Grandma’s Old Fashioned Bread Stuffing
A recipe for Grandma’s Old Fashioned Bread Stuffing, a classic and old fashioned Thanksgiving bread dressing made with milk, turkey stock, onions, celery and herbs.
This old fashioned bread stuffing is a secret family recipe. Really.
You know how you hear about people taking recipes to their grave? My husband’s grandma (my grandma-in-law?) seriously did that with her Thanksgiving bread stuffing (and yes, we know we’re supposed to say “dressing,” but we still always call if “stuffing” even if it’s not stuffed in the bird).
It was the best turkey stuffing in the whole wide world, and I consider myself a stuffing aficionado, as it’s tied with mashed potatoes with gravy from scratch for my favorite holiday food. It had a simple, comforting flavor and was toasted to perfection.
Try as we might, we never got Mary Ellen to give up the recipe for her turkey stuffing. Without fail, she made it for us every year (even, sweetly, one year when she was too sick to eat Thanksgiving dinner herself).
Knowing our time with her was getting shorter, we asked after the recipe for years, and she would only reply “well, I just soak the bread in milk, really.”
That’s the only detail she ever gave up about her turkey stuffing! That the bread was soaked in milk. I mean, I guess it’s better than no details.
I thought that maybe she would write the recipe down, wrap it in a gift box and present it as a wedding present to Jeff and I, but that didn’t happen.
My history of recreating this traditional stuffing:
So, ever since Mary Ellen passed, it’s been my mission to try to recreate this recipe to serve alongside my roasted turkey with maple bourbon glaze and/or baked ham with pineapple sauce, even though I know it’ll never be as good as hers.
Using some educated guesses based on what Jeff’s family and I can remember about the flavor of Grandma’s stuffing, I published my best educated guess of how this stuffing was created.
The stuffing recipe was first published back in 2014, and using reader comments and e-mails from the last few years, I’ve made revisions to the recipe to keep getting it closer and closer to the original.
The recipe card below reflects six years of work, and at least a dozen tests (unlike my cranberry appetizer and cranberry curd tart, which I got right on the first try!). At this point, I think I’m a close as I can get to honoring the flavors of Mary Ellen’s stuffing.
The recipe in the card below will yield you a delicious old fashioned bread stuffing to serve alongside Cajun turkey or whatever turkey you love best, I guarantee it.
What kind of bread is best for stuffing?
The flavors of Mary Ellen’s stuffing were pretty easy to figure out (leaning on sage, butter, onion and celery). But figuring out the what type of bread to use has been much harder.
At one point, I believe Mary Ellen mentioned that she soaked white bread in milk, and then wrung it out. I’ve tried that several times, but the bread simply falls apart in my hands.
I’ve also tried making this turkey stuffing recipe with ALL toasted white bread, or ALL dried stuffing cubes. It’s fine both of those ways, but the BEST EVER version uses a combination of both.
The combination of fresh white bread (torn by hand, and then toasted in the oven), and a bag of dried stuffing cubes, creates the best flavor and texture for old fashioned bread stuffing.
If you prefer cornbread stuffing, be sure to check out my chorizo stuffing.
What are the ingredients in Grandma’s Old Fashioned Bread Stuffing?
- Giblets from 1 turkey (except the neck) (these are optional but add a ton of flavor)
- Whole milk
- Hearty white sliced bread
- Unseasoned cubed stuffing (the dried cubes in a bag)
- Turkey stock
- Cooking spray
- Celery (use the rest of the bag to make rigatoni bolognese next week!)
- Salt and pepper
- Poultry seasoning
- Dried sage
Does your family have a stuffing or dressing recipe similar to Mary Ellen’s? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Grandma's Old Fashioned Bread Stuffing
A recipe for Grandma's Old Fashioned Bread Stuffing, a classic and old fashioned Thanksgiving bread dressing made with milk, turkey stock, onions, celery and herbs.
- Giblets from 1 turkey (except the neck) (optional)
- 1-1/4 cups whole milk plus 1 additional cup if using giblets, divided
- 1 loaf (24 ounces) hearty white sliced bread, torn into small pieces
- 2 eggs
- 1 bag (12 ounces) unseasoned cubed stuffing (the dried cubes in a bag)
- 4 cups turkey stock
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- 1-1/2 cups finely chopped celery
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 1-1/2 teaspoons dried sage
- If using giblets, place giblets and 1 cup milk in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Divide torn white bread between 2 rimmed baking pans. Transfer to oven and bake 12 to 15 minutes or until crisp. Set toasted bread aside; leave oven on at 350 degrees F.
- Meanwhile, place eggs in large bowl and whisk until smooth. Add cubed stuffing, stock and remaining 1-1/4 cups milk; toss to combine.
- Melt 8 tablespoons butter in small pot or microwave-safe dish.
- Spray large casserole dish with cooking spray. If using giblets, proceed with Step 6 and then 8-9. If NOT using giblets, proceed with Steps 7-9.
- If using giblets, remove giblets from milk; discard milk. Finely chop giblets. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped giblets and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add onion, celery and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are softened, stirring occasionally. Add poultry seasoning and sage; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- If not using giblets, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are softened, stirring occasionally. Add poultry seasoning and sage; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Add toasted white bread, melted butter and onion mixture to bowl with cubed stuffing and milk. Stir for 1 minute or until toasted bread is very well moistened.
- Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Transfer to oven and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil; bake 15 minutes longer or until top of stuffing is golden brown.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 249Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 209mgSodium: 294mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 1gSugar: 7gProtein: 14g
More side dish recipes to round out your holiday dinner:
- Thanksgiving Rice Recipe – an easy pilaf with cranberries and pears.
- Lemon & Maple Glazed Roasted Brussels Sprouts – don’t forget your veggies!
- Balsamic Green Beans
- Really Good Thanksgiving Salad and Thanksgiving Fruit Salad
- The Best Christmas Salad and Christmas Fruit Salad
- Hard Cider Cranberry Sauce – my go-to recipe the past few years.
- Lentil & Mushroom Stuffing – a gluten free alternative to bread dressing.
- Even more options in my Thanksgiving Recipes roundup!
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P.S. As noted above, I’ve been working on this recipe since 2014! You may recognize the photos below. They were taken during one of my early attempts at recreating Grandma’s stuffing.
I think I added too much liquid on that try, and the stuffing came out kind of dense. I’ve since improved and updated the recipe to be way better, reflected in the photos above.
I made the old fashioned dressing, my grandma made it and so do I, it’s great. I use chicken stock an save the turkey lefties for gravy.
The “turkey lefties”! I love that so much. Happy Thanksgiving, Bonnie.
I still make my grandma’s bread dressing. Where mine is similar to yours there are some differences.
I use white bread that has been left out to stale for 5-6 days. It is then dipped in milk and chopped up
I boil the onions and use both onions and onion juice
I also boil a turkey part. Grandma and mom used the heart liver and giblets. I just buy a turkey thigh and boil it. I use the turkey broth as well
From there it is all by taste. Salt and poultry seasoning.
I have so many good memories learning to make this traditional dressing from my Mom’s family.
Yours sounds delicious as well, Pam! I agree, it’s mostly just from taste and memory, as much as I TRY to write down a specific recipe to share with others.
This is a classic recipe, the only difference is that my mom and grandma only use Kaiser rolls, not the bagged stuff . I was baffled to see both kinds of bread and thought it might be too much .
Most of my recipe is the same. I make enough for 2 9×12 pans. At the end I add 1 cup of leftover mashed potatoes, not too creamy, and mix into the stuffing before panning. Can use instant mashed potatoes also. Thanks for all the tips.
So interesting, Kay! I’ve heard of adding mashed potatoes to stuffing, but haven’t tried it myself. Thank you for the tips!
I was talking with a friend of mine about old stuffing recipes and we both have family recipes that have you wet slices of white bread and then crumple them in your fist, to wring it out. Basically, we swipe it under the faucet and crumple in one hand. It seems maybe your relative soaked in milk instead, then wrung it out similarly. A small casserole calls for two large loaves like this. Just wanted to put that out there in case you hadn’t come across this technique.
Our recipe, an old German one, had you cut bacon in smaller pieces, fry – then cook onions and celery in the grease. Add salt, pepper, thyme (some people also add apples) and then toss the crumpled bread into the mix, scramble an egg and work out through the mix with your hands, then transfer to casserole dish.
I fully approve of the addition of bacon! haha. I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving, Amanda.
I make what my grandmothers and mother referred to as “milk stuffing” I grind ( in an old fashioned grinder) giblets, a large potato, an apple, an onion & a couple ribs of celery. That whole thing is cooked on the stovetop in a bit of butter.
I dry white bread( or use stale white bread that has been dried out), then crush it with a rolling pin.
The cooked mixture is mixed with the bread crumbs, seasoned with fresh herbs or dried poultry seasoning depending on what you have on hand.
Milk is the principle source of moisture, although I have started to partially use chicken stock to lighten it up a bit.
It is truly a very dense “stuffing”, even though I started cooking it outside the bird many years ago.
I have never had a written recipe. Sight, smell & texture are the main indicators.
I have made it this way for 50+ years.
As a Midwesterner, (North Dakota & Minnesota) we always used the giblets.
(Maybe it’s the Scandinavian influence).
Giblets are key to a flavorful stuffing, for sure! I have never heard of a stuffing with potatoes in it, but it sounds so rich and comforting.
Ours is pretty much the same but no celery and we use day old french bread. Tear off chunks of the bread, dip in water and squeeze it out. We add just a small amount. (1/8 lb) of ground meat for texture and add about 1/4 cup milk, 1 egg, 1/4 cup oil, chopped onion and seasoning to your liking. My Mom always said to add plenty of pepper for taste. Mix everything together well, just like when you’re making meatloaf.
I agree with your mom, Jane. PLENTY of pepper, always! I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.
Thanks for this posting; lost my father’s recipe in a fire a couple years back; just doing it from memory, but wasn’t sure about how much celery to use. It was the white bread, 2 loaves, celery, and onion, additionally chopped walnuts and cooked ham, chopped. I didn’t remember sautéing that in the melted butter, I think we just added marjoram, sage, and S&P; Thanks!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Sharyn. Walnuts in stuffing sounds yummy!
Not sure if it helps but my grandma and mom used to have us kids tear the bread by hand then they left it to stale on it’s on overnight before soaking it.
Tearing it by hand seems key to success! Thanks for stopping by, Wes!
Sounds so much like my Grandmother’s recipe. She always put raisins in hers though. It was a great offset to the sage. I was hoping to find her exact recipe online, Wish I could find her old recipe box. There were so many delicious recipes in it. I may try this one, add the raisins and see what happens!
Thank you for sharing, Summer! I could go for some raisins in stuffing, but I’m not sure I could convince the rest of my family. LOL.
Sounds almost identical to my mom’s recipe. She passed away when I was 15, and I was not really interested in cooking, just eating! However, I do have her recipe and make it religiously every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her mom was from Autstria and I remember her turkey stuffing and “Bacon and Egg Bread” for Easter were my 2 favorites! I am so happy that my grandkids always go for this stuffing first thing on Thanksgiving, and this year my 10 yr old granddaughter is begging to make the stuffing with me (she doesn’t need to beg, believe me – I am thrilled!!) My mom’s recipe (she would be 111 years old now!) is: 1 loaf of bread, 1 1/2 C celery, 1/2 c chopped onion, 1 teaspoon salt, dash pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoon sage, 1 cube butter, 3 eggs. She left the bread out a day or two and ran it under water briefly and would squeeze the pieces of bread – I remember her telling someone that it was how much water you squeeze out that makes or breaks the stuffing. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!
Thank you for sharing your mom’s recipe, Sherry! Running it under water is so interesting. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.
Thank you for sharing your recipe. I have been making the old fashioned stuffing for over thirty years now. I learned from my mother. The best bread that I have found is a french bread style bread I use it from Sams or walmart from the bakery it is the long sub sandwich bread. I slice it a couple days before and let it dry out. I tried once the cubes and did not taste the same. Then I put the bread in a bowl add my seasoning sage, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning with two eggs. I then pour warm milk over the bread not too much and put a plate over it for weight to help soak in. Meanwhile I grind the giblets then start frying them with the celery and onions and one stick of butter. When the giblets are done like I pour the hot mixture over my bread. . Let it rest a second it might be too hot. If it seems dry you add a little more milk. If it seems soggy I have always slice bread on th.e side that I add to get the perfect mixture. I do not have a recipe
Thank you for sharing your recipe, Monica. It sounds delicious!
Oh, we call it stuffing, because we stuff the bird. We also make extra in a casserole dish. This I have nowhere near mastered. I think when I make it in a casserole dish, it needs to be a bit more wet going in. Never really sure how long to cook it for either. No recipe, so trial and error.
And I only use white bread….
and Yes, my mom’s (and grandmom’s) stuffing recipe, is my all time favorite food! I simply loved her stuffing!
I also forgot to add the memories that go along with making stuffing. When we were kids, the whole family got involved. We would watch Charlie Brown on TV while breaking bread, and when mixing, we would add ingredients as my mom mixed. My dad would sometimes help make the stuffing. One year there was a huge food fight while making it! Talk about comfort food!
So, my mom has shared her “recipe” with us since we were kids. I put recipe in quotes, because she didn’t have an actual recipe! It went by taste (yes taste), texture, and color! My mom has now passed, but not before she approved of my recreations. How fortunate am I that my mother in law makes her stuffing very similar to my mom’s! BUT, she doesn’t have it written down either! (insert face palm emoji here!)
We tear bread by hand into small pieces, let it sit out over night a couple of nights to get it stale. We do not cook/toast it, nor do we ever buy the cubed bread! LOL
When ready to prepare the stuffing, we add water and milk to the bread, adding bread and water (I now use broth/stock instead of water) until all the bread is added. Then we add egg, some seasoning (Poultry seasoning…. well I’ll keep those details to myself LOL) and mix with our hands. (much like you do when making meatballs). You will continue to add a little MILK, and broth/stock/water as needed to keep moist. In recent years I have not added the milk, but coming across your recipe, I think I’ll add it back in this year. But basically just keep adding and mixing til the texture is where it should be. Not too wet, but definitely not too dry. It will usually stick to your fingers. I also go by color, it shouldn’t be too dark, and you should be able to taste the seasonings, but it should be kind of faint.
If too flavorful when raw, it will be WAY to strong once cooked. You will also saute celery & onion in butter and add that to your mixture. Oh and salt! Don’t forget the salt. (Oh sorry I didn’t tell you what spices.) Anyway, I’m still trying to perfect this stuffing, which is how I happened on your recipe. Part of the reason for my comment, is that maybe your Grandma in law did not actually SOAK the bread in milk, but wet the bread with milk…. just a thought you may want to try. Its funny how people want to keep their recipes secret…. me I just shared it with my daughter’s boyfriend’s mom and the clerk at my post office. I’m proud of my mom’s recipe! (Poultry seasoning, ground marjoram, celery seed, thyme leaves, salt, pepper, celery & onion, butter, eggs, milk, water/stock/broth.)
Thank you for this info, Kathy! I think you’re right about not actually soaking the bread in milk, but rather just wetting it. I took it too literally at first!
I loved my Mother’s stuffing , it was delicious. I never got her recipe before she passed away. like you I have tried to duplicate it over the years without success. I know she used stale cornbread and fresh baked biscuits that had been left to cool completely, chicken broth, celery and onions that have been sauteed in butter, 1 or 2 eggs and of course sage, salt and pepper. She also added the dried poultry seasoning. I just don’t know how much of each. I came across Paula Dean’s recipe where she uses a sleeve of soda crackers. I thought that’s different so I made her recipe and really liked it so much I decided to stay with it. ( Oh, by the way I was raised to think dressing is for salads and stuffing is for turkeys or other birds., Whether its cooked in the bird or separately. Good luck on your quest.)
I am so intrigued by the combination of cornbread and biscuits in your mom’s recipe, Nella! That sounds so amazing. Thank you for stopping by and sharing 🙂
That is such an interesting combo. milk, egg and butter. Never added dairy to my stuffing. Thank you. My family used Bells seasoning, comes in a little box….I use it today
I’ve never heard of Bells seasoning. I’ll have to research that!
I consider this a dressing not a stuffing. A stuffing cooks inside the bird, a dressing cooks outside the bird in a casserole dish.
Absolutely right, and I do mention that in the post.
Hello Lori. I always look around to find different dressing recipes close to my ole family recipe. Quite close I don’t measure I eyeball it Yes white bread but also sage cornbread an seasoned bread crumbs ( have done a few boxes of stuffing lol) using my turkey juices to cook my celery onion giblet (neck & butt too) seasoning in every step. Watch your liquid don’t mince or finely chop your veggies or meat a good regular chop you don’t want it to disappear you wanna taste it. I butter my pan if I have sum bacon grease I use that. Trust me I sell pans of this on the holidays, it’s mouthwatering!! I am gonna try soaking my bread in milk this year I’ve heard about it, you’ve made me wanna try it!!! Thank you!!!
Hi LaDonna – I love all of these tips, thank you!
I ran across your Grandma Mary Ellen’s stuffing recipe last year and what a hit it was!! Thank you!! I too have been searching for a recipe similar to my Grandmother’s and your recipe is spot on! I did have a question, do you think I can do the veggies and giblets w/the spices the day before ? … I have a houseful if boys and anything to help streamline my Thanksgiving prep would be a blessing! ☺️
Hi Mary – I’m so glad this recipe was a hit for you last year! The answer is a big YES YOU CAN do the veggies and giblets the day before. I always do! I cook that mixture, refrigerate it, and then when I’m ready to assemble it on Thursday, I maybe microwave the veggie/giblet mixture for 30 seconds, just to loosen it up and take the chill off. Hope that helps!
Hi Lori, I love this post. Stuffing is an incredibly important part of Thanksgiving and our family culture. Where can I find your latest version of your “Grandma’s Stuffing” recipe? Thank you.
Hi Shirley. Yes! As you’ve read in my post, it’s really important in our family, too. The recipe in the box above is the current version (after tweaking it for about 6 years now). This is the exact recipe I served last Thanksgiving, and it was REALLY close to Mary Ellen’s 🙂
Thank you Lori, I am glad I have the latest and GREATEST version. 🙂 Yes, I could see & feel how important this ultimate comfort dish, stuffing, is to you & your family. That made this whole story so heartwarming. Your love for your family, passion for food and zest for life come through very clearly. You make the world a better place.
My mom makes a similiar dressing she
uses celery salt along with most of your other ingredients she never used the giblets though.
I’ve definitely thought about trying celery salt someday!
My grandmother and mom use canned milk instead of fresh…the recipes look the same other than that.
Interesting! Thanks for stopping by, Amy!
My Grandmothers secret ingredient was applesauce. Still soaked the bread in milk, celery, onion salt and pepper, eggs and about a cup of applesauce.
Oh, I love that. How original!
My grandmothers and mothers secret ingredient is applesauce. About 1 cup. Bread soaked in milk 6 eggs beaten. 3 loaves bread celery and onion
My grandmother and mother’s secret ingredient was apple sauce! About 2 cups for 3 loaves of bread. And yes used eggs and milk onions and celery
Just came across your post. If your grandmother-in-law was Eastern European, which is usually the case when garlic is added to stuffing, I have several suggestions based on my multiple and successful efforts to reproduce my Ukrainian grandmother’s recipe.
1. Sautée onion, celery and garlic in butter, butter/margarine combo, or just margarine (Grandma used only margarine) until they turn a warm brown. Low heat, and this can take up to one hour. Stir often to include brown frond from edges.
2. The bread crumbs have to be homemade from inexpensive Italian bread, torn into small chunks, dried out on the oven using low heat, and pulsed in food processor.
3. NO GIBLETS ADDED! My mother used them and they add an unpalatable iron flavor typical of organ meat.
4. Add cooked veggies to bread crumbs. Add several, depending on amount of bread crumbs, well whisked eggs. Add a small amount of ground pepper, but NO SALT. There’s sufficient salt in the bread crumbs.
5. Return sauté pan from veggies to stove on lowest heat and add milk, about 1 c. At a time just to warm, and add to bread crumbs. Mix well, and heat more milk as needed until stuffing is approx. the consistency of a loose cookie dough. The eggs will help bind the stuffing, so if it appears a little too wet, you’re good to go.
Now that most of us cook the stuffing outside the bird, the best way to get a cooked-in-the-bird taste is to top the stuffing in a casserole dish with browned chicken wings. Simply place finished stuffing in your desired dish(es) and cover with WHOLE chicken wings that have been nicely seared on both sides in a sauté pan. The browner the better. Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes. The wings are great for nibbling afterward.
Christine, thank you SO MUCH for your help with this. Especially noting that the stuffing should be approx. the consistency of a loose cookie dough. That’s one thing I’ve always struggled with – how much liquid to add and what the consistency should be. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind this year!
Hi!! I started going over to my mom’s every Thanksgiving Eve to help her with the stuffing because it was the best and she had stopped making it for years, so I asked her what do I need to do to get you to start making this again, she said come help!! So that was our tradition up until she passed away. I have been trying ever since to replicate that since I was always with her when she made it, thing is, she didn’t measure a thing, she went my smell (Hahaha sounds funny) So here is what we did, she would by a few loaves of bread and poke a hole in it so it would get stale, I would tear them into small pieces. She would boil the neck and gizzards, heart and liver to make her stock, then she would cut up the gizzards and set them aside, we would start off with the dry stuff until it smelled right, Onion flakes (cuz I hate onion) Celery seed (my brother hates celery) poultry seasoning, sage, salt and pepper. Once that is right, mix in 1 egg, then slowly add the stock until it is moist but not too moist because we stuff the bird still. Add the gizzards and stuff the bird. Needless to say I can never get it just like hers and I probably never will but it is close. Last year I made it in a pan because we did the Turkey in the oil less fryer. So everything I learned I had to learn again, it was dry dry dry. Hope this helps and good luck because I know exactly what you are feeling!
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Tracy! I know exactly what you mean about going by smell. It sounds so strange, but I think the perfect stuffing “recipe” really is a sight and smell thing. And it’s so hard to get it right until you’ve been doing it for decades. I’m also second guessing myself, especially on the amount of liquid.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, and enjoy the stuffing 🙂
Hi there! I have a few things to add from our old family recipe. We do use milk and stock (turkey or chicken, your choice). 1/3 milk to 2/3 stock ratio. Our other difference is we add marjoram. It has a more subtle flavor. And butter – you have to have butter. Melted with the stock/milk mixture and pats on top. I hope these help!!
Hi Denise – sorry for the late reply, but thank you so much for these notes. I did end up using about 1/3 milk to 2/3 stock this year, and I liked that flavor!
I have been searching for a recipe like this for years. It is very similar to my grandmother’s. She used only bread not stuffing mix. Milk was poured over the bread, allowed to soak and then “wrung out.”
Giblets, etc were cooked and the broth from that was used. Giblets, heart, liver and neck meat were put through a food grinder along with the celery and onion which had also been cooked with the innards. Some was cooked in the bird, more in a casserole. Then all were mixed together.
Family members loved this! Thanks for your version which helped me figure out my grandmother’s.
My Mom also knew this, butt he last time she made this she was suffering from cancer. I thought asking her for the recipe was an admission that I believed she wouldn’t make it again .
Thanks so much!
Hi Pat – thank you so much for sharing all of this. Glad to know that grandma’s stuffing is near and dear in a lot of families!
I haven’t had much luck soaking the bread in milk and then trying to wring it out. I’ve found that the bread just turns into mushy goo that way 🙁
I definitely think I need to try adding giblets this year. I’ll make attempt #5, or #6, or whatever I’m on now, and if it turns out well, I’ll come back and update the recipe. Have a great Thanksgiving!
My grandmother uses bread torn up add milk sugar butter salt pepper parsley onion celery carrots mixed together and bake
And chicken broth
Sounds amazing! Thank you so much, Jennifer!
I love hearing the stories of family receipes. My mother told me when she first got married she called her sister to ask how to make the stuffing for her first turkey dinner. My aunt gave her the simple bread stuffing that she continued to use for years. Both are gone now, but my family still insists that I make the dressing every year. Mom’s receipt is exactly like yours. The only exception is my father did not like celery, so she omitted it. She used white bread that she left out overnight. She soaked the bread in milk, squeezed out the excess. All the other ingredients are the same. But she did not use sugar.
Love this, Anna! I go back and forth on the sugar. When I do use, it’s just a pinch. You can’t really taste any sweetness in the final dish, though. Happy Thanksgiving!
Hi. I was reading all of your updates and comments and had planned to give my two cents. However a few towards the end covered a few of mine, being to dry out the bread overnight, and using the broth from cooked giblets, but discard giblets. They are in there for a reason. The bread is dried for the purpose of absorbing the flavors from the broth. Herbs and vegetables. These are old fashioned tips. And frugal. I.e. not using oven to dry out bread., making use of the giblets, etc. Yes and the butter is key unless you use the fat drippings from the turkey or a combination. Now my final frugal tip that may or may not fit into your grandmothers profile is whether or not she baked fresh biscuits and/or cornbread. Many old timers used one or both of these. I got this idea from the fact that it looked like two breads in it. As for the brad soaked in milk, I only know that for meatloaf some soak bread in a little milk and squeeze it. As for me I plan on using this delicious recipe from Epicurous. Hope all goes well
Thank you so much for all of these tips, Tina. After trying it with some melted butter added last year, that was DEFINITELY key to getting the flavor right. I love your tip about using the broth from cooked giblets but discarding the giblets. Very smart!
My grandmother made her using Italian loaf bread 1-2 loaves.she tore the bread by hand and left it on cookie sheets for a day,to stale up a bit.never toasted.when ready to make she took some milk and butter and and cooked on stove till butter was melted.she didn’t measure but was enough to moisten bread enough.if she needed more she would add a touch of milk.she used chopped onion and chopped celery.and sage which is what gives it the flavor, and a lil salt to your own liking.sage again is to your liking.we as kids got to taste the uncooked stuffing to let her know it had the right amount.omg was soooo good.so that’s how I make it to this day.i helped her make it for 30 or more yrs.
Thank you so much for the help, Bonnie! I love the idea of melting the butter in with the milk. I’m going to try that this year!
My grandma made a similar dressing and I have always made it the same way but it has never tasted as good as hers. It was dried pieces of white bread broken into pieces by hand. She added onions, salt, pepper, and dried savory, some melted butter and then milk to dampen. She left it sitting for a few hours before stuffing the turkey. Always made extra which was put into a casserole dish which had some turkey drippings added to it before baking.
This sounds so similar to Jeff’s grandma’s recipe, Lori! I haven’t tried dried savory yet, but I’m going to add a pinch of that this year. Each year, I get a little bit closer 🙂
Thank you so much for stopping by and telling me about your grandma’s recipe!
My mom has a stuffing recipe that is to die for. It’s the only stuffing that is true Thanksgiving stuffing according to everyone in my family. Here are the ingredients for one batch, although she usually doubles or triples it depending on how many people will be there. She toasts 14 pieces of bread, dips each piece in a bowl of milk, squeezes out the excess milk, then shreds the bread. In a skillet, she combines 1/2 C butter, 1/4 C onion, 1/4 C celery and cooks over low heat for three minutes. Add 1T parsley, 1/2 t poultry seasoning, 1 t salt and 1/8 t pepper. Then mix with the shredded toast. It can be baked in a casserole dish or stuffed into the bird.
My mom said she got the recipe from her mom a zillion years ago. We are from Upper Michigan. I have made this recipe many times, too. When we eat Thanksgiving dinner with my husband’s side of the family, I am the official stuffing maker. Last year, I made a ginormous batch for my daughter’s high school Thanksgiving feast. Like you said, some pieces get more toasted than others; I love that about this recipe. I like the stuffing best that has been in the turkey. When baking it in a casserole dish, I do sometimes add a bit of broth for additional flavor.
Heather, thank you so MUCH much for sharing this recipe. It sounds so much like Mary Ellen’s! I think the poultry seasoning might be key. And yes, I feel like a little broth is necessary to add some of that chicken/turkey flavor. Thank you again! I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!
Heather, could you share your recipe? I plan to make a batch for my daughter’s high school Thanksgiving feast next week.❤️
Hi Lori…your grandma-in-law’s recipe sounds quite like my husbands Italian family which I have finally mastered after “only” 30 years of marriage lol. The trick with this recipe is to use VERY HARD Italian bread. Soak that bread in water until almost falling apart. When the bread is still holding it’s shape in the water you take it out (some may fall apart in your hands) and put in a strainer and with your hands push down on the mush till the majority of the water is out. Looks pretty gross at this point
Next they transfer to large bowl, add salt, pepper, garlic , parsley, high quality Parmesan cheese bread crumbs and as many eggs as needed to give it the consistency of typical bread stuffing. HIs family adds thinly chopped ham, I do not know why , but it does give it a nice flavor. That’s a very old Italian recipe and I must admit it Is delicious. It does take a very long time to cook though. Good luck!
Thanks so much for all of this info, Becky. Family recipes are just the best, aren’t they? I’m loving the Parmesan bread crumbs in your family’s version. YUM!
Hi Lori! This is a dressing recipe given to me by an elderly neighbor of mine a good while back. I’ve always loved it for its comforting, old-fashioned taste that is full of turkey goodness. I hope it gives you some ideas for recreating Ms. Mary Ellen’s recipe.
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon oil
• 1 cup finely diced onion
• ½ pound ground turkey (not lean)
• ½ cup finely diced celery
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• ½ teaspoon dried sage
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
• ½ teaspoon sugar (sounds weird, but it rounds out the flavors)
• 2 cups bread slices cut into 1/2-inch cubes, toasted
• 2 cups pre-dried bread cubes (the pre-made packaged kind meant for stuffing)
• 2 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped (optional)
• ½ cup unsalted chicken stock (to get more chicken-y flavor I boil down 1 cup of stock to ½ cup)
• 1/3 cup milk (full-fat or 2%)
• ½ cup chopped parsley
1. In a large mixing bowl, soak the 2 cups of pre-dried bread cubes in the milk. Set aside.
2. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the ground turkey and cook for 5 minutes more, breaking it up into tiny pieces. Add the sage, salt, pepper, and thyme and cook for 1 more minute.
3. Transfer the mixture to the large mixing bowl with the cooked vegetables/turkey. Add the remaining bread pieces, chopped eggs (if using), stock, sugar, and parsley. Blend well and check for seasoning.
4. Grease a baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and put the dressing in it. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes in the oven. Serve with the turkey.
Hi Rebeca! I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to share this with me. I’m getting ready to make my 6th attempt at Mary Ellen’s recipe, and I think this year, it’ll be the best yet, thanks to the best people like you. Silly me, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried putting any butter in the stuffing before. Um yeah, it definitely needs butter.
I also really love the idea of combining the “fresh” bread with the dried bread cubes – I’m trying that this year! I’m going to give the pinch of sugar a try, too. Why not?
I think the fact that this recipe starts with soaking bread in milk tells me that this will end up very close to Mary Ellen’s. Because that was all she EVER told us: “Oh, I just soak a little bread in some milk.”
Thank you again, Rebeca. I hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving 🙂
I’m so glad the recipe helped you in your quest! It’s an old fashioned recipe from a lovely, lovely mature lady I was fortunate to have in my life. I wish you good luck and may you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Rebeca – Wanted to come back and tell you that I made this almost word-for-word. I didn’t add the optional hard boiled eggs, and I also skipped the ground turkey just because we know Mary Ellen’s didn’t have that (although it sounds yummy to me).
I think this year is the closest I’ve ever been, thanks so much to all of the amazing commenters like you! I really liked the combo of the dried bread cubes with the fresh bread, and the pinch of sugar might have been the special ingredient! Everybody loved it, so this is my new starting point for stuffing!
Thanks again, and I hope you had a great holiday!
Yay!!!! I’m so happy y’all liked it! A pinch of sugar always does the trick! I look forward to reading about your stuffing (or dressing) adventures in the future. Happy holidays!
My mother made this stuffing and I have been looking for the recipe. It is hard to recreate- eggs? , no eggs? One thing I do know, the poultry flavor in the stuffing comes from basting the stuffing with the turkey pan juices as it cooks.. my ,others stuffing had a loaf, not a fluffy consistency nutmwas delicious.
Thanks so much for chiming in, Carla. I will take all the help I can get! Oddly, my mother-in-law insisted she did NOT ever stuff the bird with the stuffing (we still call it “stuffing,” even though it’s probably more like “dressing”). So I’m always looking for ways to add more poultry flavor without stuffing it into the turkey. haha.
Thanksgiving is my dad’s holiday. He loves the roasting of the bird and get uup hours before anyone to get started on it. His stuffing is a favorite of my childhood. We used to sneak into the kitchen (during commercial breaks of the Macy’s parade) to grab a handful when he wasn’t looking, before he could stuff it all into the tureky. My dad uses the packaged bread cubes, celery, onion, butter ( a whole stick melted) and occasionally some giblets, which I pick out of my serving. Hopefully they will get fed to the family cat this year. The rest of the recipe is a mystery, but I am determined to discover it this year. Then when it is all done and over with, this stuffing is moist enough to pat some onto to a turkey sandwich with some cranberry sauce! Mm…my mouth is watering!!
Your Dad’s stuffing sounds AMAZING, Jane! It’s funny how such a simple combination of ingredients and turn into something soooo great!
When I cook egg bake (which is totally different, but hang in here for a minute), I mix milk and eggs, pour over the bread, and then let it sit in the fridge overnight.
Maybe you could do the same thing here? (ie pour milk/broth, veggies over the bread and let it sit in the fridge overnight)
Mary Ellen may have used the giblets to make a turkey broth or stock which might have added flavor. I don’t think many midwesterners actually eat giblets- I never heard of eating offal until moving to the south. My suggestion is to let the onions and celery cook in butter, then add some stock, and let it reduce a bit, then add it to the other ingredients.
I definitely think all white bread, and letting it get a little stale (after tearing it up) is probably on the right track.
Thanks so much for the help, Hannah! Being able to prep the dish ahead and let it sit overnight in the fridge would actually be IDEAL for me, as I like to get most of my Thanksgiving prep out of the way before the big day. I’m fairly certain there weren’t actual giblets in the stuffing, because you’re right – most Midwesterners do NOT eat them! I’m going to make a homemade turkey stock this weekend, and use the drippings to fortify my next batch of stuffing!
Just for future info, I am 60 and I remember my mother using packaged seasoned bread stuffing mix with the little herb packet. The bread stuffing mixes came out in the late part of the 40’s and early 50’s. It was after the war and things were new and fun. Kinda of like the show Happy Days. So there you go that good old stuffing mix is what every cook from that era used. It just sucked up all the flavor because it was so tosted and dry. Remember to add the seasoning packet to your liquid of choice. It really makes a nice even flavor.
Thank you SO much for the help, Lynda! I think the fresh bread vs. dried stuffing mix could be the source of endless debate in this stuffing dilemma 🙂 Great to know that the mix would have been available when Mary Ellen started making this!
Toast white bread, break into pieces drizzle milk over bread crumbs untijust moist, cover and let sit overnight. Next day add celery and onions cooked in butter and black pepper. Drizzle with turkey broth until moist. Do n mix. Bake 350. 45 minutes
Thank you so much, Marjorie. Definitely can’t forget the black pepper. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!
I love these posts Lori! I’ve had the same struggle with some of my favorite family recipes. Unfortunately I have absolutely no tips. We were always Stouffers family growing up (and I actually still love it). Is it terrible for a food blogger to admit that?
You mean like, Stove Top? I totally grew up eating that, but not necessarily for Thanksgiving. We would have it on just regular ‘ol weeknights!
Hi Lori, I love you post! I don’t blame you for wanting to duplicate the dressing. Keep in mind that most older cooks didn’t use a stuffing mix or even dried bread cubes. I do remember that bakery’s used to make stuffing bread before Thanksgiving, but most just used cheap white bread. My Mom is 94 and I learned to make the dressing from her, that I still make. She grew up in Detroit and I grew up in the western suburbs. Everyone I know likes our dressing. I make it every year and if I happen to go to someone elses home for Thanksgiving, I make a turkey at home soon after, because the stuffing is never right. Yeah, I’m picky!
No recipe really because I just wing the amounts, depending on the size of the turkey. But I’ll try…. I usually make enough to stuff the turkey and have a big casserole dish.
I give you the approximate quantities..
1 loaf white bread, broken by hand the night before and left to sit in a bowl on the counter.
In a large sauce pan, melt 1 stick of butter, when melted add 2 ribs of celery (chopped) and 1 med onion (chopped). Cook until soft. Add about 1 Tbsp of sage and a tsp each of salt and pepper.
Toss this mixture with the bread and then add chicken broth (or turkey broth if you can find it) to desired moisture is reached. I like my dressing moist but not soggy. This is when you could use some milk instead of all broth if you want.
Important step… TASTE…and adjust seasonings… I usually add more sage because I like to actually taste the sage after the dressing is cooked.
That’s it… plain old fashioned bread dressing. I stuff my turkey with it and put any extra in a casserole dish. I pour a little extra broth over the dressing in the dish since it doesn’t get the juices of the turkey, cover the dish in the oven and remove the cover 10 – 15 minutes before it done. I don’t usually bake it for more than 45 – 60 minutes total.
When my whole family is here for Thanksgiving, I will mix the dressing that was cooked in the turkey and the dressing that I have cooked seperatly. Otherwise, my family would just eat the dressing that came from the turkey! Maybe you Grandma did that too!
One thing to remember, when you are trying to duplicate a recipe that is a family heirloom, only use the ingredients that were available at the time when they made it. The newer shortcut ingredients never taste the same.
Hope this helps.
Oh my gosh, Nancy, you have helped me SO much with this!
I figured that dried bread cubes were a newer invention, so unless Mary Ellen switched over to using them in her later years, those wouldn’t be part of the recipe. I think I made a mistake by trying to let the whole slices of bread dry out overnight, and THEN tearing them in the morning. If I tore them first, then let dry overnight, I think they would get more dried out.
I think your idea of mixing the stuffing cooked IN the turkey with the rest of the stuffing is a good idea (adding more turkey flavor). Jeff’s aunt has chimed in this afternoon to say that Mary Ellen roasted a turkey breast and added the drippings from that to the stuffing. I think I definitely need to get some real turkey flavor into this! I usually make homemade turkey stock the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I can use the pan drippings from roasting bones for that for my next attempt.
Thanks again, Nancy! Have a great Thanksgiving!
I’m going to be honest, Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday! I love seeing all the wonderful recipes people have been posting! I wish I knew what your grandma did to make her stuffing so spectacular, but I think yours looks just lovely!
I looked through the recipes I had from my mother, and unfortunately don’t have her wonderful stuffing recipe. I know that she fried her bread cubes (she used the cheap white bread) with real onion (and probably the celery), most likely in bacon fat. Butter would work, too, but would not be as flavorful. She never put giblets in. And she never put any liquid in. That’s because she stuffed it all into the bird, and felt it would come out too mushy with extra liquid added (it did gain moisture from the bird). I would probably at least double the amount of sage and poultry seasoning, and forget the onion & garlic powder. Also stay with the white bread. The stuffing I remember still had some structure to it (i.e., it was NOT formless mush) and was quite flavorful. Hope this helps a little.
Oh wow Susan, NO liquid at all in the stuffing? Did that cause the turkey to dry out? I think you’re right on the doubling up on the herbs – there wasn’t enough sage flavor in this first attempt. Thanks so much for your help! I really appreciate it 🙂
Great post, Lori! Thanksgiving stuffing is close to the heart. We’re coercing my parents into cooking Thanksgiving dinner at our house this year so that I can write down every move my Dad makes. I think I love his stuffing the way you loved Mary Ellen’s. I wish I could help with suggestions, but my Dad uses the dry, herb seasoned stuffing mix as a base, which changes everything. Best of luck on your pursuit to recreate the magic!
Also, I love your wedding shoes. Very Carrie Bradshaw. 😉
Oh, what a fun memory for you and your Dad! My husband and I have a tiny house/kitchen/dining room, so even though I’m in charge of cooking, we go back and forth with my parents hosting every other year, and his parents hosting every other year. We’re both only children, so there’s just the 6 of us for the holiday, which is nice. My Dad and I have a great time cooking together!
That herb seasoned stuffing mix seems to be a leading candidate. I’m using that for attempt #2!
My wedding shoes are sort of Carrie Bradshaw-ish, if Carrie ever wore $22 shoes. Which would be never. HAHA.
I sort of make my grandma’s stuffing and I have no real recipe. I eyeball everything. But I know she used those dried out stuffing mix bread cubes and soaked them in milk, so there definitely was not excess liquid to wring out.
Attempt #2 is going to use those dried stuffing mix bread cubes, Brianne. I mean, why not at least give it a try? Thanks so much for your help!
What a wonderful write-up honey. I appreciate, so much, you trying to perfect my grandma’s stuffing. Every time you give me a failed attempt it serves as a reminder of all the wonderful, loving memories I have of holidays past when she was around. I think you truly do her cooking justice. And, I am sure, as hard as we try we won’t be able to get it 100% . . . After all, the secret ingredient is love.
Well, you’re eating Fail #1 for dinner tonight. Thanks hon 🙂
I know your wife said your Gram did not use giblets but she may have done what my Mom did. She did the same thing with the bread and she soaked it in milk. Then she lightly toasted those hand torn cubes. Meanwhile she had been boiling the giblets for about 20 minutes, took them out of the pan but kept the water. When they were cooled she had my Dad set up the grinder, which he had attached on the edge of the table using a dish town under it so it wouldn’t slip. She put the giblets, minus the neck, into the grinder and they were completely grounded into the tiniest pieces that you would never know was giblets. She put those into the bowl with the bread cubes, sauted onions, 2 Tbs. of Bell’s Poultry seasoning, and butter. She mixed it so well I never know that giblets were in there until she “fussed” up and told me the truth. Her stuffing was the best I ever tasted but mine, try as I may, never comes out the same. Now that you mentioned eggs, I do believe I remember her putting eggs into that mixture. I know she put melted butter in also. This year I will try the eggs and see if it makes a difference. Happy Thanksgiving
Hi Diane – thank you SO much for all of this info! I actually HAVE one of those meat grinders that attaches to the counter. My grandma gave it to me! It seems like kind of a pain to set up, so I’m wondering if I can just pulse the giblets in a food processor. haha. Either way, it sounds like the giblets are critical for great flavor, and I’m going to try it this year. Happy Thanksgiving!
This sounds just like my moms, and there were eggs, I too can’t get it as light, crunchy and moist as hers, I lost my mom in April, we made it together every thanksgiving .
Happy thanksgiving ? ?
Hi Linda – Sorry for the late reply, but thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.