The Old Family Recipe

The year was 1975, I was a newlywed and would be spending my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws and away from my family. What would the holiday be like without my mom’s stuffing, not to mention without my mom and dad? I’m not one to be dramatic, but it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving.

Bob never really cared about stuffing. This was one of the many ways we differed. To me, the stuffing was of more importance than the turkey, which simply served as an elaborate, weird, stuffing cooking device. I never thought about how disgusting it was for people to prepare food to be inserted into a turkey cavity, only to be scooped out of said cavity and served in a fancy china bowl to their loved ones. Pretty gross, but I digress

By mid-October 1975, I was contemplating making my own stuffing, but alas that was among the many, many things that I was clueless as to how to cook. I waited until a Sunday afternoon to call my mom for help. (This was way before cell phones, and long-distance calls were cheaper on Sundays.) In those days, we corresponded via letter through the Post Office, so she said she’d send me the recipe.

Mom’s letter outlined the intricacies of her prized stuffing. I wish I could tell you that I made it and it turned out great, but I chickened (or maybe turkeyed) out. In hindsight it was probably a good thing that I didn’t try to compete with my Home Economics mom-in-law’s cornbread stuffing. What woman wants her cocky new daughter-in-law to bring in a superior stuffing as a holiday icebreaker? And in my hands, who was to say it would have been superior, or even edible? But when I tasted hers that Thanksgiving afternoon, I understood why Bob wasn’t wild about it, and shed a little tear as I thought about what used to be.

Forty-five years later, I still have that letter. It is precious to me. Every year I get it out and read it. I love hearing how my nephew, their first grandchild, walked for the first time. It’s a sweet walk down memory lane. I have often thought I should frame it and hang it on my wall.

Since that time, I have made this stuffing dozens of times, and Bob loves it. I’ve tweaked the recipe a little, but it’s basically the same. My sister, Chris, and my daughter Dena both continue with this same recipe. It’s a cherished family tradition.

This Thanksgiving my mom sat at our kitchen table and watched me chopping celery and onions and making bread cubes. We chatted and I read her the letter. “This recipe is from Aunt Audrey, isn’t it?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Mom replied. “I think I got it out of the Betty Crocker Cookbook.”

“No, no, no. It’s from Aunt Audrey – not Betty Crocker. It’s a family recipe! I think I remember you telling me that,” I pleaded.

“I’m pretty sure it’s from Betty Crocker,” she said.

I was crestfallen. Betty Crocker! I’d been living a lie my entire married life! I spiraled into an identity crisis wondering if this woman sitting here was really my mom. Could Betty Crocker be my mother? Did she abandon me at birth and present me to my “parents” along with a recipe for turkey stuffing?

I pulled my own Betty Crocker Cookbook from the shelf. It was a wedding present and taught me a lot, but I didn’t want to give Betty credit for the family recipe. I wanted that to be from Mom or at least Aunt Audrey. But there it was on page 281 of my tattered cookbook.

I read from the book and then read from Mom’s letter. I had to admit they were the same. “…Turn into deep bowl. Add remaining ingredients…”

I looked at my mother, who was unphased by the unearthing of the largest plagiarism plot I had ever been exposed to, and said, “Why didn’t you just tell me it was on page 281?”

I guess we’ll never know. Please, don’t tell my sister and Dena. Sometimes it’s better to live with a wonderful illusion.

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6 Comments

  1. Anderson Robert

     /  December 10, 2020

    Still love that recipe and my funny wife

    Reply
  2. I must defend Gene’s cornbread stuffing! I grew up with it, too. Admittedly it was a bit gloppy but it tasted good. As an adult I developed my own version, which is 1/2 cheap whole wheat bread and 1/2 cornbread. It also features pecans. The glop problem is solved, and these days I rarely stuff the bird, and bake it in a 9×13 glass baking dish and moisten with chicken broth before baking. Remember, as a Home Ec teacher, Mom loved sewing, but hated cooking.

    Reply
    • If I had only known early on that her love was sewing and not as much cooking! It was a little intimidating marrying the son of a Home Ec teacher, a class I barely passed, but that was more the sewing half. I have great memories of her and every year I or one of our daughters make the corn pudding that she introduced us to. It’s a favorite. We’ll have to disagree on the cornbread dressing, maybe some time I’ll get to try yours!

      Reply
  3. Arthur Manning

     /  December 10, 2020

    roared with laughter!

    Reply

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