Grandma French's Stuffing Recipe

My niece, Claire, asked me yesterday for the stuffing recipe that we had for Canadian Thanksgiving. My brother and his family spontaneously flew up for the holiday this past October and my parents drove up as well. We also had Devon (my step daughter), James her husband and baby Aren come from the city. Thanksgiving is really my favourite holiday but I’m not going to lie, I love American Thanksgiving too. The girls and I drove home to my parents most every year for American Thanksgiving and my brother and his family from New York on years they could. We always brought some sort of craft that we did together and it always involved making Christmas decorations too just because we wouldn’t see Claire and my nephew Joe before December - if we even saw each other at all during the Christmas holiday. I love those times.

A favourite view from my parent's home in Vermont on a rainy Thanksgiving weekend last year.

A favourite view from my parent's home in Vermont on a rainy Thanksgiving weekend last year.

 

This year, I’m missing the trip home for Thanksgiving. Often the girls opt out of school and we pile into the car for a road trip for Thanksgiving in Vermont.  It’s a long journey and this year all my daughters are busy with school and Rugby and it’s impossible to make the trip. Not to mention, it’s a long drive - ten hours without traffic. Flying isn’t any faster either since they don’t live that close to any major airport. It’s the one sadness that I have living so far from my parents not being able to have a weekend dinner or holidays together as often as I would like.

I appreciated celebrating Thanksgiving here in Pontypool this year. It will hold me over until the next visit for sure.

 

Liv and I carving up the bird she made this year.

Liv and I carving up the bird she made this year.

In the meantime, Olivia’s favourite holiday is also Thanksgiving. She said to me this year she was going to eat her weight in pumpkin pie. I’m not sure she was successful on that front but she was amazing at making the stuffing. This year, each of my girls chose a dish to make which was fun and also a great help. Olivia chose the turkey and stuffing. We started with a very large bird, about 30 pounds, that came from Jessica Foote’s organic farm nearby - Lunar Rhythm Gardens. The next critical ingredient is good bread. My grandmother baked her own bread and used this as the basis for her stuffing. I used the bread we make here on the farm. Her recipe is very simple, uncomplicated and very easy to do. I add a few things depending on my mood but it is still her basic recipe and I remember her teaching me when I was about the same age as Olivia and this is the year I taught her.

A very old photo of my dad with my grandparents. Grandpa carving something.....

A very old photo of my dad with my grandparents. Grandpa carving something.....

Begin with about 1-2 loaves -depending on the size of loaf - of good white bread. Grandma French always used white bread but I often mix in a bit of grain or whole wheat bread in. The evening before, break apart the bread into cubes either by cutting the loaf or breaking it apart with your hands into about one inch size pieces. You want 10-12 cups bread after it is all broken up. Put the bread on a cookie sheet and allow to dry out overnight. If I’ve missed this step and forgotten to do it the evening before, I put the cookie sheets in a very low about 175 degree oven for  one hour or until the bread is stale and dry.

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In the morning of the day you are cooking the turkey, prepare the following:

4-6 tablespoons butter
2 large onions sliced and chopped finely.
6 celery stalks sliced and diced finely
Salt and pepper
Fresh or dried ground sage to taste. In my recipe I put about ½ cup chopped fresh or 2 tablespoons ground.
Danielle’s options: 2 fresh mild sage sausages or sweet Italian
Walnuts chopped (and toasted) (which my nephew does not like!)
1 apple chopped

For my recipe, I almost always put the sausages in. But my grandmother rarely did. Once I started doing it in our home, it seemed to become a habit.

Heat a large frying pan  on medium high. I use a large cast iron frying pan just because I love this pan and it cooks so evenly but any large pan will do. Remove the sausages (if you are using them) from their casings by squeezing the meat out directly into the hot pan. Using a wooden spoon, cook the sausages through until they resemble a brown crumble. Through this process, take the wooden spoon and continually mash and press the sausage meat in the pan as it breaks down. This will take about 15 minutes. There should be enough fat from the sausages that you don’t need any extra in the pan. If you do, use a small amount of vegetable oil to get things started. Place the cooked sausage meat into a large bowl and remove the grease.

Heat the pan on medium heat and melt the butter.
Add the onions and sauté until they are soft, do not brown - about 5 -8 minutes.
Add the celery and cook for approximately 10 more minutes or until the mixture is soft and melting.
Add the salt, pepper, sage and heat through until the spices are fragrant.
Turn the heat off.

In the large bowl where the sausages are, add the bread chunks and stir. Add the onion mixture and using the wooden spoon, combine all the ingredients. If you are using apples and walnuts, add them both here.

My grandmother used water to wet the bread, some people use stock. Either works. Olivia used water for our Thanksgiving this year. Add only enough water to dampen the bread, don’t wet it. It’s just to add a bit of moisture to the mixture. About ½ cup or a bit more should do the job. Allow the mixture to cool.

My Grandmother cooked everything on her wood fired cook stove

My Grandmother cooked everything on her wood fired cook stove

In the meantime, the turkey is washed, dried and ready to be cooked. The insides have been removed! The oven is on - I preheat to 400 degrees. The roasting pan is waiting for you on the counter. Stuff the bird with cooled stuffing. We stuff in the neck and the body and remaining stuffing goes into a buttered casserole dish to be baked covered with foil later.

Salt and pepper the bird well and place in the oven. Turn the temperature down to 325 and cook until it is done. I use 20 minutes a pound. Make sure to allow the turkey to rest for at least 30 minutes after removing it from the oven. Just before serving, scoop out the stuffing into bowls.

Good luck with this, Claire. Happy Thanksgiving. We will miss you this year.