I called my sister.
“How did Mom make stuffing?” I asked.
“She got a special loaf of Stroehman’s bread from the bread man.”
“The bread man?”
“Like the milk man. He came to the door.”
We were talking in the car, Sue in Philadelphia, me in Brooklyn, multitasking through Bluetooth while shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. My sister’s car is her own private phone booth and claims over the whole family’s objection that it’s just as safe as a conversation between driver and her shotgun companion. I’ve never done it but stuffing was much on my mind and Sue is the keeper of family recipes.
“It was unsliced and the crust was thick. She cut it into pieces and mixed it in that large yellow bowl of hers then grated an onion over it and did her seasoning thing and a stick of melted butter.”
Hurling at 35 miles an hour through an underpass of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was not a good time to wonder about a bread man coming to the door nor what happened to Mom’s yellow bowl but I succeeded in stopping at the next red light.
“I throw in sausage,” I said.
“I did oysters once,” Sue said but basically the underpinning of both our stuffing was precisely Mom’s.
I talked to a friend last night from the safety of the living room and asked her about her mom’s stuffing.
“I remember no matter how early you woke up, the house smelled wonderful with it. And my mom wasn’t a good cook but her stuffing was incredible.”
“What was in it?”
She didn’t even hesitate to remember. “Torn bread, onion, celery, then chicken stock. That’s how I do it, too.”
This morning, I caught up with a fellow dog walker and made her ponder the question for a minute while our dogs wrecked havoc in the park. “My mom’s was always so dry but if you dumped gravy on it and shook on enough salt and pepper it was the first thing to disappear.”
Mom, like almost everything else in my life, had thrust me down this road. Of all the dishes she spread across the holiday table–string bean casserole and canned sweet potatoes, the cylinder of cranberry sauce, a crystal dish of carrots, celery and pickles, silky gravy thick with flavors, the crowning achievement of a crisp skin, moist turkey–her stuffing recipe is the one I religiously follow.
This singularly simple dish, concocted out of few ingredients and forgiving of additions such as sausage and oysters, seems to me to be so entwined like no other in our memories of America’s most iconic meal. Moms across the country, elbow deep in their own version of our family’s yellow bowl, stamped into our consciousness of a Thursday meal.
Chocolate Angel Pie
I know I’ve been baking a lot of pies lately but I come at this by way of a dilemma. Last week I made too much French hot chocolate. Everyday, the leftovers have stared me in the face, too rich for one person to consume. I came upon this recipe in my very worn copy of the Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook. Not only would it take care of the chocolate but its crust is a lightweight, cholesterol free meringue that you may claim to be good for you.
3 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Combine first four ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating until very stiff and sugar is dissolved. Spread over the bottom and sides of a butter greased 9″ pie pan, being sure to build up the sides. Sprinkle the walnuts on the bottom. Bake for 1 hour. Cool while making filling.
Filling if you don’t have leftover French hot chocolate on hand:
3/4 cups bittersweet chocolate chopped
1/4 cup hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy whipped cream
Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently boiling water. Add the hot water and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Cool.
Fold in the whipped cream and pour into the meringue shell. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Banner photo, left to right: Aunt Alice, Aunt Mary, Mom post family dinner.