by GRACE MCCLELLAND
It is that time of year again, time to make my great-great grandfather’s turkey stuffing. My mom grabs the framed recipe off of the kitchen wall where it hangs to connect past to present. She instructs us, this Thanksgiving Eve, to perform our tradition of tearing up bread so that it can dry out for the stuffing. I recall how much fun it was as a child to rip the loaves of bread. Even today, I still enjoy doing this task because it evokes memories and a connection to my entire extended family. We tear the bread, turning it over many times to dry to just the right amount before we go to bed.
The next morning our bits of bread are crusty and dry. My mother begins by frying small strips of bacon as my brothers and I review the recipe. I hear the sizzling and popping as it cooks. Our dogs, Yoda and Finn, prance over to the kitchen in hopes of finding a stray bit of bacon on the tile. On the rug under the sink, they are sitting hopefully, sniffing profusely, waiting impatiently, trying to earn a small morsel that falls from the skillet. They cock their ears and twitch their noses as they hear the bacon popping and smell its sweet, salty fragrance. My brothers appear in hopes of snagging a piece, but our mom chases them away. Yoda and Finn run after my brothers like cheetahs chase after their prey. I am nearby chopping celery stalks for the stuffing.. The pieces have to be just the right size - not too thin and not too thick. The celery provides a satisfying feel as I cut it. Tiny bits of cool water bounce off the stalks and dampen my hands. My mom praises me for the good work and takes over with chopping the onions, which she knows I do not like. I assist by moving the bacon to a paper towel where it drains and fills the room with its scent. Mom puts the chopped onions in the skillet to brown until they are caramelized. The aroma of these sweet onions begins to fill the room. She adds the celery and cooks it until it, too, is tender. She sets these ingredients aside so we can prepare the remaining items for the recipe.
I scoop up the bread crumbs into a huge bowl as my mom beats a couple of eggs, adds broth and herbs, and shakes in some salt and pepper. We are now ready to assemble the stuffing. Mom spoons the onions and celery into the breadcrumbs, as I crumble the bacon over them. We take turns mixing the ingredients until the stuffing is just right in terms of moisture and dispersion of its elements. We spoon it into buttered dishes and set it in the oven to bake until it is golden brown.
In the 45 - 60 minutes it takes for the stuffing to bake, my mind travels to the significance of this dish. As I smell the fragrant herbs baking, I reflect on the stories of my ancestor, Great- Great Grandpa Tony, who was born in Austria in 1889. I think about how he became an accomplished chef with a special talent for pastries while befriending the Baron Von Trapp and watching Hitler rise to power. I imagine Tony immigrating to the United States as a young man, becoming a citizen, and always living from a place of gratitude. I think of how he treasured a good family meal and lovingly created many Thanksgiving dinners for his family and friends. I reflect on how more than a hundred years have passed, yet his stuffing recipe, gratitude for the freedoms he was given in his adopted country, and the deep love for his family remain part of my family today.
My mother is from a big family that has become spread across the country. I have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins living in Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Though we are not always able to spend Thanksgiving with them, we are always bound by the deep love - and by the stuffing recipe - that Anton (Tony) Schabas shared with my family for so many decades. When I sit down to each Thanksgiving dinner, I imagine my relatives browning bacon and onions and celery, clipping the herbs, and mixing the breadcrumbs to make this delicious stuffing. I see them setting the dish on the table and imagine their first bites much the same as mine. It is a sense of connectedness, of gratitude, of family, and of history. I realize that sometimes the simplest of things leave the greatest imprints.