2017-11-16 / From The Garden

Herbs, the Taste of Thanksgiving

By Cynthia Gibson

The aroma of turkey roasting in the oven permeates the house on Thanksgiving morning, as does the aroma of the herbs used to flavor the bird and the stuffing. This delicious wafting is a most sensational American tradition.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving has begun to spread around the world, due to troops overseas, foreign service and ex-pats. And the herbs and spices required to prepare the holiday meal are the easiest ingredients to find.

For trivia buffs, the term “stuffing” is used when the bread mixture is baked into the cavity of the turkey. When it is baked in a dish outside of the bird, it is called “dressing.”

Sage has been the traditional and prominent herb in turkey stuffing or dressing, either fresh and finely chopped or dried. It also happens to be one of the easiest herbs to grow in Rhode Island. It has an herbaceous, or woody stem, and survives winter beautifully. The leaves are ready to pick now. If you pick your sage leaves this week and leave them out on a paper towel away from sunlight, they will dry and be ready to use by Thanksgiving.

But sage does not have to be dried for us to use it in cooking. The rule with any freshly chopped herb is to use twice as much as asked for in the recipe. Dried herbs are usually far more pungent, so stick with the suggested amount.

Many people no longer stuff their birds for fear of salmonella, so I will provide you with an excellent dressing with herbs for your holiday bird.

By the way, not only is sage an excellent herb for stuffing, but thyme is also outstanding. Although rosemary is called for in many dressing recipes, it is very strong. It is better to place rosemary in the empty cavity of the turkey while it is roasting, or under the skin. Those are the two spots I reserve for bunches of fresh sage and smaller sprigs. But the choice is yours.

Once again, using homegrown herbs is always best, but the supermarkets now carry almost every herb you will ever need.

Herbed Dressing

Serves 10

Two French baguettes or two
loaves of Italian bread cut into
cubes (you will need a total of 10
cups) one day in advance; they
will be crusty by Thanksgiving
4 tbsp. butter
3 large stalks of celery, chopped
3 medium yellow onions,
3 cups of vegetable broth, or
broth of your choice
3 tbsp. fresh sage, finely
2 tbsp. finely fresh
thyme, finely chopped
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 large eggs beaten
1/4 tsp. salt
3 or 4 grinds of fresh pepper

Cut the bread into cubes the day before Thanksgiving, placing them on a cookie sheet to dry overnight. Bake them in a preheated oven of 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until they are light brown. They will burn easily, so watch them closely. After browning in the oven, let them stand until they are at room temperature. In a large frying pan, melt the butter, and sauté your celery and onions until the onion is transparent.

In a large mixing bowl, place the bread cubes, one cup of the vegetable broth, all the celery, onions, herbs, and then salt and pepper. Mix well, add the beaten eggs and mix again. Continue adding the vegetable broth one cup at a time, as you do not want soggy dressing. You might use all the broth, you might not.

Butter a three-quart baking dish with lid, place the oven at 350 degrees with the lid on for 35 minutes, then remove the lid and let the crust form on the top of the dressing, continue to bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let sit for five minutes and it is ready to serve.

Anything you like can be added to this dressing: raisins, chestnuts, garlic, cooked sausage… it is up to you. Every family has its very own addition or secret ingredient.

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