As a New Englander and current resident of New York City I'll be eating stuffing on Thanksgiving day. It'll have a crumbly bread base, be savory and have the perfect consistency somewhere between a pudding and a custard. Last year though, my husband and I spent Thanksgiving on the other side of the country and his family insisted it was dressing we were eating.
It happens every year. As one of the few purely American holidays, Thanksgiving feasts look fairly similar across the country: turkey, fixings, and pie. But in the south those fixings may include Dried-Fruit and Nut Cornbread Dressing while the in the northeast it might be Pear and Sausage Stuffing. From sea to shining sea, within households and even marriages there's disagreement on what it is exactly we call stuffing and what we call dressing.
Much like there will be multiple sides on our tables come Thanksgiving Thursday, there are various sides to the stuffing versus dressing conundrum. Some believe that stuffing is only stuffing when the mixture of breadcrumbs and vegetables or perhaps mushrooms, walnuts and crusty bread is cooked inside the turkey. If it's cooked outside the bird, that side, they would tell you is dressing. That seems logical, but it fails my personal experience. I can't remember anyone in my family ever cooking stuffing inside the turkey. For me and much of the country stuffing is stuffing simply because of geography. Most northern states call the side stuffing regardless of preparation, while those south of the Mason-Dixon line call it dressing.
What the Experts Say
The aren't so sure either. The Oxford English Dictionary, which traces the word 'stuffing' back to 1538, defines it "as a mixture used to stuff poultry or meat before cooking." An excellent food reference book, The Food Lover's Companion says stuffing and dressing are interchangeable, as does the National Turkey Federation. But the The Joy Cooking says stuffing is stuffing when cooking in the bird and dressing when it's cooked outside.
What to Call It ... Delicious
This is going to be controversial, there is no real difference between stuffing and dressing. You can make peach stuffing and call it dressing or a wild mushroom, (think chanterelle, oyster, cremini, and shiitake) with leeks dressing and tell everyone it's stuffing. Whatever you label it, this side is always a crowd favorite and a must-have on the holiday table.