Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Kazuke Family Stuffing

As much as my family loved my Mom's cabbage rolls (holubtsi) and my pyrohy (pierogi), our absolute favourite Christmas dish was, and is, her stuffing.  She called it Ukrainian stuffing, but I don't think turkey is a part of Ukrainian Christmas tradition.  It is a longstanding recipe that was made in her family and has been passed down.  When I moved out of my parents' house to live on my own, I brought this recipe with me and make it every Christmas and Thanksgiving.  Neither of my two brothers has asked me how to make pyrohy or holubtsi, but they have asked me how to make the stuffing.  This will be passed down through all branches of the family.

I have grown up with this stuffing, so to me the ingredients are nothing unusual, but I suppose objectively, the main ingredient may seem a bit odd to people.  Saltines provide the base.  I have no idea what the origins of the stuffing are, but my family certainly doesn't come from royalty.  My Grandparents were poor when they came to Canada in the lead-up to the World War I, and my mother was born in 1933, right in the midst of the Depression.  I imagine saltines were relatively inexpensive and some frugal family matriarch probably improvised the stuffing.  Here it is:

The Kazuke Family Stuffing

1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 sleeves of Premium Plus Salted Crackers
4 TBSP powdered thyme
3/4 lbs of medium ground pork
1 large egg, beaten
Splash of milk

Sautée the onion until transluscent and soft.  Set aside to cool.

Put crackers, one sleeve at a time, into a ziplock bag, squeeze out the air and crush with a rolling pin.  Show some restraint; you don't want cracker dust.  Aim for dime=sized pieces of cracker.  Put crackers in a large bowl.

Stir onions into the crushed crackers and season with thyme.  I say four TBSP, but do it to taste.  I should say, though, when the cracker mixture has what you think is just the right amount of thyme, add a good dusting more - the addition of the other ingredients dilutes the flavour of the thyme somewhat.

Break up the ground pork into the cracker and onion mixture and mix it up with your hands.

Add the beaten egg and mix up with your hands until the mixture is uniform.

Add a splash of milk until the mixture is just moist, but not wet.

Stuff into the cavity and neck of the turkey and ensure the centre of the stuffing is 160 degrees.

If you make extra dressing in a separate pan, form it into a not-too-tight loaf, pour extra chicken stock or milk liberally over the loaf and cover tightly with foil.

As with many family recipes, this is an approximation.  When I moved to Ottawa, I called my mother one Thanksgiving and asked for the recipe.  She told me what the ingredients were, but when I asked her how much of each to use, she said "I don't know, Geoff - use enough!"  So over the years, I experimented.  Like my Mom, I don't use exact measures - I just use enough of each.  So, these are more guidelines than a rigid prescription.  Follow your own nose and taste and hopefully you'll come up with something to your taste.  Just don't skimp on the thyme.


  1. "Use enough"...I like that, it is a bit like the recipes I have from my Gran that say, "Until lightly browned and a little bit crisp on the outside" does one tell that through the window of the oven door?
    Merry Christmas!

  2. My mother was quite a character and she would get downright frustrated when asked to specify quantities. I couldn't understand her reticence until my brother, Grant, asked me for the stuffing recipe. Sure enough, it's hard to do. As I say, the best one can do for these heirloom recipes is provide guidelines and descriptives, like your Gran and my mom did.