The national observance of a day of Thanksgiving has now passed. Despite all for which we have cause to lament and repent, we nevertheless have much to be grateful to God for as well. We are a blessed people.
As is common, many of us gathered with family and friends for a time of feasting. Central to the menu was that bird unsuccessfully nominated as a national symbol by Ben Franklin, the Turkey. Next too it, and usually as it’s counterpart, is that side dish that interestingly enough is representative of the division of culture between us North and South — dressing or stuffing.
What’s all the fuss about, you ask. Aren’t they essentially the same? Who uses which, and why? And what, if any, is the difference between the two? Those are questions we will attempt to briefly answer in this article.
Well, they are both a bread dish. They are also both served with the turkey, if not used to stuff the turkey. They may even use similar ingredients or spices. So yes, essentially, they are the same kind of dish.
That largely depends on which side of the Mason Dixon Line your state falls. Basically those south of the line use what they call dressing. Those north of the line, as well as those becoming states after the war, use what they call stuffing. Obviously there are some discrepancies, as some Southern families have migrated northward and westward, or some Northern families southward, etc. Still, the version of the dish used, and what it is called, basically depends on one’s Southern or Northern origins.
The major and only significant difference between the two is the bread from which the dish is prepared. Dressing is made from cornbreads, and stuffing is traditionally made from regular wheat breads. Naturally, variants have arisen, such as versions using specialty breads like sourdough, adding fruit to the mix, and even substituting rice for bread. Still, the regional designations remain the same. And the historic difference remains corn versus flour.
This distinction is important to Souther heritage for a number of reasons. One is that next to cotton corn became our cash crop. Another is that during the war, due to blockades and ruination of supplies by invading forces, our people and troops were compelled to live off of meager means, consisting largely of corn based products. Cornbread, grits, and hominy, etc. were so interwoven with the fabric of our heritage that they now and forever remain known as Southern foods. The same is true of dressing.
It is often thought that a major difference is whether the dish was ever actually inside the turkey or not. The designation stuffing, certainly implies the bird was stuffed with the mixture. Albeit, while such may in fact be the original intention and use of the dish, it has nevertheless become just as common to serve stuffing on the side, irregardless of it’s disposition toward the bird. As for dressing, I can’t recall ever seeing or hearing of it being used in that fashion — either among relatives and friends, or from historic accounts. Perhaps I am simply lacking in proper exposure to the facts. Either way, whether the bird was stuffed or not, it makes no meaningful difference between the dishes or their designation. Again, the bread used in making the dish is the primary difference.
There are other differences between the two. Differences derived from the content of the mixture used, including the bread of choice. Things like the texture of the food, the taste, the garnishes, etc. All things we shall leave to the food critics themselves to discuss more in depth. Suffice it to say for now, dressing and stuffing, both as a dish and a designation, are largely a reflection of the differences and similarities between our two peoples, Southern and Northern.
Which do you serve at Thanksgiving? As for me and mine, pass the dressing please! And don’t feel compelled to restrict it’s use to Thanksgiving, other holidays, or special occasions either.
Happy belated Thanksgiving to you and yours.
God Save the South!