My mother-in-law Shirley was a gifted country cook. Thanksgiving at my in-law’s house was celebrated with a huge stuffed turkey, perfect gravy, creamy mashed potatoes, Mom’s light-as-air dinner rolls, and homemade cranberry sauce, finished off by a dessert choice of pie, fudge, and cookies, all from her own special recipes.
My favorite of favorites will always be Mom’s homemade turkey stuffing. My father-in-law and his four sons are basic meat-and-potato guys. They don’t want anything fancy in the stuffing, no sausage or cornbread or – horror of horrors – oysters, which was the highlight of my own mother’s stuffing. Yet, my mother-in-law’s stuffing is the best I’ve ever tasted.
In her early eighties, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For many years, I was her caregiver, and one of the most difficult days of the year was Thanksgiving. My husband and I lived next door to his parents, so it was no trouble to include them as an active part of our Thanksgivings, but my mother-in-law mourned her inability to host the meal or to follow a recipe well enough to contribute to the feast.
One year, we hit upon the perfect solution. I prepared the turkey in her kitchen and cooked it in her oven.
Invariably, when I went over to baste the bird, she would ask, “What day is it?”
When I said, “Thanksgiving,” she would counter with, “Oh no. I don’t have anything ready.”
Then I’d say, “We’ll eat at my house, Mom.” And to her next question, “What am I going to bring?” I would open the oven door and let her see that beautiful turkey. Her beaming smile was well worth the effort of hauling the huge bird over to their house, and, when it was cooked, having my husband or our son haul it back.
Shirley has been celebrating Thanksgiving in heaven for 8 years now, but, as we celebrate the holiday here on earth, her wonderful turkey stuffing will add precious memories to the joy of the day.
If you have a meat-and-potatoes guy at your house, I can almost guarantee that he’ll love this country style dressing. (You can always add oysters for the adventurous! But wait until after the dressing is cooked.)
Shirley Harrison’s Turkey Stuffing
1 ½ pound loaf of fresh, soft bread, your favorite kind, shredded finely (I use a steel blade attachment on my food processor at “crumb” setting. Shirley shredded the bread patiently by hand.)
1 can (10 ½ oz.) of condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 soup can of milk
1 medium onion diced and sautéed in 2 tablespoons of butter
1 stick of butter, melted
1 tablespoon of sage
½ teaspoon of poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon of salt or to taste
½ teaspoon of black pepper
In a large bowl, combine bread and spices. Mix well. Add remaining ingredients and stir until the bread crumbs are well-moistened. You will have a very “wet” mixture.
My preference is to bake the stuffing in a greased crockpot. I bake at low setting for about 4 hours. The trick with crockpot baking is to stir the stuffing every half hour so the bottom and edges don’t over bake. A big wooden spoon is the perfect tool to blend in the edges before they get too crusty.
This recipe makes a wonderfully moist, delicate dressing that serves about 8 people. When I’m expecting a huge crowd, I double or even triple the recipe, bake some in the bird and some in crockpots. Oven baking in foil or a casserole dish dries out the dressing.
Happy Thanksgiving!! May you ever be blessed with a legacy of wonderful memories AND recipes!
(Photo by Sue Harrison.)