The following piece was written after exhaustive research and possibly a bottle of bourbon. It is meant to be both educational and tongue-in-cheek and is mostly the opinion of the author.
Y’all there ain’t nuthin’ worse than to ask where the stuffing is in front of some of the South’s finest ladies in a grocery store. You can almost guarantee one will pipe up with a look of admonishment and remind you that it’s not “stuffing”, it’s dressing.
It got me thinkin’ a couple of years ago when I was that gentleman on the other side of the chastising… what the heck is the difference?
Well according to Webster, who has been around apparently since 1828, stuffing is defined as:
A seasoned mixture (as of bread crumbs, vegetables, and butter) that is typically placed inside the cavity of a turkey, pepper, etc. and cooked- Source
This makes sense, as you “stuff” it into the turkey.
North of the Mason-Dixon, stuffing is the common term whether you cook it in the bird, or on the stove, or in a casserole pan.
In Pennsylvania, as an interesting side note, they mix theirs with mashed potatoes and call it “filling”.
In the South, if the word “stuffing” is used, it is preferred to be pronounced without the “g”. The correct pronunciation being “stuffin”.
Again, I went to Webster, and this is the definition of dressing:
A seasoned mixture usually used as a stuffing (as for poultry)- Source
Now, I looked at that and again, made sense. And, thought ”they are the same”. So, I started asking around. Dug deeper into my research, and found that in fact in proper Southern households, talking of “stuffing” is prohibited.
Why? It’s just an improper term to speak of stuffing something at the dinner table. It’s just a crude word. “Whutcha doin’? ” “Stuffin’ the bird”, just doesn’t properly roll off the tongue like “makin’ cornbread dressing”.
And, whether you cook it in or out of the bird, it is served on the side, as a “dressing” piece to the bird.
However, despite the South’s affection for dressing, oftentimes in those states it’s also called stuffing. According to Epicurious, the only states that searched for dressing recipes over stuffing recipes were Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Stovetop has been blamed for this anomaly.
Technically, both stuffing and dressing are correct in their interpretations. And, by a logical analysis of Mr. Webster’s definitions, we see that stuffing is always dressing, but dressing may not always be stuffing.
So, who is right? Go find ma or grandma. Ask her politely if she prefers stuffing or dressing. If she smacks you in the head with a wooden spoon for using the word “stuffing”, y’all will have your answer.
Most importantly, be thankful for the day and the company. Enjoy your Thanksgiving y’all!