I Revamped My Grandma’s Traditional Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe and I Think She Would Be So Proud
Stuffing is a must-have side dish at most Thanksgiving tables, and my grandma — who I call Memaw — made a very traditional stuffing with white bread, onions, celery, and plenty of sage. Earlier this year, my sweet Memaw passed away and with that, the virtual baton of cooking Thanksgiving dinner now falls on my mom and me. While we know all of her recipes and plan to keep them the same, one I’ve always wanted to play with was her stuffing recipe.
I planned to use the same ingredients as Memaw used: sliced white bread, onions, celery, eggs, salt, pepper, sage, and chicken broth. She would just chop up raw vegetables and tear fresh bread before mixing both together with the eggs, chicken broth, and seasonings to make a very wet stuffing. Most years, the stuffing didn’t cook all the way through on Thanksgiving Day because it was so wet and too much was piled into the baking pan she chose. I always thought this stuffing lacked flavor or any sort of textural interest, which is why I always passed on it while making my plate at the Thanksgiving table in favor of other items like mashed potatoes and extra homemade cranberry sauce.
My mom lovingly obliged to this recipe revamp, but not before me practicing it prior to Turkey Day — just in case it didn’t turn out well. Here’s how it went.
How to Make My Revamped “Memaw’s Stuffing”
First I let the bread sit out overnight to dry on a few wire baking racks. This helps the bread absorb more liquid and, in turn, make a more bread pudding-like texture with the final dish. The next day is when I really got to work. I began by slicing the onions into 1.25-inch-thick quarter-moons and cutting the celery into 1.25-inch pieces. Then I sautéed the vegetables in a pan with butter and olive oil. When the veggies were completely cooked through and nicely caramelized, I took them out of the pan and placed them into a bowl to be set aside.
I knew I wanted to add the sage into the chicken broth somehow, and figured that either steeping or blending the sage into the broth would be best. I ended up blending fresh sage and chicken broth together in my Nutribullet to make a fragrant green broth that smelled like Thanksgiving all wrapped up in one plastic carafe. The mixture was then placed on the stove to heat up before using it to bring the stuffing together.
Once the chicken broth was bubbling, I turned it off and set my attention to ripping bread. My job as a kid was always to rip up pieces of white sandwich bread while Memaw did the same. The dried-out bread wasn’t as easy to rip as fresh, but I knew it would be worth it. After tearing all of the bread, I added in some of the sage and chicken broth concoction and started to mix the stuffing. Next, I broke and scrambled one egg in a small bowl before adding it to the bread, and mixed everything again until the egg was incorporated.
Memaw always called chicken broth the “juice” of the stuffing, and in my head, I kept hearing her say, “It needs more juice.” So I continued to add chicken broth until the bread mixture was pretty soggy without completely disintegrating. Once the bread was ready, I gently folded the sautéed vegetables until they were evenly dispersed. Then I seasoned it with salt and pepper.
Then came the stroke of genius I tried to convince my family of for years but no one ever wanted to try: Bake the stuffing in muffin tins! This would allow everyone to have equal parts of the crispy outside edge of the stuffing while still getting some of the softer interior. And, let’s be honest: It’s a lot more fun to eat two or three muffin cups of stuffing than one large portion.
I dished the stuffing into a buttered muffin cup with an ice cream scoop to ensure each of the cups had the same amount of stuffing. When each muffin cup was filled, I brushed on a small amount of melted butter to the top of each pile and topped that with a few sprinkles of flaky sea salt. The butter helps the top of the stuffing brown nicely and the sea salt assists with that initial punch of flavor that Memaw’s stuffing usually needed, but I never dared to say. I popped these into a 350ºF oven for about 40 minutes knowing the stuffing mixture was fairly thick and I wanted the edges to get nice and crispy.
When the timer went off, I took the muffin tray out of the oven and checked the doneness of the stuffing with a toothpick. It came out clean, which meant the stuffing cups were done. If it hadn’t come out clean, I would have cooked it for three to five more minutes and then checked again.
I set the cups aside to cool for about five minutes before passing them around to my family to rate.
My Family’s Honest Review of My Revamped “Memaw’s Stuffing”
This recipe is proof that you can use the same ingredients and have a completely reinvented dish that pays homage to a family recipe without destroying it. When my family tasted this version, they liked that the edges were crispy, but the inside was soft. They also liked the muffin cup idea after all, saying it was a great way to sop up more gravy or use it as a sort of gravy dipper on Thanksgiving.
The one compliment that meant the most was from my Aunt — one of Memaw’s daughters — who pulled me aside and said, “You know, Memaw would be so proud of you, and she would love this.” That was all of the confirmation I needed to know that my reinvention of Memaw’s very traditional stuffing was a success.
Tips for Making My Revamped “Memaw’s Stuffing”
- Cut up more onions and celery than you think you’re going to need. The vegetables add a ton of flavor to this dish — especially because they are caramelized. After you mix the cooked vegetables into the bread, they can get lost, and you definitely want to see the stuffing studded with onions and celery.
- Fresh sage is imperative. Usually, around this time of year, you can find fresh sage at most grocery stores. It has a ton more flavor than dried or rubbed sage. And since it goes into the blender with the chicken broth, you can add in the stems and leaves.