What do a handful of writers discuss over the Cranberry Curry Dip while waiting for turkey dinner with their spouses and assorted family members? The BIG question: do you call it stuffing or dressing? And what’s the difference between the two, anyway? The youngest member of the group, age eleven, may be a budding wordsmith as she informed us that one of the words was likely a retronym for the other — though she did not know which came first. She did, however, provide us with an example of a word that became a retronym as its meaning evolved: watch –> pocket watch –> wrist watch. We were duly impressed, but no closer to an answer. One friend opined that the word choice might have changed in the Victorian era, the image of stuffing being too base, too vulgar, and dressing sounding more proper, more circumspect. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, however, seems to refute that premise as it suggests that dressing was used earlier than stuffing, if only by a few decades:
dressing “(A) sauce or other mixture added to food, esp. a salad; a seasoning; stuffing. E16.”
stuffing “A savoury or sweet mixture used to stuff poultry, rolled meat, vegetables, etc., esp. prior to cooking. M16.”
I perused a few other references — including Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and the Plumb Design Visual Thesaurus — and quickly realized that I’d best stick to the nouns, for digression into verbs would bring us into the realm of fecundation and fertilization (“the act of making fertile by application of fertilizer or manure”), donning attire, and applying bandages.
Within culinary boundaries, the Visual Thesaurus defined stuffing as “a mixture of seasoned ingredients used to stuff meats and vegetables,” under which fall types including farce and forcemeat, the latter defined as “a mixture of ground raw chicken and mushrooms with pistacheos and truffles and onions and parseley and lots butter and bound with eggs.” Oxford defines forcemeat a bit more generically: “A mixture of finely chopped meat or vegetables etc., seasoned and spiced, and chiefly used for stuffing or garnish.”
Of course the best part of noodling around in reference books is the serendipitous discovery of related entries you had not thought about. In this case, Oxford served up two of interest, one a word I had never heard, and the other interesting in its meaning. The first is salpicon:
/”salpIkQn/ n.E18. [Fr. f. Sp., f. salpicar sprinkle (with salt).] Cookery. A stuffing for veal, beef, or mutton, also used as a garnish.
The other is pudding, certainly a familiar word, but the substance that comes to my mind is sweet and either butterscotch or chocolate. Here are portions of the Oxford entry (I’m skipping over the coarse slang and colloquial meanings):
/”pUdI/ n. Also (colloq. & dial.) pudden /”pUd()n/.ME. [(O)Fr. boudin black pudding f. Proto-Gallo-Romance f. L botellus pudding, sausage, small intestine: see BOWEL. Cf. BOUDIN.]
I 1 The stomach or intestine of a pig, sheep, etc., stuffed with minced meat, suet, oatmeal, seasoning, etc., and boiled. Now chiefly Sc. & dial. or w. specifying wd. ME.
> black pudding, white pudding, etc.
b A stuffing mixture of similar ingredients, roasted within the body of an animal. L16–L18.
2 In pl. The bowels, the entrails, the guts. Now chiefly Sc. & dial. LME.
II 7 A cooked dish consisting of various sweet or savoury ingredients, esp. as enclosed within a flour-based crust or mixed with flour, eggs, etc., and boiled or steamed; a baked batter mixture. Now also, the sweet course of a meal. M16.
> bread pudding, Christmas pudding, milk pudding, roly-poly pudding, steak and kidney pudding, Yorkshire pudding etc.
Lots of interesting info, but still no answer to the pressing question: stuffing or dressing? I looked in Roget’s Superthesaurus, which says little about stuffing (“fill, wadding, padding, innards”) and nothing about dressing, forcemeat, salpicon, or pudding. I even looked in The New York Public Library Desk Reference, to no avail, although I did learn from that tome that “a jiffy is an actual unit of time. It is 1/100 of a second.” And all this time I thought jiffy was cornbread mix.
If you know the answer, please email me. Inquiring minds want to know.