Dressing – versus – Stuffing!!!
Don’t mean to start another Civil War – that ended in 1865; let’s leave it there!!! But, let’s do have a little fun talking about food differences above and below the Mason-Dixon line!!! But, remember, we’re just having some fun!
Okay, so now you want to know what’s so funny?! Let’s say we are about to have a conversation a bit early in the year, about six to seven months early! It’s April, and we’re going to talk about Thanksgiving Dinner! This brings me back to my days living in New York City in the 1970s, and talking food with my northern friends that are affectionately known as “Yankees”! They love a “bready” accompaniment with their turkey the same as we do down south. But, we have different names for that “twice-baked bread”!
Years ago, while living in New York City some friends invited me over for Thanksgiving Dinner. On the menu was pecan-cranberry dressing! It was absolutely delicious! ‘Twas a wonderful cornucopia of diced celery and onions, chopped pecans, chopped “craisins” (i.e., dried cranberries), delicious stock, shredded carrots and all sorts of proper Thanksgiving spices (i.e., sage, thyme, celery seed, onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric, salt, pepper, etc.). BUT, it was not dressing – it was stuffing!
Now, hear me out—don’t chop my head off yet! I call it stuffing, because down south if it’s made with loaf-bread, it’s stuffing! If it’s made with cornbread, its dressing! Again, as I said earlier, the pecan-cranberry dish was wonderful; absolutely delicious. However, it was made with white bread, cut up into small cubes, dried in the oven before using to mix the dish. Down south – that’s stuffing; whether you stuff the bird or not stuff the bird–doesn’t matter–it’s stuffing!!!
Also, there were NO eggs in the mixture! As Aunt Emma T and Bunch would have told me — “boy, you gotta put some eggs in there to bind your dressing!!!” (Note: Oh, you should read the story of these two fantastic cooks in the first volume in the series: “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”.) No self-respecting southern cook is going to make dressing and not have eggs in it! It holds it all together in a delicious sort of way!
So, what’s dressing and how do you make it? It could have been everything that the pecan-cranberry stuffing was, with one substitution and one addition! Don’t use the dried and cubed loaf bread, instead use some dried cornbread! Add to the mixture a couple of eggs! Don’t stuff it in the bird, (a little something I almost never do because of health precautions); instead, bake it separately in a buttered rectangular dish!
Whether you’re making stuffing or dressing, the key is moisture! No one likes a dry stuffing; no one likes a dry dressing! Here is how you remedy that little malady of cooking—plenty of stock! Once I finish mixing my dressing “batter” which is rather thick, I make sure that I have enough stock in it that is looks like a wet cornbread! In the casserole dish (i.e., the rectangular pan), I want to see a bit of that moisture just above the batter – little tiny pools of stock being visible! Ahhh, then I know for sure that my dressing will not only be delicious—it will also be moist because I have enough stock in it! Also, stuffing and dressing are two of those “the hands and eyes perfect the recipe” type of dishes! Initially, you do the basic measuring, then it’s feel and eyesight the rest of the way!
Let’s chat a little bit about geography! My thoughts on the dressing versus the stuffing thing is that it probably came about with a lot of baking of loaf bread in the north; lots of leftovers; and a use for catching turkey drippings inside the bird! Personally, I don’t like my stuffing having been cooked inside the bird—I prefer it to have been baked in a separate pan. Food experts also tell me that it safer to cook it separately as well.
Actually, growing up in South Carolina, I never saw a turkey that was stuffed. All the dressing was baked separately from the bird. When I ventured north, my relatives from the south that migrated to the north, though a nice divide of some of them preferring the stuffing they discovered once they migrated, also cooked such stuffing separated—thus NOT a stuffing—as nothing was stuffed!!!
So, to all my very dear friends north of my southern divide, we will not have another Civil War, though we may have a civil war as to preference of which dish. But, for the most part, we will instead enjoy the wonderful variations of stuffing that I discovered in New York City; and this delicious cornbread dressing that we make as tradition down here in Dixie. My family has a couple dressings that we make. I start with the historical cornbread from my Daddy’s side of the family. The Finch Sisters did wonders with cornmeal and you can read all about them, their cornbread, and their dressing. See their recipes in volume one in the series: “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”!)
Okay, everybody put down your arms – grab a plate and fork! Turkey and dressing and stuffing and giblet gravy on the menu!
All best wishes for good eating; enjoy!