Even though I’ve dreamed of city life since I was just a kid hoping to one day make it big in the movies, I’m a small-town country girl at heart. I like to think I’ve learned a bit of city street smarts over the years since I moved away from home, but it hasn’t always been that way and it’s certainly taken time. There are things you take for granted when you live with your parents that slap you in the face as soon as you’re on your own – subtle but more vital things than laundry or dishes.
Things like changing the oil in your car, for example. How are you supposed to know that your dad’s been changing your oil all these years? Hopefully not by your car overheating and your radiator cracking during your first year in college like me.
Or things like how much liquid to put into homemade cornbread stuffing. That one’s from today and we’ll come back to it.
How to drive on a highway is another prime example. When I took to the open road for my first out-of-town driving excursion at age 17, I made a big mistake. I begged my parents to let my friend Lacy and I take a 2½ -hour day trip to Six Flags, but they were pretty steadfast in their “no-out-of-town driving” rule.
A rule I got caught breaking right after getting my license when my best friend and I drove 40 miles to the Penny Candy Store after my mom explicitly forbade the trip. I’m still not sure whether she discovered my candy wrappers, was suspicious of the bag of satsuma mandarins I’d brought home from the stand on side of the road, or checked the mileage in my car, but regardless, she was not pleased. No bother though because either way, I still had a month’s supply of frooties to pig out on.
So when my mom finally agreed to let Lacy and I take the car to Six Flags during the summer before senior year, we printed the MapQuest directions (yup, MapQuest) and were out the door before she could remember the penny candy store trip and change her mind.
Here’s what you don’t learn when you grow up driving in a one-freeway town: Highways have directions. And they aren’t “toward the mall” and “away from the mall.” You’d think that’d be intuitive, but let me assure you, it isn’t.
About an hour into our 2½-hour trip after passing Cottonwood and signs for Mount Shasta, we called my dad to verify that Cottonwood was on the way to Six Flags. It’s not. It’s an hour in the wrong direction.
That’s right, on my first out-of-town road trip, I drove an hour in the wrong direction on I-5. Apparently that little “S” on the print-out meant something. We eventually made it to Six Flags, but don’t tell mom how fast we drove to get there.
Even though I’ve made this exact stuffing for the past five Thanksgivings, I still had to call my mom today just to make sure I didn’t drive an hour in the wrong direction while making this stuffing. I’m in charge of the stuffing every year, but I took for granted the opportunity to ask mom “is this stuffing too dry?” until she wasn’t by my side making mashed potatoes.
This is the only stuffing recipe I’ll ever need, yet somehow this is the first time I’ve written it down in its entirety. Without fail, every Thanksgiving, I have to search through my inbox to find the 5 year old e-mail to mom with my Thanksgiving shopping list just to recall what I put in my stuffing. Not this Thanksgiving though. Last year I was smart enough to make a draft e-mail with a list of ingredients that finally today got turned into an actual recipe (obviously draft e-mails are the most efficient way to store cherished recipes).
Without a written recipe, this stuffing has gone through many iterations. It started with a seasoned cornbread stuffing box mix. The first version didn’t have onions as one guest adamantly despised them. Then there was the couple of years that my mom snuck water chestnuts in (I’ve since vetoed them – it’s a texture thing). Last year was the first experiment in making the stuffing entirely gluten-free with homemade cornbread, and this year I swapped out most of the dried herbs for fresh ones.
For this version, I mixed homemade cornbread with a few chopped up slices of toasted whole grain bread to add a study texture to the stuffing that won’t fall apart when tossed with liquid and vegetables. This stuffing is packed with pungent fresh herbs and a bit of spice from the sausage that contrasts the sweet apples and corn. If there’s one Thanksgiving leftover that people fight over in our house, it’s this apple and sausage cornbread stuffing.
What’s in your family’s traditional stuffing?
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- 1 gluten-free buttermilk skillet cornbread, chopped into 1-inch squares (I bake the cornbread 2 days ahead of time and leave it on the counter to dry out).
- 8 slices gluten-free whole grain or white bread, chopped into ½" squares
- 1 pound pork sausage
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 4 celery ribs, diced
- 2 fuji apples, core removed and chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, minced (or ¾ teaspoon dried marjoram)
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced (or ¾ teaspoon dried thyme)
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, minced (or 2 teaspoons dried sage)
- ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
- Pinch dried nutmeg
- 3 to 3½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
- Preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Spread the cornbread and chopped white bread evenly over 2 baking sheets and toast for 10-15 minutes, or until crispy and lightly browned, tossing every 5 minutes (if using a dark coated baking sheet, toasting time will be only around 5 minutes). When the bread is toasted, remove it from the oven and increase the temperature to 375°F.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, breaking it into bite-sized pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- In the same pan, melt the butter (if you have a lot of sausage grease, you might not need butter - I had almost none). Add the onions and celery and cook until the onions begin to sweat, about 4 minutes. Add the apples and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to the same mixing bowl with the sausage.
- Toss the sausage and vegetables with the marjoram, thyme, sage, rosemary, nutmeg, and toasted cornbread and bread.
- Pour in 3 cups of the chicken broth and toss to coat. Let it sit for 2-3 minutes and toss again. If it's still dry, add up to ½ cup more chicken broth, slowly. You want it to be moist, but not soggy.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Transfer to a large baking dish (usually I bake mine in two 9x13 glass baking dishes). Bake at 375°F for 20-30 minutes, until the top begins to get crispy and brown. For a bit of extra crisp, put it under the broiler for 3 minutes.