Twas the day before Thanksgiving
And all through the library
The staff was all dreaming
Of sauce made of cranberry.
‘Tis true. It is Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and such that the compound word dictates, I should be giving thanks. My mind should be filled with counted blessings, taking stock of family and friends, consummating the understanding that, despite any travails and hiccups, my life is truly a horn of plenty.
But my mind is not doing these things.
Instead, I’m thinking about Thanksgiving food, and not the cranberry sauce, but stuffing.
Ahh stuffing, yes stuffing, and I say this with the full realization that it is an odd thing to think about for what is stuffing but saturated bread? Sure you can doctor it up with sage, celery, apples, onions, sausage, and oysters. You can float it in gravy. Substitute farmhouse white breads for brown breads, corn breads, rice, oats. You can even call it something else: dressing, farce, or forcemeat. Whatever you do to it, whatever you call it, for most of us, it’s still just mush.
And yet, what delicious mush it is!
While it may seem peculiar to so loudly proclaim an affinity for stuffing (to the point where I’d deem it my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal), I’m not ashamed. In fact, I venture that I’m not alone. I know I’m not. Many of you, my ravenous readers, doubtlessly feel the same way, and it is further documented that fellow Paducahan and native son, Irvin S. Cobb, enjoyed his stuffing. Cobb was a gourmand, a lover of the gastronomic, and in his book “Bill of Fare,” Cobb wrote, “He [the turkey] had not been stuffed by a taxidermist or a curio collector, but by the master hand of one of those natural-born home cooks—stuffed with corn bread dressing that had oysters or chestnuts or pecans stirred into it until it was a veritable mine of goodness, and this stuffing had caught up and retained all the delectable drippings and essences of his being.”
Well said, Irvin.
And may I add that while I may eat the rest of the Thanksgiving meal is eaten with a thanks as to be akin to virtue–the turkey with compassion, sweet potatoes with patience, green beans with humility—the stuffing is unabashedly devoured, nearing sinfulness, particularly lust, greed, and gluttony.
I can’t help myself around stuffing, and neither can the history of the human race it seems. The practice is ancient. Yet, as skilled as the Local and Family History Department is, we cannot track down the origin of stuffing. One can imagine that as long as there has been the consumption of meat, there has been the stuffing of that meat, too. But we can track down the first recipe which appears to have come from a Roman cookbook called Apicius dating back to 200 or 300 AD in which a variety of consumables (chicken, rabbits, and pig) are advisedly stuffed with a variety of other ingredients (vegetables, spices, cereals, and organ meat). The book even contains a recipe for stuffed dormouse (an animal which looks like the offspring of a squirrel and a possum) with reads, “the dormouse is stuffed with a forcemeat of pork and small pieces of dormouse meat trimmings, all pounded with pepper, nuts, garlic, and broth. Put the dormouse thus stuffed in an earthen casserole, roast it in the oven, or boil it in the stock pot.”
Mmmmmm. There’s nothing quite like some fresh dormouse.
With the Romans being so creative with their stuffings so early in recorded history, one can only imagine the scope of stuffing ingredients before and since. The possibilities are endless! And recently, it seems, there’s been a rise in the popularity of turkeys stuffed, not with vegetables and breads, but with other fowl. Yes, the turducken as it’s called—that is, a chicken stuffed into duck then stuffed into a turkey–has flown into public awareness in recent years, but while this chimeric delicacy seems innovative, it is hardly new either. The practice of stuffing animals with other animals is old as well. An Andalusian recipe from the 13th century advises stuffing a ram with a potpourri of small birds. In 1807, a French gastronomist, Grimod de La Reynière, recorded the following dish: a bustard stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an ortolan, bunting, and a garden warbler. He called this his “roast without equal,” and it almost is, unless one believes the tale of the traditional Bedouin wedding feast in which cooked eggs are stuffed into fish, then the fish into chickens, then the chickens into sheep, then the sheep into a camel. The whole kit and kaboodle is then roasted in a pit.
Surely, if true, this is the pinnacle of all stuffings! That being said, , I probably wouldn’t eat it. The preparation of camel is laborious and I find the flavor a bit gamey.
No, my taste in stuffing runs a bit more humble, more traditional. Bread crumbs and gravies. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for novelty, for experimentation, for a new chapter in the history of stuffing. Western Kentucky has its own history of pork barbeque which, combined with Thanksgiving, could very well make a resounding splash throughout the culinary world.
Thusly, and with great respect, I propose the following recipe for Western Ken-turkey (as it has to be called): Buy several barbeque sandwiches from your favorite barbeque joint. Stuff them inside a turkey along with any other ingredients you may desire. Deep fry your turkey…naturally. Serve with sauce.
A turkey stuffed with breads and pork…doesn’t sound half bad, does it?
For more about glorious stuffing, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.