A culinary note from this year’s Thanksgiving:
My favorite Thanksgiving dish has always been the stuffing. Always, always, always. My ranking goes stuffing, corn, rolls/biscuits, turkey. (I am not a mashed potatoes fan, but that’s not the point here.) My mother’s homemade stuffing, the stuff I grew up with, had a similar flavor to Stove-Top, but being homemade, it was so much better: real bread allowed to go stale for a day or two, then torn up into big chunks and seasoned with salt, pepper, sage, poultry seasoning, and maybe something else. Diced onions and celery rounded it out. I love this stuffing.
Cut to my college years, especially my last couple of years, when our Thanksgiving breaks were shortened to a single four-day weekend. This made it unfeasible for me to go home at Thanksgiving (remember, I went to college in Iowa, 800 miles away). Luckily, by junior year I was dating The Girlfriend (later The Wife), so I went with her to Thanksgiving with her relatives somewhere else in Iowa. We ended up having dinner with one set of aunts and uncles, who did the “Get up at 2am and put the 30lb turkey in the oven” thing, so dinner was served at noon. This, in itself, struck me as odd: my family always ate dinner at dinnertime, maybe on the early side, but still, it was a late-in-the-day meal.
This was my first Thanksgiving dinner not cooked by my mother in any way. There were side dishes I’d never seen before (Ambrosia? Wazzat?), and then there was the stuffing, which they called “dressing”. It was nothing at all like my mother’s, being almost more of a bread pudding than what I knew. And it had fruit in it! There were raisins in the stuffing, which they didn’t even call stuffing! What world was I in!
A week or so later I’m talking to Mom on the phone, partially about my Thanksgiving dinner, and I get to the stuffing: “There were raisins in it!” And Mom chuckles and lets out a little secret: her recipe calls for raisins, too, only she started omitting them way back when, on the basis of my father’s at-the-time distaste for raisins. She threatened to put them back in the stuffing for years, but she never did.
I finally got to taste my mother’s stuffing with the raisins, and I can report that I wish she’d put her foot down years ago. The raisins add a bit of sweetness to the dish that perfectly offsets the savory spices and the salt. I should have expected this, given how I’ve come to really love the offsetting nature of sweet and savory in the same dish over the last bunch of years, but those raisins were a revelation. So, better late than never!
As for my father, he’s come around on raisins in the last few years. Tastes change! It’s happened to me, too: when I was a kid, you couldn’t pay me to touch a mushroom or a squash, but now I love both. I doubt I’ll ever get there on broccoli, though.
Long live the raisins in the stuffing!
(But keep the ambrosia salad. That’s a hard “no” from me.)
(The title of this post comes from one of the great SNL sketches of all time. Rest in power, Chadwick Boseman!)