DON’T DROP THE TURKEY!
There are so many trimmings we associate with Thanksgiving dinner. In my house we start with the antipasto, then the lasagna or soup and finally the turkey with all the side dishes. But the one thing that stands out from all the rest, besides the turkey, is my mother’s stuffing. My mother always stuffed her turkey. I don’t remember anyone ever getting sick from her stuffed turkey. We might have turned blue from over eating, but stuffing the turkey was not living on the edge of food safety. I guess the food police had not taken over the country yet and stuffing a turkey was not considered a violation of federal guidelines.
I could eat my mother’s stuffing as a meal by itself. And often the days after Thanksgiving I did. There was always plenty of left over stuffing and I could remember just taking spoon fulls of the stuff and heating it up and eating it with some turkey gravy poured over the top. When the stuffing ran out, Thanksgiving had come to an end! Unless you found a little morsel left inside the turkey carcass that someone did not take the time to dig out.
We always had a huge gathering for Thanksgiving, with all my aunts and uncles and cousins. The basement was the only place we could set up a table large enough to accommodate everyone. There was so much cooking going on in the house that on some holidays we didn’t have any oven room for the turkey! After all, a 24 pound bird had to sit in the oven for at least 6 hours or so. And my mother refused to use her oven in our kitchen. So it was the oven in our basement and my grandmother’s oven that was working overtime. I could remember my mother preparing the turkey very early in the morning and stuffing it with her delicious stuffing and tying the legs together and then added more stuffing into the neck cavity and every last drop was used and fit somewhere on that bird. After buttering it up she would cover the turkey in foil and early in the morning my father and I would load the turkey in the car and drive it over to our neighborhood Italian bakery. For a nominal fee the bakery would cook the bird in their large bread ovens. What a great idea! That left plenty of room in our own ovens to cook up a meal that usually fed 30-40 people.
As my aunts, uncles and cousins arrived they brought even more food with them, along with deserts. Everyone pitched in setting up the table and getting chairs from all over the house down to the basement. The windows of the house where fogged from the heat generated from all the cooking and heat coming from the ovens and stove tops. And the aroma of tomato sauce, and cheese and the smell of spice from the pies baking and sweet potatoes roasting. Almost made you forget about the turkey. And just before everyone was called to arms to take their place at the table my mother gave my father his marching orders, “SAL! Go get the turkey, it’s almost time to eat.”
My father and I made the trip again to the Italian bakery, this time to pick up the turkey. When we got there the owner asked for our name and went in the back to retrieve our cooked turkey. I whispered to my father, ‘I hope they give us the right one”. My father was ready with the pot holders in hand and when the turkey came out she lifted the foil to show us how wonderful and brown the turkey was. My father bought about four loafs of Italian bread and handed them to me as he lifted the huge roasting pan holding the turkey. “Don’t drop it!”, I said. It was a few weeks ago my father was bringing up the Sunday chicken dinner from the oven in the basement and just as he got to the last step he tripped and the birds when flying in front of him landing on the steps that led to my grandparents apartment. There were potatoes and chicken everywhere. That was not a good Sunday dinner!
I opened the car door for him and he placed it on the floor in the back seat. The smell of that turkey and the fresh baked warm Italian bread was more than either of us could stand. The turkey was too far out of reach but those loaves of bread were right on my lap. My father reached over and took a piece off the end and I went in for a piece myself. If we only had butter. We pulled into our driveway and went in through the side door of our house. Downstairs in the basement my mother and grandmother and all my aunts were bringing out the antipasto and olives and everyone was seated around the table, with my grandfather at the head of course. When my father walked downstairs with the turkey and entered the room the fanfare was tremendous. Everyone clapped and cheered that the bird had arrived. I was only carrying bread. Thanksgiving dinner was about to begin.
Mom’s Turkey Stuffing
- 1 bag of seasoned stuffing cubes
- 1/4 pound of bacon
- 1 pound of Italian Sausage , casing removed (if you can buy bulk Italian sausage meat, great. If not, buy the link sausage and remove the casing)
- 1 cup of celery, chopped
- 1 cup of carrots, chopped
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 large apples, cored, peeled and chopped
- 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon of dried sage
- 4 cups of chicken stock or broth
- 1 egg, beaten (optional)
In an extra large frying pan or saute pan cook the bacon till crisp. Remove the bacon, chop it up and set aside. Leave the bacon fat in the pan.
In the same pan cook the sausage meat and break it up till browned. Remove the cooked sausage meat with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl with the bacon.
In the drippings from the bacon and sausage cook the celery, carrots, onion and apple till the vegetables get soft, stirring occasionally. Half way through cooking the vegetables add the thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage.
Once the vegetables are soft add the bacon and sausage, stirring and cooking for about two minutes.
Dump the seasoned stuffing cubes in a very large bowl. Add the fry pan goodies of the vegetables, bacon and sausage to the stuffing cubes. Mix well. Add the chicken stock till you get the consistency you like, allowing the stuffing cubes to absorb the broth. If you like a firmer stuffing you can add the beaten egg at this point.
You can either stuff your turkey or place the stuffing in a deep pan to bake in a 375 degree oven covered in foil for about 35 minutes. Have some extra broth or chicken stock on hand to moisten the stuffing if it gets too dry.
When I was growing up my holiday feasts were usually atypical to most of my friends. My mom’s husband was 100% Italian, I am not, and every Sunday was a feast at his spunky, deep-rooted mother’s home. Holidays were especially wonderful. Every Thanksgiving brought the incredible stuffing. My parents have separated and step grandmother has passed, but my mother has continued to use the Italian stuffing. I am venturing off on my own this year and am bringing the Italian stuffing to a new crowd. I searched a few sites to get a back up recipe and after much searching this is the only one that mimics the flavors of my family’s stuffing. I am very pleased to see bacon as an ingredient, since all the others have excluded the essential ingredient. I am very excited to introduce the recipe to the new group, and looking forward to the great taste I have savored for so many years
You are 100% right. The bacon is an essential ingredient to this stuffing, along with the Italian sausage meat. We have been enjoying this stuffing for years and I’m glad you will incude it as part of your Thanksgiving tradition. All the best to you and your family and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Thank you Peter Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!