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By Ryan Taylor

There is really only one kind of stuffing for turkey -- or dressing, if you will. Thatís the kind that cooks inside the turkey, soaking up the juices. Or maybe not.

That was made clear a week or two ago when Shelagh Rogers of CBC Radioís Sounds Like Canada entertained a pair of cooks who showed us how to bone a turkey. No easy feat, on the radio, either.

But the cooks disagreed about whether the turkey dressing should be cooked inside the turkey or in a casserole beside it. Let me confess that I did not know that cooking it beside the turkey was an option.

Every square centimetre of dressing I have ever consumed (and thatís a kilo or two, believe me) has come from what a friendís mother refers to as Ďthe impolite endí of the turkey.

Rogers reported the following day that this question had provoked more mail than almost any other question raised on the CBC. People felt strongly about both sides.

I investigated in my place of work. Itís in a foreign country, but even so. Most of my co-workers cook the dressing in a pan. I was shocked.

And that made me muse about our Christmas food plans -- yours, mine and my co-workers. What weíll eat next Sunday will be affected by what our mothers cooked us when we were young.

My grandmother thought turkey was inedible without a side dish of turnips. My mother has always made the turnip too. I have already bought my waxy rutabaga and it is awaiting its fate on my kitchen counter. For other people, the thought of turnip brings on nausea.

Sometimes we annex the Christmas cooking of friends -- something irresistible comes along and becomes a family tradition.

Those dry turkey breasts of yore have disappeared, thanks to Mary Anderson of Sudbury. She taught me the secret of cooking turkey 20 years ago (barding the breast with bacon and basting with beer).

She had learned it from her mother-in-law in Saskatchewan during the 1930s. My family has taken to it now, and when my nephew cooks his turkey, in Sweden, he makes it the Anderson way.

But the dressing has always been a favourite part of the meal, probably because with its grease and bread it must be very unhealthy and very tasty indeed. When I was young, I looked forward to Boxing Day morning, when the older folks were still sleeping. I would get up and make my own breakfast: a big bowl of cold dressing.

It would not be the same if it were cooked in a pan.

But we will each enjoy our turkey next week, remembering all those turkeys past, each one cooked to perfection, whatever that means to us.

A new friend, Don Litzer, told me of his familyís Christmas Eve tradition. This is from German Catholics in Wisconsin, and is one of the most beautiful Christmas customs I know.

Donís grandmother would take the children to the window at dusk on Dec. 24. She told them that Christmas Eve did not begin until the appearance of the first star in the sky. They would wait excitedly, watching for the first glimmer of the Evening Star. And then Christmas could begin.

It was undoubtedly a good way to keep the children quiet right before dinner, but also provided a magical moment for the holiday to start.

May that wondrous star of Christmas shine on you and all your family as you celebrate together.

Posted December 23, 2005
Column copyright © 2005 Ryan Taylor

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