Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stuffing Your Innards: A Thanksgiving Recipe

Mrs. Darling joins us again.  Our fabulous literary friend has written our Summer Reading List and all about her time at the beach.  Also, she has more Sharpies than anyone - even Kate.  And she hosts the best playdates ever.  I mean EVER.  And they consist of basically letting kids run around her backyard and play with stuff from the Thrift Store while eating clementines.  We adore her and are so thrilled to share this! 

Happy Thanksgiving!
This is about my family’s stuffing recipe.

It’s basic stuffing - no sage bells and chestnut whistles- but I label it fabulous.

It disturbs me how long it took me to write this. I started writing about my mother’s past as a city girl plunked into rural nowhere with two young kids. Then I started to do some Important Work detailing my Great Grandmother’s desperate search for food for her babies and my Grandmother’s thwarted dreams of stardom and how they all lead to the magnificence that is this stuffing… Fortunately, I caught myself before I really began to really lose it. Some people (Hi Kate!) can merge the side splitting funny with a side of pathos and throw in a library metaphor for good measure. I am not that person.

Instead, let me set the scene for this stuffing of triumph.

My family’s stuffing recipe is the easiest ‘festive-family-dinner-oh-hell-who- invited- them- over- do-we- have-enough-chairs? dish that you can possibly make with fresh ingredients (save the bad bread- more on that later) because I come from a long line of women who had absolutely no interest in cooking. Shared genetic makeup made them family, but true apathy in creating any foodstuff that wasn‘t necessary for survival was what bound them together as sisters united against the kitchen. It’s because of this mutual hatred for special dinnertimes that my Great Gran’s exalted stuffing recipe has stood the test of over a century of time. The stuffing tastes great because if my Great, Grand, and semi-sainted Mother were going to actually have to cook an extra meal than by Maude they were going to get as much praise as they could from their ungrateful families. Their vastly different life stories- Depression era mother to six, glamorously frustrated mother of eight who missed her calling in Hollywood, hippie mom parked in the ultimate of backwoods living with no fast food to bribe her shrieky kids (um, one of them would be me)- all merged into one glorious mission. That mission: making the simplest stuffing known to man

 How simple is this? I’m giving you the ingredients because I want you to fully appreciate the ease of this operation:
  • Two loaves of really bad cheap bread. You know the squishy white bread that wants to be Wonder Bread but isn’t and is sold at the 7-11 for a $1.89? Pass it by- as a matter of fact get out 7-11 and their quality products and instead go to the no name store by the Texaco station- the one where you would never in a million years go use their bathroom. Find the dusty loaves wedged in between the ice scrapers and strawberry flavored male enhancement fruit leathers and BUY THAT BREAD. The pedigree of the bread is meaningless- I have tried every single type of bread-sourdough, whole grain, cornbread, homemade- and absolutely nothing comes close to really bad squishy bread. In an age of artisan rosemary scented boules going for seven dollars a piece, I urge you to take a minute to revel in that.
  • Two large onions, chopped. Not the sweet kind but the ones that make you cry. Maybe someone passing by the kitchen will feel sorry for you and offer to take the kids out.
  • Celery chopped. Nothing special- celeriac or Pascal root should be avoided at all costs in favor of the standard bag o’ celery that you can find anywhere
  • Butter- lots of it. It’s Thanksgiving, you can shred/diet/keen tomorrow.
  • Water Put some salt and pepper in it if you’re feeling creative.
  • A turkey. Actually, you don’t need the turkey- you just need those little paper bags full of body parts that are stuck inside the turkey. If that last sentence has given you pause you might want to give the rest of this a miss.
As for the turkey. Roast it, fry it smoke it….. can’t give any advice on that end as I mainly see turkey as a vehicle to enhance cranberry sauce. If asked, I’d probably place myself in the ‘roast- until- the- plastic- thingy- pops’ school of thought.
  • Tear up the bread the day before and let it sit out to dry.
  • In the morning, throw every bit of the turkey parts into enough water so that it covers up everything. Cover with a lid and simmer for… I don’t know, three or four hours?
  • Get some coffee and call everyone who’s coming and instruct what they need to bring because, having made the turkey and stuffing, your work is done.
  • Go on your laptop, read a book, study your toes but do not leave the kitchen or people will know how easy this is.
  • Take the now completely mushed turkey parts out of the’ innards water’ (this is the exact phrasing my Great Gran used in this recipe in 1917) and cut it up- yes even the neck - into such small pieces that your guest will probably not recognize what is once was. Boil down the water until it’s reduced into a thick (ish) liquid. This isn’t necessary, but it buys you more time while you order gifts on Amazon..
  • Pour melted butter (lots of it) over the torn up bread. Pour innards water. Throw in the raw onions and celery that you cut up last night to get out of giving the kids a bath. Throw in turkey bits. Look around to make sure no one is watching and then mix it all up with your hands.
  • Dump it in one or two buttered dishes and bake until it smells good.
What I love about this is that the ingredients themselves smack of each mothers’ world. My Great Gran was famous for never letting anything go to waste so every blessed internal organ of whatever poor bird she could find for her family of six was used up until nothing semi-edible was left to be found. My Grandmother never met a meal that wouldn’t benefit from more butter and excelled in shoving onion laced meals into a hot oven until the smell wafted through her house. I think that my Mom made the smartest move in that she knew if you handed two bags of bread to kids and asked them if they’d like to tear it apart while watching Brady Bunch you had a least one chapter and a half a can of Tab before any more mothering was needed. Clever woman.

So how does it taste? In a word (s), really good. By boiling the innards water (again not my phrase) down until it’s almost a syrup , the stuffing itself has an intense turkey taste to it. The bread, which has the consistency of Styrofoam when it stays out for the night, manages to soak in enough flavor and yet not get too mushy. Onions and celery add flavor and, more importantly lets you forget the fact that the bread and innards goop would actually have a pretty high ick factor. And the butter? The butter is was and always shall be the shortcut to culinary splendor. And the way it allows the crust of the stuffing to brown…wow.
What’s best about the stuffing is that in eating it I am reminded of all the women in my family who faced down the ‘must-make-family-feast’ gauntlet with grand aplomb. I can almost hear the ancient words of my family’s women as I allow the Darling children third helpings: "We don’t like to cook. We are too poor/uninterested/far away to shop for anything resembling fine food. Yet we are going to triumph and make a stuffing that will knock our beloved families on their sorry little bumkiesters.” A rallying cry that I never fail embrace during the festive holiday season. 

Book Time! When I’m locked in the kitchen this Thanksgiving, I will be reading…"Tinsel: The Search for America’s Christmas Present" by Hank Steuver. You think it’s going to be some smug hipster’s take on the season, but a few chapters in you see the humanity and ultimate dignity of the celebration. "Ghost at the Table" - Masquerading as a cozy little Thanksgiving story, the real delight is the realization that the main character- the one we are supposed to like and would be probably be played by that cute Renee Zellweger- is driving herself insane and taking us with her. Lastly, a series of short stories called "Wolfsbane and Mistletoe" because, umm…there’s Sookie Stackhouse with a highly desirable Were-Faery. Enough said.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mrs. Darling

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2010

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