across Acadian stuffing and, lo and behold, my mom’s stuffing recipe jumped out at me. It makes sense, as my mom probably got her recipe from her mom, who was born and raised in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. My grandmother’s father was a sea cook, working on the fishing vessels that sailed from Lunenburg to the Grand Banks to catch the cod that figured in many Acadian recipes.
I suppose that I should really keep this recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas, when turkey is on the menu. But I am so excited by it that I can’t wait that long. It’s like discovering a long-lost novel that you read years ago. You have to read it again as soon as you’ve found it.
Start out with mashed potatoes. For a chicken 2 potatoes, mashed (no butter or milk) should be sufficient. Do not rice the potatoes, as lumps are good in this recipe.
Then take three pieces of bread, dry them in an oven, and crumble them. Chop 1 onion and 2 ribs of celery, and sauté them in 3 tbsp. butter. Add the bread crumbs and brown lightly, then add the mashed potatoes, salt and pepper, and 1 tbsp summer savory or Bell’s Seasoning. If the mixture is a bit dry, add a bit of water or chicken stock to moisten. Stuff your bird and roast as usual.
If you’re roasting a turkey, increase all the amounts in the recipe and if you can’t get all the stuffing in the bird, put it in a pyrex dish and bake it along with the bird.
My mom also used to stuff pork chops with this stuffing. After making the stuffing, take thick pork chops and cut a horizontal pocket in the side of the chop. Spoon stuffing into that pocket and bake as usual. You can also just pile the stuffing on top of the chop—it browns very nicely.
A word about summer savory. The Wikipedia article says that it’s used in Atlantic Canada in preference to sage. I have to say that I have never heard of it, and my mom never used it in this recipe, to my knowledge. What she used is Bell’s Seasoning. I do not know whether this is available nationwide in the US—I do know it’s not available here, but I will be bringing some back with me next time I visit Marblehead. If you can’t source Bell’s Seasoning, use sage.
You may think this is total nostalgia on my part, and you may also be right. Nostalgia is good. Aching after your past, even though you will never experience it again, helps you keep in mind the good times, the bad times, the people you loved and who loved you, the places you lived and visited, and is a memorial to all that has gone into making you you.
I remember leftover turkey going into sandwiches on Thanksgiving night. Take two slices of white bread and slather both with mayonnaise. Cover the bottom slice with sliced turkey breast, then a layer of my mom’s stuffing, then a few spoonfuls of cranberry sauce. Salt and pepper to taste, then cover with the other piece of bread and enjoy. These were absolutely delicious and were just enough to keep people who’d gorged in the early afternoon from getting hungry at 8 pm. I had leftover chicken today, but no stuffing. The sandwich I made didn’t taste the same without the stuffing, but it was close.
I’ll end with a holiday Momfood disaster that I forgot to recount in my previous post covering things my Mom didn’t get quite right. Leftover turkey is always a problem, and my mom wanted to make turkey soup. She had a recipe from her mother, and this recipe specified ½ tbsp of barley. Mom looked at the puny (to her) amount of barley and decided that the recipe must have been wrong. She put in half a cup.
When we were finally called to dinner, Mom gave us each a slice of turkey “soup”, as the amount of barley had soaked up all the liquid in the soup. As with all my mom’s culinary disasters, it tasted delicious, and whenever I have stuffing, or chicken, or turkey, I think of that slice of soup. It would go very well with stuffing.