All signs point to stuffing. In cooking magazines, on Top Chef, and on my mind. In the detumescent, post-holiday, mid-winter months, it’s best to treat yourself. Recreating holiday-meal highlights seems totally necessary. Thanksgiving is a fun cooking day, because you really have to stretch as a cook…although as I write that, I don’t know why. Typical Thanksgiving food gets short shrift. It falls victim to over thought, overwork, and, often, overcooking. And everyone, especially the cook, is drunk. So, forget the sides and the turkey, and do the best part right. Ah, stuffing. I make it with bread, stock, butter, pork, apples, onions, garlic, and tarragon. This is a good stuffing, and a romantic one in my mind. I came to tarragon by way of wormwood, which is hard to get, by way of artemisia.
I bought the book Local Anaesthetic by Günter Grass in the west village several years ago. I bought it at a yard sale; a street sale, more accurately. I protested at the $2 price tag on all books, which seemed to include paperbacks and was informed loudly that I was in a high-rent neighborhood. We settled on $.50 a book as I started at a dime.
And so I unexpectedly found my way into a lifelong, very personal stuffing recipe, through this book. There are others within. And now I’m thinking it might be worth trying with milk…Keep in mind that the narrator and his classmates are Germans in an American camp right after WWII, they are hungry, and the food is imaginary.
Brühsam claimed to have learned his trade with Sacher in Vienna. Brühsam came from Transylvania. His lessons began: In my homeland, in beautiful Transylvania, the kitchen-loving housewife takes…”
The curriculum was determined by shortages and absences: Brühsam cooked with imaginary ingredients. He evoked brisket of beef, veal kidneys, and roast pork. Word and gesture preserved the juices in a shoulder of lamb. His pheasant on wine cabbage and his carp in beer sauce: reflections of reflections. (I learned to imagine.)
While wide-eyed and spiritualized, our features sharp-cut from undernourishment, we sat in the school barracks listening to Brühsam, our copybooks—an American gift—filled with recipes that made us put on weight ten years later.
“In my homeland,” said Brühsam, “in beautiful Transylvania, when the kitchen-loving housewife goes to market, she draws a sharp distinction between free-range geese and force-fed geese.”
There followed an edifying digression about the natural freedom of the Polish and Hungarian free-range geese and the sad lot of the force-fed geese in Pomerania: “In beautiful Transylvania, which was my home, the kitchen-loving housewife chose a free-range goose.”
Then Brühsam demonstrated how first the breast, then the rump must be tested with the thumb-and-ring-finger grip. “One must be able to feel the glands in spite of all the fat in which they are embedded.”
“On returning home,” said Brühsam, “one must remove the goose’s innards to make room for the stuffing.”
And with our pencil stumps—one pencil for three men, everything was shared—we note: “Whatever stuffing the kitchen-loving housewife may select, no goose can be said to be stuffed without artemisia, without three springs of rustling, aromatic artemisia.”
And addressing us who were glad to find a bit of dandelion between the barracks to make a little extra soup with, addressing us humble pot scrapers, Brühsam listed stuffings. We learned and noted: “Apple stuffing, chestnut stuffing…”
And someone who was fifteen pounds underweight said: “What are chestnuts?”
That’s how Brühsam the TV chef ought to exuberate today on the First Program: “Glazed chestnuts. Candied chestnuts, Chestnut purée. Never red cabbage without chestnuts. In beautiful Transylvania that was my home, there were chestnut vendors with charcoal stoves who…In the winter, on the frosty marketplaces when the chestnuts…Chestnut stories: When my uncle Ignazius Balthasar Brühsam moved with his chestnuts to Hermannstadt, which is in Transylvania and was my home…And so in November, on St. Martin’s Day, our free-range goose demands, no, cries out for chestnuts which, honey-glazed together with cinnamon-powdered apple wedges, rustling artemisia—never a goose without artemisia—and the raisin-stuffed goose heart, fill our free-range goose, whether Hungarian or Polish, to bursting and give the breast meat that little something which top heat and bottom heat, for all the golden-brown crispness they confer, can never give the delicious goose skin: that note of mild chestnut sweetness…”
Brühsam wouldn’t let us out of his clutches, he refined the torture: “And now for the forcemeat stuffing. The kitchen-loving housewife in my homeland takes ten ounces of ground pork, weighs two onions, three apples, the innards of the goose except for the precious liver—sprinkles artemisia over these ingredients, stirs in three soft rolls previously soaked in warm milk, adds grated lemon peel and a mashed medium-sized clove of garlic, and breaks two eggs over the mixture, salts moderately, mixes thoroughly, and, to give the stuffing body, binds with three level tablespoons of wheat flour. Then she stuffs the goose, stuffs the goose…”
(Thus began the re-education of a misled youth.) We learned and learned. From ruins and hardship rose undernourished pedagogues, proclaiming: “We must learn to live again, learn to live right. For instance, one doesn’t stuff a goose with oranges. We must choose between the classical apple stuffing, the meridional chestnut stuffing, and the forcemeat stuffing. But in hard times when the supply of geese is large, but of pigs small, and when the foreign chestnut is unavailable on the domestic market, a potato stuffing”—so spoke the former hotel chef and later TV chef Albert Brühsam—“offers excellent substitute for the apple, the chestnut, of forcemeat stuffing, especially since potato stuffing, with grated nutmeg to enhance its flavor and artemisia—never a goose without artemisia!—to lend that certain something, becomes a great delicacy.”