Local Flavor: Something will be missing

This week I join the club of those who mark their first Thanksgiving without the person who always was Thanksgiving: Mom.

My mom, Sally Batz, died Sept. 27 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This after bouncing in and out of the hospital and nursing home this late summer with problems related to her many years of smoking. She was only 66.

And she was Thanksgiving, for the 46 years since my parents married and I was born.

My mom was no gourmet cook, but she was the mother of four kids and grandmother of seven. She cooked. Thanksgiving was no different.

Except for rare times when we'd visit grandparents, Thanksgiving was my Mom's show, choreographed in her kitchen, and everybody else pretty much stayed out. Or else.

As I and my siblings became adults, we -- well, my two sisters -- would help a bit more with preparing the feast.

But mostly we just got in the way, tried to filch black olives, drank beer, and watched and played football, adding to the stress I only knew the one year a few years ago that I had the whole family come out from Ohio for Thanksgiving at my house.

My wife and I wanted to do it all -- make everything -- that year.

But we didn't even think about making the dressing.

The dressing, the favorite part of the Batz family Thanksgiving, was Mom's and only Mom's.

Sally's Famous stuffing
PG tested

That's the title Jackie Batz Erbaugh gave to the recipe when she typed it up. Its base is sliced store-bought bread.

  • 3 loaves white bread, stale
  • 11/2 pound bulk sausage
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/2 stalk celery, chopped
  • 4 14-ounce cans chicken broth, divided
  • Big pinches of salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Big pinch sage
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 stick butter
  • Pull apart bread slices into chunks and place in a large oven-proof bowl.

    In a large skillet, brown sausage and onion. Throw in celery and cook until sausage is done. Add 2 cans of broth, salt and pepper, garlic powder and sage and let simmer on stovetop for 1/2 hour.

    While that's cooking, whip eggs in a separate bowl and pour them over the bread.

    Then pour third can of broth and butter into the pot on the stove. Pour hot sausage mixture over the bread and stir to mix it.

    After it's well mixed, bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Pour remaining can of broth over stuffing as it cooks.

    -- Sally Batz

We call it dressing because, even if she sometimes stuffed some into a turkey, she always made a huge separate bowl or bowls of it.

Now, this isn't anything fancy. No cornbread, nor oysters, nor chestnuts for us. No: Mom's dressing is mostly store-bought white sliced bread, with some spices and onion, and chunks of sausage and celery.

And it's delicious hot and cold, with gravy and without.

I've eaten it on sandwiches.

I've eaten it for breakfast.

But, as my Dad recently reminded me, we've only ever eaten at Thanksgiving.

The year I hosted the holiday here, Mom made the dressing in Ohio and drove it out in a huge bowl, wrapped in foil, to be reheated.

And her dressing was the favorite part of that Thanksgiving, too.

The night she was taken to the hospital and we all gathered around what became clear was going to be her deathbed, nobody brought up Thanksgiving specifically.

But as we prepared her funeral that week, I know we talked about it. My wife asked, "Does anyone have Sally's dressing recipe?" My sister Jackie said she did.

None of us had thought to ask Mom for it, thinking she wouldn't have given it up. But Jackie said that last year, she and her dialysis center co-workers were talking about homemade dressing, and Jackie said, "My mom's is the best," so they told her to get the recipe. Jackie called Mom, who surprised her by giving it to her over the phone.

So I asked my sister, "Are you going to make it?"

At first she didn't sound so sure. She knows Mom used the juices from the turkey, so she said whoever makes that -- looking to be my brother and sister-in-law -- should probably make the dressing. (That sister-in-law, Tanya, remembers that the first time she tasted Mom's dressing, my brother made "such a big deal about it that I knew that even if I didn't like it, I wasn't about to say a word!")

Now it sounds like Jackie is going to try to make the dressing.

Somebody has to.

Of course it's not going to be the same.

But I'm hoping it might taste better than it ever has, as we savor it with four decades of warm memories of Mom.

I happily share the recipe here and wish the best to all who are missing special someones this Thanksgiving week.

Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at bbatz@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1930.


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