Growing up, I didn’t have the stereotypical Greek family that has been portrayed in films and television. I don’t have eighty cousins or a father who roasted lamb on a spit. We were a small family and we didn’t have anyone close by to celebrate holidays with.
My mother’s parents lived in Athens, and she had only one sister who’d never had any children.
My dad’s father died when I was three, and after that, my father’s mother moved back and forth between Myteleni and New York. My dad only had one brother who was a merchant marine and never married.
So, my two sisters and I have no first cousins—none. My dad had some cousins in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but no one in my mother’s family ever left Greece.
When the holidays came, my mom would cook and bake for days, use the good china and set a beautiful table, but it was the same five of us that sat for dinner every evening. I thought nothing of this at the time because I knew nothing else, and Mom always made the day special. For Thanksgiving, we would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV and later have a traditional American meal, with a few Greek appetizers thrown into the mix. Later, we would wait for It’s a Wonderful Life to come on the TV and we would all watch it. This was before the days of blue ray players and DVRs. If we wanted to watch a show or a movie, we had to wait until it aired. Imagine that!
Every year, my mother made the same stuffing, and we waited all year for it. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without my mom’s chestnut stuffing. It doesn’t have too many ingredients, but peeling the chestnuts can be a bit labor intensive. I have to say, though, it’s worth every bit of effort.
For the last thirty years, Thanksgiving has become my holiday to host. The dynamics of our family have changed, and our gatherings are much larger. I have two daughters, my one sister also has two daughters and my other sister has a son and a daughter. Our children are lucky to each have four first cousins on just my side of the family, not to mention the four cousins on their father’s side. Not wanting anyone to have to choose where they would go for Thanksgiving, I invite everyone! All extended family and sibling in-laws. There were years where I had close to thirty people over.
I may be the one who has made the stuffing for years now, but the “children” (they’re all over 18 now) never refer to it as Mom’s stuffing or Aunt Effie’s stuffing. Nope! It’s Yiayia’s stuffing. And that’s as it should be.
1 pound chestnuts, boiled and peeled
2 loaves unsliced white bread, crusts cut away and cubed to 2 inch squares
1 celery heart, sliced thin
1 very large onion, chopped
3 sticks of unsalted butter (1½ cups)
1 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 350º
In a large sauté pan, melt the unsalted butter. Add the celery and onions and sauté until tender.
In the meantime, cut the crusts off the unsliced bread and cut into cube. Place the cubed bread in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt and a few dashes of pepper to the bread and toss, mixing evenly. Pour the warmed milk over the bread and gently mix. Add the celery/onion mixture, distributing the excess butter over the bread. Add the chestnuts and mix one last time. Spoon into a baking dish and bake for 1 – 1½ hours. When the top crusts over, lay tin foil on top to prevent further browning, but do not seal.
*If you choose to add the stuffing inside your turkey, please make sure the internal temperature all the way into the center of the stuffing is 165º.
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