Our Thanksgiving Menu Always Changes, but Grammy’s Sausage Stuffing Remains

Without it, the holiday wouldn't feel (or smell) nearly as special.

In my family, we go a bit over the top with our Thanksgiving. Growing up, I always thought having a six-course meal on Thanksgiving was a normal tradition. But the more people I met, and the more conversations I had about what my friends did on Turkey Day, I started to realize how drastically different my family celebrates this holiday. We don’t just celebrate. We go all out.

Thanksgiving with my family is an all-day affair. I spend the entire day with not just my family and grandparents, but my aunts, uncles and cousins every single year. As time went on, we added on some significant others, their dogs, other friends and sometimes even their families.

Here’s what makes our Thanksgiving ours

The day involves a never-ending smorgasbord of food eaten throughout the day, a brutal game of family football in the front lawn (or on the beach), and of course, Grammy’s famous Walnut, Sausage & Apple Stuffing. She didn’t develop the original recipe, but found it in a magazine and “thought it was classy.” The source has been lost over the years, but the recipe was typed and placed in a binder—along with her other Thanksgiving recipes.

When I think about Thanksgiving, the smells of Grammy’s stuffing and giblet gravy immediately come to mind. Not the pumpkin pie or the turkey, but that heavenly combination of stuffing and gravy. Every year the menu is a little bit different, but we always can count on Grammy’s stuffing to be at the table.

My Dad and his brother switch off the holiday every year, and I always joke how they try to one-up each other with the best menu for the holiday. They laugh (knowing that it’s slightly true), yet they never once compromised having Grammy’s stuffing on the list.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I gave my Grammy a call and asked if I could write the story about her stuffing. She was skeptical at first…but soon realized what this would entail. Create a mid-October feast? She was so in. So were my mom and dad. And after a long 45-minute chat with her over our meal, I finally understood why she adores this holiday.

Kiersten Hickman/Taste of Home

I never realized how much tradition is rooted in our Thanksgiving

It all started 60 years ago, and the stuffing recipe was very different.

My Grammy had recently married my Pop-Pop, had a new home, was pregnant with my Uncle Pat on the way and had the task of hosting her first Thanksgiving. In my family we actually “claim” holidays, and that year my Grammy was passed the baton. Her sister was originally the bearer of the holiday. She was also the original keeper of the stuffing recipe.

The first version of Grammy’s stuffing, or ”dressing” as she calls it, was actually cooked the original way: Inside the turkey. This obviously made the turkey very heavy to lift, so that first Thanksgiving my Grammy had to call her father to actually lift the bird and put it in the oven for her. The stuffing would soak up all of those turkey juices throughout the day, making a delicious dressing on top of the meat.

When the turkey was in the oven, the rest of the day would commence.

“I don’t think any family I know has a bigger Thanksgiving than my husband and I,” said Grammy. “You know, Christmas is very important, don’t get me wrong. But Thanksgiving has always been,” and she lifted a finger, claiming it as number one.

Those epic feasts have given us so many memories that make us smile. Together, Grammy, my parents and I laughingly remembered the corn muffins that are always made but forgotten, and the football games played on- and off-screen.

Kiersten Hickman/Taste of Home

Grammy made the gravy, Pop ate the neck.

Grammy’s stuffing isn’t done until it’s covered in her giblet gravy, which she always starts the night before (like these other make-ahead recipes). It’s quite the process to make. The gravy is made with turkey gizzard, heart and neck, and cooks with other vegetables for two hours to get the flavors for the liquid. And when everything was cooked, she used to remove the neck and hand it to my Pop. He was the only one brave enough to eat it.

“Now, with him gone, I just get rid of them,” Grammy said. “I was never happy with those babies anyway.”

Having the smells of that gravy wafting through the house the night before is still a tradition carried out in our family. But stuffing the turkey, unfortunately, is not. That tradition came to a screeching halt thanks to a health study…and that’s where everything changed.

Kiersten Hickman/Taste of Home

Stuffing 2.0

My dad didn’t save the specific study that sparked the stuffing change, but the USDA Food Inspection Safety Services (FSIS) says that it’s safer to cook the stuffing outside of the turkey to avoid contamination.

Now, my family is knee-deep in scientists. With my Uncle Pat and father in pharmaceuticals and my Uncle Jeff being a lawyer, there was no messing around with a healthy study like this. They urged Grammy to switch up the stuffing.

“Well, it was stopped when I was told, ‘Mom! We could all die.’ I mean, we didn’t die all of those other years,” Grammy said. Despite that happy fact, my father’s explanation about the probability of death caused by food contamination was obviously enough to switch up the long-standing tradition.

All of this happened even before my time, so for as long as I can remember, it’s always been the outside-the-turkey Walnut, Sausage & Apple Stuffing (which I have now dubbed Stuffing 2.0).

Kiersten Hickman/Taste of Home

Passing the tradition on—stuffing and all

When Pop got sick, it made sense to pass down the tradition to the eldest in the family. Grammy and Pop moved to a new home, and with that, passed the baton to my Uncle Pat. At first, Uncle Pat did everything “by the book” with Grammy’s Thanksgiving traditions. The menus stayed the same, and even the Thanksgiving decorations were passed down. To this day, we still serve brownies in the ceramic turkey from my Great-Grandma Rosie.

But as time went on, things started to change. My Dad started to split the holiday with him, and the menus started to get wacky. Yet, no matter what, Grammy’s stuffing remained.

“I get a kick out of watching traditions that my husband and I started,” Grammy reminisced. “It feels good to know that you’ve made your mark and that someone you know will carry it on.”

Kiersten Hickman/Taste of Home

Lucky for all of you, my Grammy was kind enough to share her recipes for you to enjoy this Thanksgiving. I’m proud to say that she has left her mark, so let’s carry on her tradition together.

Walnut, Sausage & Apple Stuffing (Stuffing 2.0)

Ingredients:

  • 1 (14 oz.) bag sage & onion dried bread cubes
  • 1¼ cup walnut pieces
  • 1½ lb. sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1½ cup diced celery (small pieces)
  • 1 cup diced shallots (small pieces)
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, cored & diced into small pieces
  • ¼ cup each chopped fresh sage, rosemary and flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 (14½ oz.) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter melted (or regular butter or margarine…whatever you have in the house)
  • ½ tsp. each salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Place walnuts on a cookie sheet & toast in oven until crisp.
  3. In a bowl, combine bread cubes and toasted walnuts.
  4. In nonstick skillet, add sausage. Cook breaking into large chunks for two minutes until it starts to lose pink color.
  5. Add celery and shallots and cook for 10 minutes until sausage is cooked through.
  6. Add apple, cook for 1 minute.
  7. Add sausage mixture to bread mixture in the bowl.
  8. Add herbs, broth, butter, salt & pepper. Toss.
  9. Transfer to buttered 4-qt. casserole dish, cover with foil.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Uncover and bake 10 minutes until top is slightly crusty.

Grammy’s Note: You can make ahead two days in advance. To do so, assemble stuffing & refrigerate unbaked. Cover up to two days. Bring to room temperature before baking as directed.

Giblet Gravy

Ingredients:

  • Chicken or turkey gizzard, heart and neck
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 2 large bay leaves, broken in half
  • 8 peppercorns
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Chicken or turkey liver, optional

Directions:

  1. Add gizzard, heart and neck, in saucepan; water to cover. Add the celery, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt.
  2. Cook for two hours over low heat.
  3. Add liver, if using, and cook for another half hour.
  4. Remove the neck.
  5. Chop giblets small (you don’t have to use all of them).
  6. Return them to sauce pan and liquid mixture. Add more water or chicken (or turkey) drippings drained of all fat if you need more gravy.
  7. Remove bay leaves then season with granulated garlic, gravy master and thicken with corn starch.

Grammy’s Note: Pop-Pop enjoyed the neck. If no one at your house will eat it, pick off meat and add to chopped giblets.

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