Old School Sage Stuffing

Stuffing 2

My father didn’t just love tradition, he loved ritual. He wouldn’t just visit the same city over and over again, he would stay at the same hotel, visit the same restaurant, and order the same dishes off the menu. He was especially particular about holidays: not just turkey gravy and stuffing — GIBLET gravy and this bread stuffing. (Although he called it dressing, even though he also insisted on stuffing the turkey with it.) If we were eating Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s house, my mom always had to roast her own turkey (usually for charity) so we could make giblet gravy and bread stuffing. The man was obsessed.

Thanksgiving morning would see our family gathering around the kitchen table. My father and I would each have a cutting board and a knife — my mother would be standing at the stove, presiding over a large pan of sauteeing vegetables. Dad and I divided up the chopping duties — I took celery and onions, he cubed the loaves of white bread. The kitchen smelled of sage and onions, and we would snitch bits of stuffing — a crust of bread, a cube dipped in the oniony, celery sage butter, before it was ceremoniously added to the turkey, when the smell of poultry and sage would sneak out from the kitchen and fill the whole house.

Stuffing 1

The whole process of making the stuffing was so ceremonial to me that I never even attempted to make it outside of Thanksgiving. This is the third Thanksgiving I’ve written about on The Domestic Front, and I haven’t yet shared with you the most important part of the meal — the sacred stuffing. And yet, this is the first Thanksgiving we’ll be celebrating without my dad, and I know he would want the gospel of stuffing (or dressing, OK, Dad?) spread to the masses. And without the ceremony of Thanksgiving morning, without the turkey to stuff and roast — the stuffing proved surprisingly simple to make. Why hadn’t I been making this at least monthly? Why wait until Thanksgiving every year?

Well, contrary to my father’s expectations and often desires, things change. This stuffing will be on our Thanksgiving table — I hope it will be on yours. And it will be on my table far more often in the future, if only to evoke the memories of two cutting boards, two knives, and a family tradition.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Mike Wheeler's Sacred Stuffing, er. dressing
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Cook time: 
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Serves: 6
My dad would insist that you stuff your turkey with this, but since most advice now points against stuffing your turkey, and I found I quite liked the crisp top and lack of sog involved in baking it separately, dressing it is. This will make enough to stuff a 15 lb turkey -- omit the stock.
  • 2 large loaves white sandwich bread (pick a bread with some heft -- not like Wonder bread, but not french bread or ciabatta or artisanal sourdough either. I like Milton's brand Country White.)
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 5 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut bread into 1 inch cubes, set aside into a large bowl.
  3. In a large and deep skillet (a wok is great), melt butter over low heat.
  4. Add onion and celery. Saute until the vegetables are translucent, but try not to let them brown
  5. Add the salt and pepper and fresh sage, and cook until the sage is fragrant.
  6. Toss the bread cubes with the butter vegetable mixture, using your hands to make sure all the bread is coated in buttery goodness. Tip the entire thing into a baking dish, and pour the stock over it. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, uncovering in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking to let the bread crisp.
  7. This can be made ahead -- just add the stock right before baking and bake right before serving.


18 comments to Old School Sage Stuffing

  • Carol

    Just want you to know that I’m making this for dinner tonight, with roasted squash and cranberry sauce. Apparently I can’t wait till Thanksgiving (seems like the stuffing at the gathering we go to then always gets forgotten in the oven, too–this way it’ll be fresh and perfect).

  • Thank you so much for the recipe…but more so the wonderful story that goes with it! Memories are wonderful. My father, who has also passed loved the holiday appetizer tray…cheese, stuffed celery, etc….I make it every year, for the memories.

    Happy Thanksgiving,

  • shannon

    Ahhh this made me smile. And tear up a little too. Thank you for sharing and reminding me of times gone by around the table, my dad with his big knife, I with my little one. Chopping celery, onions and bread for moms sage stuffing. I can smell it now. I miss them both. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Meg Hanna

    I went on line this morning to find a simple sage dressing recipe for our school feast tomorrow. We grow sage in our school garden and have an abundance. The name is what called to me “Old School”. What a wonderful memory to share. I too will be thinking of your dad tomorrow as I prepare this recipe for 350 guests. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  • Richard

    My wife loved her stuffing…same as your fathers recipe except we used the liguid from boiling the giblets. Also a pinch of poultry seasoning. Second year without my wife, but I will be making this recipe for dinner this year. Memories are great

    • Kate

      Richard, what a lovely way to celebrate your wife. I think holidays can be difficult when we are missing our loved ones, but it’s always lovely to keep their traditions. I’m glad I could help.

  • LuAnn

    Thanks so much!! This used to be on our table every Thanksgiving and Christmas but I am single and haven’t made it in years. My family moved next to me and now i want to create this tradition withmy nieces and nephew!! Thanks for the authentic receipe!!

  • Can you use ground sage instead of fresh and i wonder how much to use

  • dANIEL


  • Patty

    The first Thanksgiving my brother spent with his wife’s family, he took heaps of dressing, as he always did with Mom’s. He called Mom later to say that he choked down one bite and had to hide the rest – not easy to do. Mom made the best sage and onion dressing – as did yours. That marriage didn’t last. My oldest brother now comes to one of the sister’s homes for Mom’s dressing, and Dad, too. Mom passed on almost three years ago, but her recipe – like this one- lives on.

    • Kate

      I love how the simplest recipes bring the best memories. My dad passed away almost three years ago, but you can bet I will be making this tomorrow and thinking of him.

  • Kathy

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. My mom passed away 2 1/2 years ago. She and I always made the dressing while the guys hunted. I have tried for the last couple of years to duplicate her recipe, and just can’t get the taste right. I guess I didn’t pay close enough attention or she just had that special touch. And of course she never wrote recipes down. My question to you is: do you have any idea how to make this with ground sage instead of fresh?

    • Kate

      Kathy, I’m so sorry about your mom. I’ve never made it with ground sage, but the substitution overseen is 1/2 teaspoon ground sage for every 2 teaspoons minced fresh. Hope this helps, and good luck!

  • Idontknowium

    Thanks for this. How much bread is in a large loaf? Could you give a rough guideline of weight or volume for the bread?

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