My grandmother always served her Thanksgiving stuffing in patties. Flat. Crisp. Golden brown. Perfect mounds of goodness that only came around once a year. For most of my life I don’t think I knew there was any other way.
“Wait. Like. What? You put it inside the bird? Inside. The bird. Oh, right. You stuff it. Of course. Stuffing. I get it now.”
Mammaw put all of her ingredients together in a big silver bowl. She’d laugh about how much bread it took. (One whole pan of cornbread. Six slices of toast. Six buttermilk biscuits.) Cabinet space was limited when she moved into her apartment. She stored the extra boxes it took to make the stuffing in the dishwasher. All carefully tucked on the top rack. The woman made do. Always.
When it came time to bake, her hands served as the mixer. Sleeves pushed up. Shirt tucked behind her apron. She tore apart the toast. Crumbled the cornbread. Broke up the biscuits. As her hands came out of the bowl, pieces of the mix clung to them. All the way up past her wrists. She’d wipe them off on her apron – her eyes still watery behind her glasses from chopping the onions.
When it was patty time, the grandkids got to do the pattying. We’d pull scoops of the stuffing out of the bowl and roll them into balls a little bigger than golf balls. We’d press them down just slightly in the middle. Then hand them off. My grandmother lined them up like Christmas cookies in a baking pan. “Larapin,” she’d say. (A term she used for “more than delicious.”) We’d say it back. “Larapin.” She’d smile. Then in the oven the patties went. 45 minutes later Thanksgiving could begin.
It turns out quite a few families are pro-patty. Earlier this year The New York Times made a list of Thanksgiving recipes associated with all 50 states. Pocket Dressing was chosen for Kentucky. My family didn’t call it that. But that’s what it was. And it makes sense. The Times explains this kind of stuffing was popular in Kentucky because back when people went searching for their meals in the woods instead of supermarkets, the warm round pieces of dressing slid easily into the pockets of hunters. A convenient snack for the folks on the go.
My grandmother never told us why she made them in patties. (It was so commonplace I never felt any reason to ask.) I can only assume it was something passed down to her from a time when the utility of it all made sense. These days the patties skip our pockets. But pocket-sized they stay.
At a bridal shower for my then fiancée, my mom gave my soon-to-be-wife the recipe for my late grandmother’s stuffing. My mom wrote in the corner, “One of Adam’s favorites.”
This year we hosted our families for Thanksgiving. My wife was kind enough to try her hand at this totally foreign-to-her form of stuffing making. With my grandmother’s apron around her waist, she kept the tradition going. One patty at a time.
I flattened the last before it went into the oven. “Larapin,” I thought to myself, and joined my family at the table.