Christmas · recipes

Controversy at Christmas! Author Terry Shames and a non-recipe #recipe

"bake, love, write", helena fairfaxDo you have certain recipes that HAVE to be cooked at Christmas, and cooked in a certain way only? Well, I’m delighted to welcome author Terry Shames to my blog today with one of her family’s much-loved holiday recipes.

Note: for previous visitors from America, I’ve had to painstakingly translate all the measurements from US standard to British standard. Today, though, I don’t have to – because there aren’t any measurements! Hooray! This is my sort of recipe!

Terry is one of the collaborators in our Bake, Love, Write dessert recipe book, which is available in paperback on Amazon US and also on Amazon UK, and also in Kindle format.

Thanks for sharing your recipe with us, Terry, and I hope your stuffing causes no controversy in the Shames household this Christmas :)

A Non-Recipe Recipe

helena fairfax, terry shamesEvery year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, my family waited cautiously to find out whether we’d get “regular” stuffing, or if my mother would be off on another one of her tangents to shake things up—by which she meant, make her turkey stuffing better. Having heard other families’ stories and attended other family Thanksgiving and Christmas celebration, I’m pretty sure my family wasn’t the only one that had a nervous relationship with what goes with the bird.

I’ve heard arguments over whether stuffing should be made with cornbread or bread, whether it should be cooked inside the bird (NO!) or separately, whether to use turkey drippings or chicken broth (too greasy vs tasteless), and what else should go into the stuffing–nuts? Celery? Onions? Sausage? OYSTERS?

My mother was the maker of stuffing, and every holiday we tiptoed around the subject of stuffing, waiting to see if she would simply make it the way she always did (the way we all liked it) or if she would go of on a wild tangent. Kids are so much more conservative about traditions than they pretend to be. We wanted the stuffing she always made. It consisted of the following:

Lots of cornbread (let other families eat that lumpy bread stuffing—we were firmly in the cornbread camp). [I’ll have to translate this for British readers. Cornbread isn’t generally stocked in our supermarkets. I found a recipe here. It’s made with cornmeal – if you can’t find cornmeal, you can use polenta.)

A few biscuits (to soften the cornbread) [British readers: do not use biscuits! Ha ha. We call “cookies” biscuits. That wouldn’t taste good. The American biscuit is a small crusty roll]


Green onions

Drippings from the turkey



Salt and Pepper

Notice the lack of measurements in this recipe? That’s because there were none. Mother had a particular, yellow bowl she made dressing in. When the bowl was full of cornbread and a few crumbled biscuits mixed together, then she added celery and green onions “until it looked right,” and celery, green onions, salt and pepper, and sage “until it tasted right.” And then when the turkey was done, she added the drippings and melted butter “until it was the right consistency.” While the turkey rested, the dressing got popped into the oven to cook.

Every year it seemed like a miracle that with no recipe it turned out perfect.y. Here’s the problem: no amount of raving would convince mother that the dressing was really good. She had a litany of complaints ready—too much salt, not enough salt, the sage was stale, or the dressing was soggy or too dry. Or the cornbread had been too sweet or too… get the message. I never figured out if she was fishing for compliments or if she really thought her efforts didn’t measure up.

Every few years, she’d run something new in on us—a new recipe she had found that sounded good. One year it was rice dressing. It tasted great, but it wasn’t dressing! One year she decided she should use packaged cornbread dressing mix. It was okay, but it wasn’t her dressing. One year she decided it needed oysters. We lived on the Gulf Coast and got terrific oysters. Delicious oysters. Plump, juicy oysters. Oysters that didn’t belong in stuffing. It was good, but IT WASN’T STUFFING.

The funny thing is that now that Mother is not longer around to make the stuffing, my sister and I are able to make it taste pretty good—using her non-recipe.


helena fairfax, terry shamesTerry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock mystery series, set in the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. Her first novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill (July 2013) was a finalist for the Left Coast Crime award for best mystery of 2013, the Strand Magazine Critics Award, and a Macavity Award for Best First Novel of 2013. MysteryPeople named it one of the five top debut mysteries of 2013.

The Last Death of Jack Harbin (January 2013) was named one of the top five mysteries of 2013 by Library Journal. Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek came out October, 2014. A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge comes out in April, 2015.

* * *

Terry, I so agree with you about children always wanting the same traditions every year! I love your recipe for stuffing, and will give it a try some day – but not on Christmas Day, though, because we have our own tradition in our house, which we must stick to! I always make Delia Smith’s sage and onion stuffing (Delia is a famous English chef), which is made with breadcrumbs, and I cook it INSIDE the bird! :)

Do you have any recipes you have to make in a certain way each Christmas? And stuffing inside or outside the bird – where do you stand??

If you’ve enjoyed Terry’s post, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know – we’d love to hear from you!





27 thoughts on “Controversy at Christmas! Author Terry Shames and a non-recipe #recipe

  1. Aloha Helena, :-) What fun. ;-) It reminds me of a story I’ve read where every year someone does the turkey a different way and everyone hates it. LOL. But can’t for the life of me what what it is. :-) Stuffing for American recipe is often baked separately, whereas we do like the Brits do and stuff it in the bird.

    Cornbread is made with ‘cornmeal’ or polenta as was said. When you bake it, it has a slightly ‘gritty’ texture, but it’s not unpleasant. It comes out a yellow coloring and is somewhere between a bread and cake texture. Excellent with a cane of cream cream corn added to the recipe and then eaten hot, with lashings of butter. yum!! I like it backed in the corn shaped husk tins too. LOL.

    I have a really really good cornbread recipe if you want it. It’s made with the cream corn. Very morish. :-)

    The only thing I make every Christmas, is a Pavlova, our national dessert. :-) I also have a no fail recipe for that if you want it. :-)

    Thanks, this was fun.

    Aloha Meg :-)


    1. Hi Meg, that story rings a bell with me, too! Maybe someone reading this blog might remember what it is. Or if it isn’t a story yet, it would definitely make a good one!
      Your description of cornbread sounds SO delicious. And I’ve never seen corn shaped husk tins, either. What a brilliant idea! I wonder why we don’t often see this in the UK. We have adopted recipes and foods from all around the world and made them our own, but this one has passed us by.
      Your recipes sound delicious! It would be good to know how to make them. Maybe you could post them to your blog, or if you’d like to come to mine, you’d be welcome!
      Thanks for coming by with your explanation about cornbread. That’s really whetted my appetite!


  2. Oh, yum, Pavlova! We go to a friend’s house for a party every Christmas and she makes Pavlova. My sister read my post and she reminded me of a year when our mother and her husband’s aunt were both cooking the Thanksgiving meal and almost came to blows over how the stuffing would be made! Ah, family!


    1. LOL… yes, weddings, funerals and holidays… what fun??! :-) People get very strident about their recipes. :-)

      I love that you’ve gotten to try Pav. I hope it was a good one Terry. :-)

      Aloha Meg ;-)


  3. I developed my own ‘cornbread stuffing’ that is cooked by itself. It’s so freaking good that everyone insists I bring it whenever a chicken or turkey is cooked. I hated my mom’s stuffing, which was bread with sage. Loved the smell, but it was awful. Mine is so good that sometimes there isn’t any left for leftovers!


    1. Pepper, I really must try and make cornbread stuffing for myself. The stuffing I make at Christmas is a combination of bread, sausagemeat and sage. I really like it, but I’d like to give the cornbread version a try!


  4. Terry, I so enjoyed your post about the turkey stuffing your mom made. My mom made it the same way without measuring anything, but according to how it looked also and it always turned out well. She did that with much of her cooking and she was a great cook.

    This Thanksgiving my daughter-in-law’s mother is bringing the stuffing, so I won’t be making it. Her’s is excellent as well, I’ve had it a few times. It’s a bit spicier with hot sausages in it.

    Thank you so much for your post and thank you, Helena, for always having such interesting topics here.

    Susan :)


    1. Stuffing with hot sausage sounds a delicious alternative! I’m getting so many great ideas for Chirstmas, I just wish I had the time (and the waistline!) to try out everything I’ve heard. And it’s great that your family members each bring a dish, Susan – that’s another really good idea.
      Thanks for dropping in, and for your lovely comment


  5. I enjoyed reading your post, Terry. I like the idea of using biscuits to moisten the stuffing. I’ll have to try it. I remember my mother in the kitchen preparing the most elaborate dishes. She never even cracked the cover of a cookbook. She seemed to “know” how much of everything to use. She never turned out an unacceptable dish.
    My favorite ingredient for my stuffing, besides the bread, is oysters.


    1. My mum used to make a fabulous turkey roast dinner, too, Kathleen, and her Christmas pudding was heavenly. I have never heard of oysters as an ingredient in the stuffing. I’m learning so much! Thanks so much for your great comment. It’s lovely to hear of all these traditions.


  6. Nice to meet you, Terry. I second Susan’s comments, Helena. Thanks for always having such interesting posts on your blog.
    Meg’s description of corn bread with the corn in it is accurate, but I’d say not common. I’m much more familiar with cornbread w/o the corn, just the corn meal. My mother always made the dressing, too. Dad baked the turkey. I can testify that my husband’s turkey is just as good as my father’s ever was. I make the dressing like Mom, no measuring, just taste and look. I disagree with the assessment that canned chicken broth makes for blah dressing. You really save a ton of calories with that addition. (And yes on the outside.) Salt, lots of pepper, Sage for sure. I confess to using Peperidge Farm tradtional dressing mix, but then add lots of celery and onion. My mom always put chestnuts and sometimes the oysters. ( I don’t care for them. Never ate them when she made oyster stew. The little crackers added bulk to that meal.) For years I spent hours and hours on the chestnuts, finally I’ve given up They are just too hard to get to. Though I love them.
    Terry, you obviously hit on a subject near and dear to a lot of our hearts. Dressing. Your books sound interesting. I’ll be sure to check them out. Good luck with your writing. I’ll FB and Tweet.


    1. Hi Marsha, what a great comment. I had wondered if cornbread had corn in it or not. Now I see you can have either. My mum cooked the whole Christmas dinner in our house – everything. We kids helped peel the potatoes and did all the clearing away and washing up. I don’t mind cooking everything on Christmas Day. In fact I enjoy it. Christmas dinner is my favourite meal.
      And regarding packet mix – we have a stuffing mix called Paxo available, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. It’s pretty vile, and nowhere near like the real thing. We used to get it for school dinners at Christmas time, and most people threw that bit away.
      Really interesting to hear your take on the cooking. Thanks so much for dropping in. Great comment!


      1. Aloha Terry, Helena and Marsha,

        Love reading everyone’s comments. Makes me wish I was cooking again. I always put at least 6 tablespoons of butter under the turkey skin to get it super moist, other than that, I have no idea. LOL.

        The cornbread recipe has been adopted and adapted by me Marsha, so it’s not totally authentic. :-) It came from some people called The Neelys on Food Network or somewhere. But everytime I make these, people want the recipe. They’re nice to take to a ‘do’ or a function. You can make them in cupcake paper cups or just cooked in a tin. I like the cupcakes.

        • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
        • 1 cup all-purpose flour
        • 1 tablespoon baking powder
        • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (castor sugar)
        • 1 cup buttermilk
        • 2 large eggs
        • 4 tbls butter, melted
        • 1/4 cup honey
        • 1 can of cream corn (425gm or 15 odd oz tin)

        • Special equipment: paper muffin cups and a 12-cup muffin tin or I baked it in a casserole dish instead of muffins. I used a pan that was slightly smaller than a 9 in x 13 in or 22 cm x 33 cm and they came out great

        Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (205 C)

        Into a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.

        In another bowl, whisk together the whole milk, eggs, butter, and honey.

        Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.
        Place muffin paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin. Evenly divide the cornbread mixture into the papers. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden.

        Aloha guys :-) I might make these if I get invited to somewhere for Thanksgiving… very morish.. :-)


    1. Pavlova is a delicious dessert, Marsha. It’s basically a nest of meringue filled with fruit (raspberries and blackberries, or strawberries) and then topped with whipped cream. It was named after the ballet dancer called Anna Pavlova – but I don’t know why. Perhaps it was invented for her.


      1. Aloha Marsha and Helena :-)

        It’s my national dessert Marsha. It’s also the Aussies dessert. LOL. We fight over who it really belongs to. :-) It’s definitely named The Pavlova, after Anna the dancer. It was said that while she was on tour in the 1920’s, a chef wanted to create something special for her and named it in her honour. It’s a raging controversy between NZ and Australia. LOL. So… a chef in NZ or Australia made it for her and named it.

        I think the Aussies did the name. But we possibly did the first ‘meringue cake.’ Although in truth, given both NZ and Aussie have British and Irish heritage, it’s likely the recipe was brought over from there, like say, Cornish pasties.

        I’ll put a piccie on fb of it for you Marsha and Helena :-)

        And here’s the recipe.

        8 egg whites
        2 cups of sugar

        About 3 kiwifruit
        A ‘punnet’ or small container of strawberries (I’ve also used frozen strawberry’s in the States and using them as a center ‘hash.’
        Passion fruit pulp is available, but not necessary.

        If all these are in short supply.

        Use canned drained peaches, blueberries, or raspberries

        Cut a 23cm round (about 9”) out of parchment paper and place it on a flat baking tray.

        Turn the oven on to 250’ (120’C)

        Separate the egg whites and beat with an electric beater until soft peaks form. Then start adding the sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time. You will need to beat this for 12 minutes on a fairly good speed to get the height out of the egg whites. Don’t skimp on the time otherwise you won’t get the body you want to hold well.

        Spread the mixture over the circle with a spatula. Make furrows up the side of the pav and smooth the top.

        Bake for an hour and 15 mins to 30mins until dry on the middle shelf. When you tap it, it should sound hollow. Turn the oven off, leave the door open and let cool.

        Then plonk lots of whipped cream on top and decorate with slices of kiwifruit and quartered strawberries. We often put passion fruit pulp on it too. Use an electric knife to cut it if you have one. It’s a wee bit messy, but sooooooooo good. It will only last for the day, but I’ve never had any left over. LOL. Decorate close to serving for best results, but you can keep the dry pavlova in an airtight container non-refrigerated until you’re ready to decorate it.

        Aloha… and I’ll put up the Pav pic on my page. :-) Thanks guys. Very fun to share my national dessert. :-)


      2. Thanks so much for the recipes, Meg! I saw your photo of the Pavlova on FB, and it looks absolutely fabulous! I can’t wait to have a go at it. As for the cornbread, I’ll have to hunt down some of those ingredients, as it’s not very common here – but it does sound delicious! Thanks so much – this has been really fun!!


  7. Our dressing is much like yours, but no biscuits. We do add a couple of eggs though. LOTS of sage. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it. We don’t like changes either. :-)


    1. I put eggs in my stuffing, too, Ellis. We don’t like change, either, and I’ve made the same one for more than a decade. Perhaps it’s time for me to branch out! Thanks very much for dropping in, and for your comment!


  8. How wonderful to have such great memories. Thank you for sharing them with us. I know my family has recipes like this. It frustrates me now that my mom is gone because I have no one to ask about how much is needed! :)


    1. I’m sorry to hear about your mum, Melissa. One thing I love about our Bake, Love, Write book is that it has a lot of much-loved recipes that have been handed down in families. It’s lovely to keep the traditions alive, especially in the holiday season. Thanks so much for your comment, and for dropping in.


  9. You guys! This has been a wonderful thread. I was on the plane from Texas today and wasn’t able to respond, and now I’m home and loving this discussion and the recipes!


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