The British have long prepared traditional stuffings for their favorite game birds and poultry, which are enjoyed particularly during autumn and winter months. Their recipes for subtly seasoned bread mixtures inspired many of our present-day holiday stuffings.
In medieval days the peacock, or peahen, introduced by the Romans, was relished by royalty. Also highly prized were pigeons, swans, heroes, and cranes, as well as larks and the thrush. Early stuffings for these birds were made with breadcrumbs, sweet herbs, spices, fruits, nuts, and finely chopped meats. Queen Victoria favored the addition of fone gras and truffles to her herb stuffing.
After turkeys were introduced to Britain from America, they replaced the peacock and swan as royal fare. Poultry such as goslings, ducklings and chicken were luxury items, reserved for special occasions by those of lesser rank.
The goose, stuffed with sage and onion dressing, became the traditional family Christmas dish. As Dickens observed in "A Christmas Carol," the "youngest Cratchits, in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows."
In old English cookbooks stuffing was called forcemeat, or farcemeat, a name derived from the French verb farcie , to stuff. Today the mixture is generally known as stuffing but we in America often call it dressing.
Stuffings for both wild and domesticated birds have changed little over the years. They not only add flavor but help to retin the original shape of poultry. Generally speaking, rich meat requires plain stuffing and bland meat gains succulence from rich stuffing. Nevertheless all dressings are well seasoned.
Sage and onion dressing is favored for duck, as well as goose, and also is good with chicken. Chestnut and sausage, or plain sausage, is excellent for large fowls such as turkey, or perhaps goose, and apple stuffing is recommended for goose as it tends to correct excessive greasiness.
Because stuffing expands considerably during cooking, it should be packed loosely. Allow about 1 cup of stuffing per pound of meat. Although the stuffing may be prepared before-hand and refrigerated, it should be inserted into the bird just before cooking. Any excess stuffing can be bake separately.
The following stuffings may be used for any kind of poultry as well as for game birds, if available. They are appropriate not only for the holidays but at any time of the year. The British cook has long known that "for every season she hath dressings fit."
(Makes about 10 cups) 1/2 cup butter or margarine 2 cups chopped onion 1 cup chopped celery and leaves (optical) 6 cups day-old soft bread cubes 1 tablespoon crumbled dried sage 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Melt butter in a skillet; add onion and saute until tender. Combine with other ingredients in a large bowl or kettle and toss to thoroughly combine.
(Makes about 10 cups) 3 cups chopped peeled tart apples 2 cups chopped onions 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel 6 cups day-old soft bread cubes 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon salt 1/3 teaspoon pepper
Combine ingredients in a large bowl or kettle and toss to thoroughly combine.
Note: An old English recipe for this stuffing calls for the addition of lemon thyme which has the flavor of lemon. Lemon juice, rind and thyme are given here.
(Makes about 11 cups) 1/2 cup butter or margarine 1 large onion, peeled and chopped 1 cup chopped celery 6 cups day-old soft bread cubes 3/4 pound sausage meat, cooked, drained and crumbled 1 tablespoon crumbled dried sage, thyme or poultry seasoning 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley 1 egg, beaten 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Heat butter in a saucepan or skillet; add onion and celery and saute until onion is tender. Combine with remaining ingredients in a large bowl or kettle; toss to thoroughly combine.