I’m cooking this year for Thanksgiving, and when that happens- believe it or not- I always look forward to it. Many people I know groan at the prospect of being responsible for this preposterous, Brobdignagian, and above all, deeply American feast. It’s no wonder: between the 47 must-have dishes, (“what do you mean you didn’t make the green Jell-o with the little bananas floating in it?”) and the obligatory mid-morning turkey-roasting nervous-breakdown (“Is it supposed to still be frozen inside?”), all we need to complete the collective sense of impending doom is Paul Revere riding through the living room calling out “The Relatives are coming! The Relatives are coming!!”
In the midst of all this madness, who could blame us for allowing “avoiding sugar” to fall to the bottom of our priorities list? Well, I’m here to tell you that you needn’t despair of your sugar-avoiding ambitions. Whether you’re cooking yourself, or just bringing a dish to help weigh down the table at someone else’s home, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean “oh well” in the no-sugar department.
Let’s pinpoint the potential pitfalls: as always, if something has been store-bought, you’re probably in trouble. Whether it’s a package of gravy, a pre-glazed or brined meat, or a package of insta-stuffing- you’re going to encounter a whole host of added sugars, long before the pumpkin pie makes its appearance. I mean, look at these lists of ingredients I found for the most popular brands of instant stuffing:
Holy cow! High Fructose Corn Syrup, Molasses, Honey, Raisin Juice Concentrate… I count five different names for sugar in those ingredient lists, and that’s without even getting into any of the other, highly-questionable ingredients like mono and diglycerides (trans-fats), partially hydrogenated soybean oil (more trans-fats), BHT butyl hydroxytoluene (also used in embalming fluid) and DATEM (Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides- yum!). Google any of these and you’ll come up with a host of websites devoted to telling you that these “ingredients” cause cancer, cancer and also cancer, endocrine disruption, diabetes, and your head to fall off.
So! How hard would it be- really- to make your own stuffing? Honestly, it’s not bad at all. Chop up some crusty bread, add some sauteed vegetables and spices, and bake in the oven in a casserole dish. Voila! No added sugar, no nasty chemicals.
Incidentally, this is a subject near and dear to my heart: in my house growing up, Turkey Day was always all about the stuffing. You could lose everything else, up to and including the turkey itself, (which I actually did for years as a quasi-vegetarian), but the one dish it could not be Thanksgiving without was my mom’s famous Oyster Stuffing. If you feel like trying something new to go along with your uber-traditional meal, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Getting the oysters pre-shucked at a fish market is a little pricey, but my idea of a virtually indispensible holiday treat. My advice? Scrap the shrimp cocktail this year- try this instead.
(I like to make it a day in advance and throw it in to re-heat while other things are cooking. Also- it makes the most incredibly wonderful ingredient for leftover turkey sandwiches.)
Here it is:
Eve’s Mom’s Famous Oyster Stuffing
2 lbs of bread torn or cut into 1/2 inch pieces (make sure it does not contain sugar as an ingredient… Your best bet is to buy bread from (gasp!) a real baker… if you can find one. Let it get a little stale- 2 days or so.)
3/4 c. fresh parsley
2 Tbsp finely grated fresh lemon peel (I always use organic lemons if using the peel to avoid pesticides)
1 Tbsp crumbled sage leaves
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 lb butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
3 cups (1 1/2 pints) shucked oysters, drained
1 egg, lightly beaten
Combine bread and chopped parsley, lemon peel, sage, pepper, and 1 Tbsp salt in a large bowl and mix well. In a 10-12 inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add onions, sauteing for five minutes or till translucent. Add celery, saute 1-2 minutes more. Add the sauteed vegetables, oysters and egg to the bread and spices and gently stir together. Cook in a buttered 9 by 13 inch casserole dish, covered with aluminum foil at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, remove foil, cook for 20 minutes more allowing top to brown nicely.