Stuffing v. Dressing

Continuing with our seasonal discussion of foods that have traditionally polarized the black community, I though I might take a stab at settling once and for all a question that has recently come to my attention. Namely, what is the proper term for the breaded side dish that accompanies many Black Americans tables during Thanksgiving. Looking to the historical traditions of African Americans reveals a wealth of information both about the nature of the dish, its origins, and the “proper” name for something we all love. Yeah, I love me some history.

The Middle Ages

Few people consider Medieval times when they think of stuffing or dressing, but this time period actually sheds a lot of light on what the more correct term for the dish we all love might be. During this period, Europeans tended to call the dish “farce” or “forcemeat.” The word “farce” itself comes from the Latin word “farcire” and the French “farcir” meaning . . . to stuff. There is an interesting etymological and metaphorical meaning behind this word. “Farces” were usually comical plays inserted between more somber religious productions. This also gives us the more modern meaning of the word “farce” as a comic dramatic work. But it was not the humorous connotation, but the fact that these plays were stuffed in between the religious services that lent the name to the dish. Thus, we seem to have one check in the column for “stuffing” as the better name for the dish.

I bet your Aunt's stuffing don't look this good.

“Let’s be clueh”,  I think we can all agree that we are not ever gonna call this “Forcemeat.”

The 1800s

By this time, Europeans were no longer calling it “forcemeat”; Thank Jesus, Allah, and the Based God. But by now, the word “stuffing” had come into common usage. But then those stuffy Victorians came around, and you know them White folk didn’t like anything too sexual, or too indicative of a sexual act. They were the first to begin calling the dish “dressing.” It was around this time that the dish was transplanted in the Colonies that would later become the United States. Some will tell you that it’s “stuffing” when cooked in the bird, and “dressing” when cooked outside. A survey of cookbooks that use the term interchangebly dispels this notion. The answer, as I rightly predicted on Twitter earlier today, [@DomPerinyon if ya aint know] has to do with which region of the United States you call home, or your parents called home. I’m in a unique position. My immediate family is all from the Jersey Shore. There, we used the term “stuffing.” I happened to move to Atlanta halfway through my life, and thus heard the term “dressing” for the first time there.

The South

It seems that below the Mason-Disxon line, “dressing” caught on as the name of the dish. Often made of anything from cornbread to stale biscuits to cracker crumbs, the dish has many regional twists in the South. In Louisiana you can often find it mixed with andouille sausage. Coastal areas in the Carolinas and deep south often add rice [big surprise].

The North

Here, it tends to be called “stuffing” despite the fact that this is where the Puritans landed. And we know how uptight they were.  Here you can find the dish made with onions, celery, thyme, and sage. The base is usually white bread. In parts of the Midwest, rye bread can be used. In Northern coastal communities, oysters are often used. [As a de facto Southerner, this practice appalls me greatly.]

You aint a real G if you get it from the box.

So there you have it. Despite the regional twists, both “stuffing” and “dressing” refer to the same basic dish. The point is, as long as it tastes good, and no one dies from food poisoning from undercooked oysters [I’m looking at you, Coastal Northerners] it’s all good in the hood.

Continue to Question the World Around You.


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