“Transire explementum!” (pass the stuffing!) exclaimed the Emperor. “Ut vos commodo, meus Imperator,” obediently replied the servant (As you please, my Emperor). To be continued…
Historical references and traditions corroborate the wide use of stuffing in Ancient Italy, dating back to the Roman Empire. If you picture the typical Roman feast as you read these words, you are probably not too far from the truth. However, some of the choice ingredients might not be as easy to picture, as the Roman version likely included dormouse. Thankfully, we need not take tradition to the letter.
The oldest collection of recipes on record dates back to sometime between the 2nd and first century BC and was assembled by Apicius, a Roman gourmet. Apicius de re Coquinaria (roughly, Apicius about fine cuisine) includes recipes for various stuffed animals. Incidentally, not only was the dormouse used in the making of stuffing, but it was stuffed as well. We probably do not need to know any further detail. Let it suffice to say that though the Roman Empire fell, Romans, stuffing and the dormouse survived. We should be thankful, for this says much about the power of a hearty meal and the resiliency of our species.
Speaking of resiliency, imagine for a moment all the work that might be required to prepare a meal as complex and detailed as our traditional Thanksgiving feast without the assistance of the convenient kitchen gadgets and appliances we almost take for granted today. We do not think of this often, but our forefathers and others long before them were pioneers of the kitchen. Today’s culinary arts and tools exist because of their love of food. More than this, our love of food exists because we learned the art of preparing and presenting it from them. Holiday meals are a unique expression of this love and art.
The word “stuffing” first appears in English print in 1538. Prior to the 16th century, the French and English called stuffing, “farce”. The origin of this word is the Latin, “farcire,” which means, “to fill up, to stuff.” After 1880, in Victorian England, the word “dressing” was substituted as a more proper, more elegant term. Occasionally, “stuffing” is called, “forcemeat,” in reference to the method by which it is inserted in the hollow cavity of the animal.
There is no historical evidence that stuffing was served at the first Thanksgiving meal, in autumn of 1621. However, evidence of “creative dressing” abounds, least of which might be celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Ten-Bird Roast. Fearnley-Whittingstall is a British chef, journalist, food writer and “real food” advocate. His multi-avian feast consisted of a turkey stuffed with, chicken, pheasant, woodcock, pigeon, partridge, guinea fowl, mallard, goose and duck. The final roast, after nine hours of cooking, weighed 22 pounds, fed 30 guests and contained 10,000 calories. The average turkey has 3,000.
Marketing campaigns may be responsible for establishing stuffing as a staple on the modern Thanksgiving menu, specifically ads for Stove Top Stuffing, a General Foods product (later Kraft General Foods) introduced in 1972. At that time, home economist and product developer for the company, Ruth Siems, discovered how to produce bread crumbs that could be reconstituted. Today, approximately 60 million boxes of Stove Top Stuffing are sold every Thanksgiving. Notice that this figure is associated with Thanksgiving specifically; not with a full year.
Throughout the year, bread stuffing is served most on Sundays and Thursdays. Typical contents are about 49% carbs, 7% protein and 44% fat. However, I recommend we focus on the first two numbers only and be thankful for the hearty flavor, abundance and beauty of the table that add to the enjoyment of a meal shared with family and friends.
Stuffing contains iron, folate, Thiamine and a wee bit of fiber. Also, the range of condiments and foods present on the Holiday table, from home-made preserves, canned vegetables and sauces to salads and breads, offer ample opportunities for a diverse nutritional experience. This is not a time to focus on your waist line; rather, it is time to focus on the unique experience of partaking of a feast, for this is one of the unique joys of living for the common folk, emperors and everyone in between.
Today, dinner guests who love your stuffing will likely praise you on the spot, with their mouths full. Of course, this is acceptable in this case. As for those who do not particularly care for your stuffing mixture, rest assured they will discuss it on the way home. You need not be concerned with this. Life goes on. In the times of Caesar, however…
… The servant stood at the side of Cesar, speechless, almost holding his breath. Stuffing was not a farce. The chef might pay for any unpleasant bite with his own life and the servant might not fare any better. After a long pause, Caesar looked up, pensive. Beads of sweat began to stream down the servant’s face. He swallowed, audibly. At long last, the Emperor spoke: “Optimus explementum obvius universitas!” and he invited the servant to share the meal.
Optimus explementum obvius universitas = The best stuffing in the world.