Food Memories: Don’t Mess With Aunt Beth’s Sausage Pecan Stuffing!

Photo of Aunt Beth Millard at a family picnic, with Cameron and Connor Kapetanov.

There are certain food memories and family recipes you just don’t mess with.

I learned early in my marriage that for the Phillips family, Aunt Beth’s Sausage Pecan Stuffing was an iron clad Thanksgiving tradition. If you were assigned to bring the dressing that year, nothing else would do. One of my sister-in-laws warned me about this, as she was chastised for bringing a different recipe one year. So when it was my turn, I didn’t deviate, even though a cup-and-a-half each of sausage drippings and pecans sounded like Heart Attack on a Plate to me.

But now every year, the savory aromas of  sausage, turkey and sage bring back food memories of the days when my kids were young, and it took a church cultural hall to house the Phillips siblings, grandkids and great-grandkids for Thanksgiving. My kids enjoyed the  rowdy game of volleyball that usually followed dinner and clean-up.

Thanksgiving turkey at the Phillips dinner was never complete without Aunt Beth’s stuffing.

Aunt Beth passed away last week at the age of 95, and word of her passing brought back lots of food memories. She was a younger sister to my mother-in-law, Marian Phillips, and they were close. So Aunt Beth was a big part of many family get-togethers. She had an outgoing personality and made friends with people from all over the world, who sometimes came with her to a family picnic or party.

For many years, she worked at the LDS Missionary Training Center, and helped outfit missionaries who came to the MTC with nothing but the clothes on their back. I’m sure her friendly smile and can-do attitude came in handy in that job.

She was a great cook, and always spoke up if she thought your gravy needed more salt or less pepper.

I hope she forgave me for bringing Rhodes Bake-n-serve rolls to the Phillips family Thanksgiving one year.  I was pretty late getting home from work that Wednesday night. (The week of Thanksgiving is a super-busy one for newspaper food editors). After making dinner and cleaning up the kitchen, I had no time or energy  to make the 60-70 rolls I was assigned to bring the next day. So I put my trust in the frozen food aisle, where bags of Rhodes rolls were selling out fast.

I thought my rolls, still warm and fluffy from the oven, looked and tasted fine. But Aunt Beth and Grandma Marian were NOT pleased that they weren’t from scratch. Aunt Beth was bugged enough that she brought it up AGAIN when I had her and Grandma Marian over for Christmas Eve dinner.

They were from a different era, where making everything from scratch was a badge of honor. But I’d rather spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying my family and friends. So I didn’t feel one bit guilty.

Today, I have a wheat grinder and a bread machine, so I grind my own wheat and make whole-wheat rolls. Would Aunt Beth be proud, or would she consider it cheating to let a bread machine do the mixing and kneading?

Anyway, here’s Aunt Beth’s Sausage Pecan Stuffing recipe. Her original recipe called it simply “Turkey Dressing,” but I felt it needed a more descriptive name.

May it give your own family lots of good food memories!

Aunt Beth’s Sausage Pecan Stuffing

This recipe yields enough stuffing for serving a 16-19 pound turkey, so adjust accordingly.

1 1/2 pounds bulk pork sausage

1 1/4 cups sausage drippings and/or melted butter or margarine

1 1/4 cups finely chopped celery

2/3 cup chopped onions

2 packages Stove-Top stuffing (or similar brand)

2 1/2 cups hot water or stock made from Stove-Top seasoning

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

1 1/2 cups homemade bread cubes

1 cup of turkey broth (made from cooking neck and giblets covered in water, with 2-3 chicken bouillon cubes added)

Brown sausage in frying pan over medium heat. Remove sausage. Add enough butter or margarine to the sausage drippings to equal 1 1/4 cups. Cook celery and onions in drippings/butter mixture until tender. Toss with stuffing mix. Add hot water, broth and bread cubes, stirring lightly. Stir in sausage and pecans. Toss together lightly. Spoon into greased oven-proof dish and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Do not over-bake. Serve warm.

Note: You can also stuff the turkey just before putting it in the oven.

—Recipe from Beth Millard, Provo.

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