Judy Romanow of Lac du Bonnet requested a recipe for old-fashioned Scottish oatmeal stuffing. Thanks so much to Gerri Stemler, Barbara Stephen, Audrey Foulkes, Evelyn Howard, Lucille Tough and Linda Snider, who sent in some tried-and-true traditional recipes.
I grew up with oatmeal stuffing, and all of these recipes are very much like the one handed down from my Scottish grandmother, using a very basic combination of oatmeal, fat (butter, lard or suet) with onions, salt and pepper, and sometimes herbs and a pinch of nutmeg. (Seasoning can be controversial, however: One Scottish recipe I looked at warned sternly against sage!) With its dense, comforting consistency, oatmeal dressing is quite different from bread-based stuffing.
One note: Although it's becoming increasingly popular to bake stuffing alongside the turkey in a separate pan, oatmeal stuffing really needs to be cooked for a long time inside a big bird to become properly steamed, soft and moist. Undercooked Scottish oatmeal will be chewy. Also, some of these recipes would have originally been for fatter fowls. With a leaner North American turkey, you might need a bit of added moisture, such as broth or water.
A few readers are currently looking for Christmas recipes. Gerri Stemler is hoping for a fruit cake recipe that might have been published in the Free Press in the 1970s. It was dark and moist and contained dates and Brazil nuts but no butter. Another reader would like a recipe for Ukrainian honey cookies that stay nice and soft. And we continue to get requests for recipes from Eaton's, that late, lamented department store. Coral Wood is looking for a recipe for Eaton's chicken wings, while Marie from Vancouver is hoping for a version of the food counter's mock duck. If you can help with a recipe request, have your own request, or a favourite recipe you'd like to share, send an email to email@example.com, fax it to 697-7412, or write to Recipe Swap, c/o Alison Gillmor, Winnipeg Free Press, 1355 Mountain Ave., Winnipeg, MB, R2X 3B6. Please include your first and last name, address and telephone number.
750 ml (3 cups) Scottish oatmeal (not rolled oats)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
about 15 ml (1 tbsp) salt
1x325 g (about 12 oz) package of chopped suet
In a large bowl, mix oatmeal with onions and some salt. (Taste a few grains to test for desired saltiness.) Add suet. Mix well and stuff the neck and body cavity of turkey. Roast as usual.
Tester's notes: This rich stuffing tastes a lot like my grandmother's, though I added some chopped fresh thyme, rosemary and sage, which she probably would have considered "fancy." Don't overstuff the bird, as the dressing will expand.
Chopped suet, a rather Dickensian-sounding Christmas ingredient, can be found at good butcher shops and some supermarkets. It's often in the freezer section but thaws very quickly. Scottish oatmeal can be found at specialty groceries, bulk food stores and some supermarkets.
Grandma Stephen's Scottish stuffing for poultry
114 g (125 ml or 1/2 cup) butter
1 medium onion, diced
enough oatmeal to absorb the butter (probably about 750 ml or 3 cups)
pepper and salt, to taste
Melt butter in large frying pan. Add onion and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add enough oatmeal that butter is absorbed and mixture starts to clump together when pressed, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cool and then stuff turkey neck and body cavities and roast as usual.
Tester's notes: There's something very authentic about using suet for oatmeal dressing, but I also like the taste of butter in this recipe. I might improvise a recipe that combines the two. The amount of oatmeal could vary depending on the type of bird. You can add a bit of water or broth if you need more moisture. Basting the turkey so that juices run over the stuffing also adds flavour and moistness.