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The History Stuffing

Stuffing and Thanksgiving

by Gabriel Coeli

The Quintessential Stuffing


Stuffing, also called dressing, is a seasoned mix of vegetables and starches and sometimes eggs that are cooked within the body cavity of an animal that is then served alongside the animal usually as an ancillary course. Some stuffings utilize other meats such as sausage (especially popular in Italian dishes) or oysters in their mix and vegetarian stuffings usually contain tofu (and are not cooked within an animal,) but on the whole most dressings are based on bread or potatoes.

Various kinds of stuffing go as far back as the Roman Empire , where recipes appear in De re Coquinaria , a collection found within a kitchen anthology called Apicius that chronicles thousands of Roman dishes. In De re Coquinaria , chicken, rabbit, pork and dormouse stuffings are made available. While some scholars argue that because of the language used in Apicius, which is closer in ways to Vulgar than Classic Latin, that many of the recipes contained within it were not cooked in Rome , there are long traditions and other historical references that corroborate the wide use of stuffing in Ancient Italy.

The French have made perhaps the most prolific or visible use of stuffing throughout the ages, but the dish is positively global. There are so many recipes and variations on recipes it would be impossible to estimate a number.

Stuffing in America is not uncommon in restaurants but is not regularly utilized in most households. Rather, it is traditionally served during the Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, the most widely used stuffing is that of the turkey variety, and while many buy prepackaged stuffing such as Stove Top, there are yet many varying family recipes that have endured over the years.

Stove Top introduced boxed stuffing in 1972. It was home economist Ruth Siems who discovered how to manipulate bread crumbs in such a way that made reconstitution practical, and Stove Top, now owned by Kraft Foods, sells almost 60 million boxes of stuffing every Thanksgiving.


Prior to the sixteenth century in England, stuffing was called “farce,” a word familiar to us but differing in meaning, of course, in its present usage. This came from the French farcir which was handed down from the Latin farcire . In Victorian England, “stuffing” became “dressing” and remained so in its emigration to America . Now “stuffing” and “dressing” are used interchangeably in America , widely due to Stove Top's brand of the product referring to it as stuffing, although some places especially in the Midwest still refer to the dish as dressing. It is also rarely named “forcemeat,” a reference both to the methods by which stuffing is inserted into the hollow of the animal to be cooked and a distant cousin of its antiquated usage in farce .


Stuffing in Thanksgiving

Seeing as the first ancestors of the modern chicken were domesticated in Western India far before civilization could be called by that name, and seeing also that humans were thought to be stuffing small animals shortly after that, it seems natural that the first pilgrims, upon viewing that turkey was to be their dish for the first Thanksgiving, should think to stuff it. There is no historical evidence that stuffing was served at the first Thanksgiving, but the tradition is longstanding, and was made even more “essential” to the holiday by marketing blitzes every November by Kraft Foods, the maker of Stove Top. Before, many homes that would not have otherwise prepared the dish went without stuffing for the holidays, yet when it became so cheap and easy it became a necessary staple.

Know your stuff, know what you are stuffing, then stuff it elegantly.

-Lola May

Oh, dear God. If there is a Hell for writers, I may have committed my last venial sin that'll buy me a ticket. The quote above is a quote on teaching, not on stuffing qua stuffing, the dish we all know and love on the Thanksgiving table. Misquoting is like that little lie you tell your wife when she asks if she looks fat in her old clothing. It ain't right because it's dishonest; but you have to do it. How else to spin the quotation, no matter how unrelated, to lend gravity and external affirmation to the point you yourself are trying to make? Goes to show you how silly of an idea it was to start every little one of these articles I write with a quote. There simply are no quotes for some things; apparently no one famous has ever said anything remarkable or witty about stuffing.

And why not? Stuffing, which used to be called “farce,” from the Latin farcire via the French farcir (the Romantic apple rarely falls far from the tree) is hardly such. It's widely utilized in every country, in every type of animal and vegetable that is edible and doesn't liquefy upon cooking, and there are so many variations on top of variations on recipes it could be described as boggling, although vexing , incommodious and intimidating could readily be substituted. Heck, sometimes we stuff animals inside other animals and cook them that way. The Romans were purported to, anyway, and these days we have turducken, which is a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey (a gruesome mental image for birdkind somewhere on a nightmare magnitude that Vincent Price would have traded his firstborn child to
operate on.)

We stuff things. We have stuffed things a long time. We do it away from Thanksgiving, mostly at restaurants though we don't know it, and we certainly do it at Thanksgiving. Stove Top sells 60 million boxes of stuffing every Thanksgiving. 60 million . It's a tradition by now.

Which brings me to a personal note for my mother and father: Mom, Dad? Um, about the last three Thanksgiving dinners, and how vocal I've been about the fact that you neglected to make any stuffing? For three years in a row ? Make it four this year – no stuffing. I'll make it at home and bring it back with some of the plethora of Tupperware I've “accidentally” stolen from you over the years. That way we both win.

All right, but all that aside, Chef Stephen has put together a great stuffing recipe for those inclined to exert an effort greater than opening a package and reconstituting, but my father (who operates the finest kitchen you've never eaten at) achieved success three years ago , back in the “good old days” when my family served stuffing at Thanksgiving, simply by using Stove Top as a base and playing around with his own fresh additions. That's one of the joys and sometimes one of the tragedies of kitchenry – the experiment (long live the experiment!) and your own retina of tricks, touches and experiences can only grow with an adventurous spirit.

There are a hundred thousand stuffings you can slide on the table this Thanksgiving, and whether it's Stove Top, a dish you found on, a variation on one or the other or a long-cherished family recipe, it has to be there, and it won't be there for long. As history has shown, from Chinese to Chilean, American to Andorran, British to Burkina tables, stuffing remains a perennial favorite of people everywhere, and it won't disappoint at your table either.

So long as you remember to serve it.

Gabriel Coelis

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