grandma lena’s chestnut stuffing

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to me, thanksgiving = stuffing.

and not just any stuffing.  porky, sagey, crumbly, chewy, chestnut stuffing.  stuffing made from a recipe passed down from my great grandmother lena, who brought some serious cooking skills with her when she emigrated from the french basque country. 

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every year – and i mean every year – thanksgiving is kicked off in my family with a semi-frantic text or call to my mom for the stuffing recipe.  which starts her semi-frantic search for the recipe, recorded neatly in grandma renee's spidery handwriting.

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it's totally freudian.  because it's totally not fair that grandma renee isn't still able to make the stuffing. 

that said, while her stuffing was better than mine, she never made enough.  the original recipe calls for two measly cups of bread cubes.

two cups.  we always had at least 20 people around the table.

this weekend, i made stuffing just for me and the somm . . . and basically tripled the recipe.  and we took most of that bad boy down in 24 hours.  none of that depression-era self-control around our house, no siree.

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grandma might have called this chestnut stuffing, but the critical ingredient is the sage.

one of the first years my mom and i were on stuffing duty, we couldn't find the recipe.  forgot the sage.  nearly ruined thanksgiving.

don't be stingy with the sage.

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i used all fresh, but i'd encourage you to go ahead and throw in some powdered sage.  it's old school, and this is definitely an old school recipe.

here's another piece of advice: don't get a manicure before roasting and peeling your chestnuts.  this is messy work.

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there are a couple of ways to roast chestnuts, but all of them start with scoring an x on top.  make sure you actually get through the shell.  don't worry about cutting into the meat of the nut.  you're going to chop it up anyway.  i went stove top roasting, but 15 minutes in a 500 degree oven works well too.

the absence of an actual turkey meant the absence of giblets in my stuffing this weekend, which totally wouldn't fly for my sweetbread loving momma, but was not a problem for me.  i just bumped the flavor up with sausage.

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sage sausage.  that's right. there's no going back to boring ground pork from here.

this year, we're heading north instead of west for turkey day, and my mother-in-law sets out a pretty mean spread . . . including the BEST pumpkin pie i've ever had.  but i'm still going to miss my family, who will be gathered around my mother's beautiful table. 

luckily, i'm not also going to have to have missed the stuffing.

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Grandma Lena's Chestnut Stuffing

Back in the day, recipes had very little information . . . they just assumed you knew what to do.  Here's the recipe verbatim, and my updated version is below. A note about bread crumbs.  Grandma always used the stuff out of the bag from the grocery store.  This year, I followed the Serious Eats Food Lab's advice and made my own from high quality white sandwich bread.  Next year, I'm going to go back to homemade bread crumbs made from bread with a good chewy crust, because that's how I like it.

For an 8 lb bird.

  • 1/2 lb chestnuts
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 lb pork meat ground
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • giblets
  • celery
  • 2 cups toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp sherry wine
  • 2 tbsp parsley
  • 1 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 tbsp powdered sage
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Wash chestnuts and make long slits on both sides. 

Bake 500 degree oven, 15 min, remove and take off shells.

Boil 20 min.

Saute meat, onions and butter, 10 min.

Updated Variation:

  • 1 lb chestnuts
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 lb pork sage sausage, not in casings
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • giblets
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cupish chopped sage
  • 2 tbsp powdered sage
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 4-6 cups toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp sherry wine
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash your chestnuts (Grandma knows best).  Score an x through each chestnut, making sure to get through the skin.  Toss with the oil.  Heat a large skillet (that you have a lid for) on the stove, add the chestnuts and roast, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then add 1/4 cup of water and cover and roast until water is gone, about 5 minutes.

Let your chestnuts cool, then good luck shelling those bad boys.  Then give them a nice rough chop.

Wash your skillet, return to the stove.  Add the onions and sausage (and giblets if you've got them), and saute until the sausage looses most of the pink.  Add the celery and continue to saute until soft.  Add your herbs and salt and pepper.  Don't be shy with the salt – there's a lot of bread to season!

Whisk your egg in a medium bowl, then stir in 1 cup broth and sherry.  If you're my uncle Maurice, you probably would have also added a little milk.

Combine your chopped chestnuts, bread crumbs and meat mixture in a very very large bowl.  Toss.  Transfer into a large casserole dish – you'll need at least a 9×13 dish. 

Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture and press the bread down.  If you like a more custardy stuffing, add more liquid.  If you like a chewier, crumblier stuffing add less and think about omitting the egg. 

Bake for 30 minutes, covered with foil.  Remove foil and bake for another 15-30 minutes until set and golden brown on top.

Try not to eat it all before you make it to your aunt's house.  Or be thankful that even if you aren't with your family, you have the whole thing to yourself, to eat with a fork, standing at the counter, straight out of the casserole dish.

Happy Thanksgiving!

3 thoughts on “grandma lena’s chestnut stuffing

  1. My mom sent me this link to your blog. It made me smile and really miss being home for thanksgiving. I’m going to give Grandma’s stuffing a try here in spain… wish me luck! thinking of you in granada 🙂 un beso

  2. Love you so many memories made me cry. We miss you here so much! I’ll never forget the first thanksgiving u prepared it will always be in Grandpas honor.
    Love,
    Tia

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