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Shakespeare & Beyond

Much Ado About Stuffing: Recreating an early modern stuffing recipe

cutting open to the turkey and stuffing
cutting open to the turkey and stuffing
cutting open to the turkey and stuffing

Photo credit: Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet

Today, turkey and stuffing are central fare on the holiday table. But turkeys weren’t even known in England until the 1520s, when they were introduced by explorers returning from the Americas. Turkey was immediately popular in England; within a hundred years, turkeys had become a common Christmas food.

The story with stuffing is less clear. The word “stuffing” first appears in English in Thomas Elyot’s 1538 dictionary, but dishes of stuffed fowl appear across 14th–16th-century European and Mediterranean cookbooks. Some recipes called for hens stuffed with boiled eggs and herbs, others with a mixture of almond and breadcrumbs, still others for spiced ground meat mixed with beaten egg.


Have y’all ever heard of cornbread dressing? Not stuffing–cooked separately, lots of sage and onions, celery, and broth from the turkey or a roasting chicken.

Jan Eppler — November 12, 2019

I was stunned to read that turkey and oysters strike the writers of this post as a “bizarre mix.” There are dozens of recipes for oyster dressing/stuffing online. Supermarkets across New England and the near Midwest put out pints of shucked oysters every year at Thanksgiving precisely for oyster dressing. Oyster dressing is a classic American dish, which no doubt came to North America with the first English settlers.

Stephen Schmidt — November 14, 2019

My Aunt whose family came from France made what they called “Fah” So it’s not necessarily English
BTW… I’d like the oyster recipe you speak of in the article. Is it published? My aunt made it every year n boy I wish I’d paid attention!

Ralph McDonald — November 15, 2019

This is delicious! I made it with stale foccacia and loved the brightness of the zest and the herbs. It would have been an expensive dish for a festive meal with all that nutmeg too. Thanks for posting!

Laura Kelley — November 20, 2019

I would like the oyster recipe your omitted.

barbara bach — November 21, 2019

Hi Barbara! Thanks for your interest in our recipes. Here’s a photo of the oyster recipe [] and here is our transcription of it:

“Stuffing for a boyled Turky

half suet & half bread crumbs a few stewed oysters chopt, & a little anchovy, Lemonpeel
Mace, Nutmeg, a little salt mixt up with raw Eggs, you may make balls for Eggs boyled
hard take the yolks of them & roll it up in force meat fry them & then open & lay
them amongst the garnish ~”

If you do end up making it, please Tweet us a photo @FolgerResearch to let us know how it turns out!

Before 'Farm to Table' Team — November 26, 2019

[…] Stuffing (optional – why not try our recipe for early modern stuffing?) […]

The early modern precursor to turducken: Adapting an old recipe to make mini pies - Shakespeare & Beyond — November 23, 2021