I know. I know what you probably thought when you saw the title of this post, “Jeepers! Halloween is barely behind us! Why do we need a Thanksgiving stuffing recipe? Why are people like her always trying to rush the season?” I get it. I sympathize. I often feel the same way when I see Christmas decorations around Labor Day. Frankly, I think there should be a national registry of some kind to alert us to ANY store that puts out so much as a Christmas Tree-shaped piece of candy prior to Black Friday. Let the boycotts begin!
Don’t even get me started on the neighbor who, while wearing a tank top and shorts, puts his Christmas lights on his house in August! This may be how they do it in South America, but it’s not how we do it here! Here, in the Northeastern United States, possibly as a result of our Puritan ideals — ideals on which this country was founded — we believe in suffering. This guy surely needs to get with the program or, you know, read a history book!
I get it. It’s cold here in our neck of the woods come December. It’s not sub-zero, though. Do you think that our Puritan ancestors grabbed their flip-flops round about August 15th and decided, because it was easier, to ready their homes for Christmas in the summer? Heavens, no! These people eschewed ease. They wore ruffled shirts before the advent of spray starch and electric irons.
Put on a coat and hat after Thanksgiving and put up the damn lights. Donning foul weather gear while decorating your house for Christmas should be a required component of the game, shouldn’t it? Watching him engage in this activity in August does not make me think, “Oh, what a smart idea Mr. Guinea-tee and sandals had across the street! He’s a real genius, that guy, getting a jump on Christmas and all!” It does not. It makes me want to participate in my own little project, which would include, but might not be limited to, creeping over there in the dead of night and cutting the wires. At the very least I’d like to arm some neighborhood hooligans with a few dozen eggs. If any house in the neighborhood deserves a good, old-fashioned egging, it’s his! How’s that for a little Puritan ingenuity?
It’s never too early to start thinking about Thanksgiving, though — that most Puritanical of American holidays. Because it’s all about the food. And giving thanks. It’s my favorite holiday. No gifts. No cards. (Really, NO cards, people. There’s nothing I like LESS than a Thanksgiving CARD! Because, really, they’re stupid. If you insist on buying me one, don’t think I’ll be reciprocating. Bring some dessert or a nice package of dinner rolls. But, please, NO cards! ) I’ve come to believe that every time a Thanksgiving card is purchased a Puritan rolls over in his or her grave. Just think about THAT while you’re at The Hallmark Store!
What prompted me to publish the recipe that follows, along with what I hope was a handy primer on “The Remnants of Puritanism in 21st Century America”, was when Mindy Klapper Trotta over at Betterafter50.com sounded the alarm for holiday recipes for the webzine’s upcoming issues. Just like weird neighbor guy who begins to think about his winter holiday decorations while the rest of us are enjoying watermelon and fireworks on The Fourth of July, web magazines plan well in advance for their holiday issues — hey, at least it’s not because they don’t want to put on shoes!
It’s just not Thanksgiving without turkey. Unless, of course you’re my brother-in-law, whose motto is, “Let’s drag folks up to Massachusetts — the place where Thanksgiving was invented (!) — and hoodwink them into eating pork roast!” (Even my brother-in-law, anarchist that he is, knew enough to serve stuffing with the foolish pork roast on that most regrettable of Thanksgivings!)
While it would make me happy to think that, to get into the spirit of things, you are sporting earmuffs and and a cozy cableknit sweater while you are reading this, it’s not absolutely required. Although, really, would it kill you to throw on a scarf? Or, at the very least, a flannel shirt?
Thanksgiving Sausage Stuffing
This recipe was passed down to me by my mother, Karen Tierney, who got it from her mother, Eileen Callaghan, who, more than likely, took it off of the package of frozen sausage or found it in the pages of a women’s magazine in the 1940’s. It should be noted that my skepticism regarding the provenance of this recipe is not unfounded — these are the same women who hijacked the Hellmann’s mayonnaise macaroni salad recipe and insist, to this day, that they created it! (Neither of them has ever gone so far as to accuse the good folks at Hellmann’s of stealing it from THEM, but, you know, there’s always tomorrow!)
This recipe makes A HONKING amount of stuffing — enough to stuff a 25-lb. turkey AND extra that can be cooked in a casserole dish on the side. What can I say? There’s never enough stuffing for my family. We’re Irish. We like our carbs!
3 – 16 oz. “tubes” frozen “mild” pork sausage, raw (You can find it in the case with the frozen breakfast sausage; my family uses the “Jamestown” brand, but that may not be available nationwide. I’m sure Jones or Jimmy Dean has an equivalent
3 – large yellow onions, finely chopped (If you want to get fancy, you can probably substitute shallots or Vidalia onions, but I like it made with your basic, no-frills yellow onion
6 – sticks of butter (If you’re health conscious, I suppose you could substitute margarine for the butter, but who are you kidding? If you’re making this stuffing, you’re not worried about your fat intake. So, really, just use the butter. It tastes better
6 – loaves “stuffing” bread or white sandwich bread, crumbled. (“Stuffing” bread is just unsliced white bread. I don’t recommend making this with the stuffing that’s sold in a bag — that product is more like croutons than it is bread and they’re seasoned, which I don’t like. Also, they don’t soften and, therefore, they don’t absorb the liquids as well as the bread does. But, who am I to tell you what to do? I’m not eating it. Do what you like. I can’t stop you!)
1-1/2 c. boiling water (More may be required, boil 2-1/2 cups to be on the safe side.)
3 – tablespoons (or more) Bell’s Turkey Seasoning (I have NEVER used anything but Bell’s when making turkey or stuffing.)
A note on the casserole dish — the one that you will cook the “extra” stuffing in — the stuffing for the next day’s sandwiches, for example — what would be the point of a leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich without stuffing or a couple of decent slices of rye bread? — this dish should be shallow, like a 9×13 baking dish. DO NOT butter it! The sausage has enough fat to keep it from sticking. DO cover it with foil and place it on the top rack of the oven — it WILL burn on the bottom rack. I usually stick it in when the turkey has about an hour left to cook. Temp it with a thermometer or taste it to make sure the sausage is thoroughly cooked. (160 degrees Fahrenheit is the proper temperature for safely cooked pork sausage, and sausage just tastes better when it’s cooked.)
In a large pot — like a lobster pot if you have one or, if you’re Italian, the Sunday gravy pot will be perfect! — if you do not have a lobster pot or a Sunday gravy pot, use the largest pot that you DO have and hope for the best, or make it in stages. It doesn’t take long to make — melt the butter over medium heat. Turn down the flame and add the onions (you want the onions to soften without burning the butter). Add half of the Bell’s seasoning. Stir frequently.
While the onions are cooking, boil the water.
Once the onions are soft, begin adding the crumbled bread (you can cut it into cubes if you prefer). I don’t pre-crumble the bread. I find it’s just as easy to “crumble (or cut) as you go” (who needs to dirty another bowl on Thanksgiving morning, for heaven’s sakes!). You can add some hot water and begin to stir the butter/onion/seasoning through the bread to make room for more bread! Be conservative with the water. You want to really spread the butter mixture throughout the dish. When all the bread has been crumbled and the butter mixture well incorporated, if the final product seems dry, add more water. When the consistency is wet, but not mushy, add the remaining Bell’s seasoning and give it one more thorough stir. That’s it!
You can make this a day in advance, just be sure NOT to stuff the bird until you are ready to put it in the oven! I would recommend taking the “extra” that needs to be cooked separately out of the refrigerator at least one hour prior to putting it in the oven. You will want it to be room temperature before putting it in the oven for two very good reasons (learn from my mistakes, people!):
Very good reason #1: A cold, glass baking dish CAN explode either in the oven — a glass-encrusted turkey will ruin everyone’s day! — or upon removal from the oven, which, of course, is preferable to the in-oven explosion, but still not ideal. I mean, you’ll have a great story, what you won’t have is any extra stuffing!
Very good reason #2: Even if you plan to avoid the potential for disaster by using a metal pan, (what? you think I didn’t try that?) the cold pork will not cook through without the bread portion burning and drying out. Again, no extra stuffing.
You’ve been warned!
Regardless of the murky and possibly dubious origins of this recipe, it is, hands down, THE BEST STUFFING you will ever make! If you agree, let me know. If you disagree, let me know, I’ll put you in touch with my mother. Her mother would be a tad difficult to contact, as she passed away many years ago. I’ll bet she still misses eating this stuffing. She LOVED this stuffing!
NOTE: Like Mark Knopfler who “can’t do a love song like the way it’s meant to be” (Romeo and Juliet, 1980), neither can I write a recipe like a normal person. I don’t know, I kind of think it’s more fun this way, don’t you?