laura packardTo stuff or not to stuff? That is the question.

       About the annual Thanksgiving turkey, that is. 

            I don’t know about your house; but ours is one divided: north vs. south; Hellman’s vs. Dukes; top sliced hot dog buns vs. sliced on the side. Me, well, my mom’s paternal side of the family came straight from England in the mid-1600’s to the colony of Jamestown. One of the great-great-greats, William Butler, fought in the American Revolution and by the grace of God survived. As was the case way back then, he was gifted some rural farmland in Madison County outside Athens, Georgia for his courageous duties and the rest is history or can be found on  

            My dad’s side, the Scottish Williamsons, came over with General James Oglethorpe who had a soft spot for the “English Debtors.” It seems Oglethorpe was not only a member of Parliament, but also a fierce social reformer, so when he watched another good friend die in the harsh conditions of one of many prisons/work camps just for owing the crown some chump change, he finally declared enough was enough. Once arriving safely to the swamp, mosquito and disease infested coast, my people smartly (well, back then . . . before beach rentals) high-tailed it inward, and claimed their fifty acre farming parcel in Emanuel county, Georgia, which is basically Swainsboro. The Solomon Williamson Cemetery lies in Oak Park and the Williamsons, the ones who are alive and kicking, still gather from near and far for a huge ol’ family reunion and pig pull every other year.   

            So, to say I’m a Georgia Peach to my pitted core . . . well, that would be a vast understatement. The other half of my kids’ genes, however, are tried and true Yankee with some French Canadian peppered in. This means my husband comes from a long line of hearty New Englanders on his dad’s side and fancy foodie Quebecois from his mom’s. But more importantly, what this really means is that when it comes to food and tradition, as a family, we couldn’t be more all over the place.

         My husband demands the bird is to be stuffed. And not just blown up with two loaves of chopped up Sunbeam, but the soggy white bread should be doused with an entire box of Bell’s seasoning. What is Bell’s seasoning, you may ask? Beats me because I can never find it anywhere though my mom-in-law swears you can at the Winn Dixie. I don’t know which Winn Dixie she’s talking about because I’m pretty sure they don’t exist in the greater Boston area, but down here, they look at you funny at the customer service counter when you ask someone where to find the bright yellow box with the royal blue turkey on it.

            For me, growing up, the only time you would see white bread on Thanksgiving was the next day, slathered in Duke’s and heaped with a substantial slice of the leftover poultry. Here, we use the southern skillet staple for our stuffing. That’s right, as in the crusty, yet delicate, savory but still sweet, cornbread. But if you put it in the bird, you may as well dole out corn pudding. My mom always bakes her cornbread stuffing on a Pyrex next to the turkey, then serves it in a silver casserole dish with a scalloped edge Reed and Barton serving spoon.

            The rest of the “sides” are presented in similar, elegant accoutrements along with the requisite white wine tumblers, crystal red wine balloons, iced tea goblets and antique china coffee cups brought over from England. And since this is THE south, we’re filled with many wonderful contradictions. My husband still does not understand why you throw an old sheet over a tablescape worthy of Tavern on the Green complete with a fancy crystal Waterford relish tray filled with the contents of a jar of Mt. Olive bread and butters and a $1.99 can of Spanish olives from the Piggly Wiggly. I try and explain to him that while November in New Hampshire brings snow storms, it’s still hot as blazes down here and the flies come in without knocking while the men go in and out the front door to get beer as we watch a 14 lb turkey fry in peanut oil on the front lawn.

            Now, when I go to my in-laws’, the stuffing is not only in the bird but there is a side on the table with seafood in it. There is also a crock of Boston baked beans that took 28 hours, 2 shifts and 12 pots of coffee to make. And don’t get me started on the vegetables, y’all. I stand in front of peas, green beans, squash and turnips in the buffet line and not one of them has a lick of mayo in them. I’m serious, not one casserole topped with fried onions, Ritz crackers or Cheddar Cheese. There just roasted, fresh produce. Down here, even our fruit salad, dished out in a grandma’s finest, has a healthy dose of mayo in it.

            Oh well, to each his own, don’t knock it ’til you try it or, as we say in the South, can’t never could. But no matter what your traditions, have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone! I guess it’s not what you serve, but who you serve it up with that matters the most in the end.