This is the sausage stuffing I remember from childhood. Lacking an actual recipe, I’ve had to go by my taste memory to get it right, or at least close to what my dad made. It was always my second favorite part of the meal, right behind chocolate cream pie. I had to be careful though because this was not the only kind of stuffing on the Thanksgiving table and on more than one sad occasion I found myself biting into the dreaded oyster stuffing my father was so proud of. I’m sure it was excellent if you like that sort of thing but I won’t be attempting to recreate that one. Ever.
Dad with his parents and siblings sometime in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s
L – R, Uncle Hoyle, Grandpa, Auntie Wese, Grandma, Dad, Uncle Lewis
Thanksgiving was always a big show for my dad and, if you knew my dad, you know he loved to perform. It’s all about the food and showing gratitude which suited him and the rest of our family perfectly. I’ve long heard tale that back when he and his siblings still got together for the big day, there was fierce competition in the food department. I don’t doubt it for a minute and I can totally picture my Auntie Wese, my Aunt Dolly, and my dad arguing in their very loud but good-natured fashion about who’s turkey were the juiciest, who’s stuffing was the tastiest and who’s pies were the flakiest. I don’t know who else might have been involved but those three all had mad skills in the kitchen, as well as larger than life personalities.
I have to admit my brother, Billy, and I have been known to engage in a little pie competition ourselves, possibly every year, albeit not nearly as loudly, usually brought on by his own children. And, if I’m completely honest, it’s less a competition than it is endless frustration on his part about how much better my pie crust is. Little sisters are such a pain in the ass. Don’t worry about him though, he’s the big chef in the family and I’m sure he’s got me beat on many savory dishes, probably even the sausage stuffing which he took over making a few years before we lost our dad in 1989.
My brothers, Billy, Michael (with Hailey) and Patrick, Thanksgiving 2009. Yes, every family gathering turns into a hootenanny!
Stuffing, or dressing which is technically what I make since I don’t actually stuff my turkey with it, is very easy to customize to your taste once you get the basics down. Your bread needs to be dry; you can buy it already prepared at the market or cube it yourself and lightly toast it in the oven. You need to have some aromatics like onions, herb, and celery. Meat is optional. Poultry or vegetable stock/broth and eggs are needed to bind it together. From there you can make it your own by adding other veggies or fruit such as apples, butternut squash, mushrooms, carrots, etc., just make sure they are cooked first, or add dried fruit or nuts like cranberries or pecans. I may toss in some cranberries this year, I’m certain my dad would approve.
Dad’s Sausage Stuffing/Dressing
(serves 10 – 12)
1 pound ground pork sausage
3 cups yellow or sweet onion, diced
2 cups celery, chopped
1 tsp sage, dried
1 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
12 cups bread, cubed and dried (I like to use sourdough/ciabatta/Pugliese)
2 cups chicken/turkey stock or vegetable broth
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp fresh sage, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated or ground
(approx) 1/4 cup butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Brown sausage over medium-high heat.
I used my Dutch oven to do the browning and saute work as well as the baking. You could also use a separate saute pan and an oven-safe casserole dish such as a Pyrex 9x13in pan.
Chop onion and celery while sausage is cooking.
Transfer cooked sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
Add about 1 TB butter or olive oil to the pan (don’t clean it first, you want the brown bits) then add the onions, celery, dried sage, dried thyme, salt, and pepper.
Saute until onion and celery are cooked through, they should be soft.
Meanwhile, chop your fresh herbs.
Place prepared bread in a large mixing bowl and add cooked sausage.
Add 1/2 cup of the stock/broth to the onion/celery mixture to deglaze the pan then add to bread and sausage.
Stir very gently (as to not mush the bread too much) to combine. Stir in one cup of stock/broth, a little at a time. Stop if you think it’s getting too wet because you will be adding more at the end with the eggs.
Add herbs and nutmeg. Stir gently.
Taste it before you add the eggs. Add more salt/pepper/herbs if necessary.
Add last 1/2 cup of stock/broth to beaten eggs then stir into the stuffing to combine. If it seems to dry, add a little more stock/broth.
Generously coat a baking pan with butter.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes. Cover for the first 20 minutes then remove so it can get a little crispy on top. Serve warm with turkey and gravy!
The more I’ve lived, the more I’m convinced that gratitude is our most essential gift and our most powerful prayer. I credit both my parents for teaching me that and now it’s the lesson I try to hardest to instill in my own children. Happy Thanksgiving!
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. “