Food,  House and Home

The Thanksgiving Stuffing Story

Hi all. So it’s a rare entry (these days) from Jonathan tonight! Our family has been “team cooking” for holidays for the past several years. There used to be time and people enough to get everything done in one place, but as the years went on, that became more and more difficult. My Mom had become the coordinator and main cook for the big family holidays, and it was just getting to be too much, so we all started to volunteer to handle a dish or at least prep for a dish. Jenny and I started to host Wigilia (Christmas Eve dinner) several years ago, and Marissa and Jack began to host Thanksgiving pretty recently. Well, we’re getting close to Thanksgiving time, and my Dad is making the stuffing this year. He couldn’t find the recipe at home, so he asked the Family Hive Mind (a.k.a. the giant group text message where we all share our daily happenings) if anyone had the family recipe. I didn’t think I did, but a quick search of my email proved me wrong, and also reminded me of a fun family story that I had forgotten.

I had asked my Mom for the recipe back in 2010, when Jenny and I were going to be spending Thanksgiving with her family at the cottage at Shawnee State Park. She sent the recipe, along with this gem of a story from our family’s past:

“This was your Great-grandmother Portka’s recipe (Dziadzia’s mother).  Your Great-grandmother Pilat [my Babcia’s mother -jdw] made a different kind of stuffing but she liked Babcia Portka’s stuffing, too.  After your Dziadzia and Babcia got married, she told Babcia to make Dziadzia’s mother’s stuffing because it was the one Dziadzia liked and it was the one to which he was accustomed.  It has been the family stuffing ever since.”

As I’m sure happened (and continues to happen) in families all over the world, this particular family recipe prevailed over the other options when families were joined. A lot of our family recipes have similar stories, I’m sure (I know our pierogi recipe has a similar story). Maybe you are reading this and don’t have a family recipe for stuffing? Well, you’re in luck: I’m going to share ours, and hope that maybe some people will dump the box this year and start your own “family recipe” tradition for a staple side dish.

Note: This recipe is completely meatless and does not use any eggs, so it is a great candidate to prepare ahead of time and refrigerate or even freeze, then thaw and bake when ready. This recipe will make a quantity sufficient to fill a foil half-roaster (like those used in steam tables). For reference, we make TWO of these for Thanksgiving, so as to make sure there are leftovers available. 🙂 Also note that all of the asides and comments here are from my Mom. This is exactly the recipe she gave me, and I am leaving the comments as-is for posterity. Cook’s tip: After sauteeing the vegetables, it is a good idea to use one slice of bread as a taste test. Spread it with some sour cream and top with some of the vegetable mixture. This taste test will ensure a good product. 🙂


Woytek Family Stuffing

To fill one of those small aluminum foil roaster inserts for the buffet server:

  • 2 loaves of regular, sliced white bread (like the store brand from Giant Eagle, or Stroehmans, etc.)
  • 1 stick of butter or margarine
  • A little less than half of a full stalk of celery, chopped (I’m not talking one rib, or stick, but the stalk)
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped (or shredded)
  • 2 – 3 large onions, chopped
  • 1 envelope George Washington instant broth (gold) – I buy this in the instant bouillon section at Community Market.  It is meatless so it works for Babcia
  • 1 bunch of parsley, leafy tops, chopped
  • 1 can of condensed cream of celery soup
  • 1 can of condensed cream of onion soup

Cube the bread, heels included, and place the cubes in a bowl or pot that will be big enough for mixing.  Melt the butter in a big frying pan and sauté the chopped onions, celery and carrots.  When the veggies are soft, stir in the chopped parsley and the George Washington mix.  I don’t add any more liquid to this mixture because, between the melted butter and the veggies, it will be pretty wet.

Add the veggies and their cooking liquid to the bread cubes, along with the undiluted cream soups.  Mix thoroughly.  The stuffing will reduce in volume as the liquid is absorbed.  Grease a small roaster or large casserole and lightly pack the stuffing into it.  Cover with greased foil.

At this point, you can bake the stuffing right away or refrigerate it overnight.  For longer storage, you may freeze it but be sure to let it begin to thaw before baking because it will take a long time to heat through otherwise.

Bake the stuffing on a middle rack of the oven at 350° for about an hour, or until heated through.  I usually test it in a very unscientific way by inserting a butter knife into the center of the stuffing and (very carefully) feeling the blade of the knife.  It should be REALLY hot.  You may also check the temperature with a thermometer stuck into the center of the stuffing.  A reading of 160° will ensure a safe product.

Jonathan does a lot of stuff. If you ask Jenny, maybe he does too much stuff.