Today's New York Times has a nice piece about a stuffing recipe found in a new book which compiles fragments of Marilyn Monroe's life. My issue with the article is the authors' astonishment at some of the techniques and ingredients and their conclusions about the possible source of the recipe.
First of all, I'd like to tell them that they are probably right that the recipe comes from Joe Di Maggio's family, because the technique of soaking and shredding bread for the stuffing is definitely a technique I learned from my Italian-American mother and grandmother. We didn't use fresh bread, however charming the description of Marilyn buying a fresh loaf of bread is. It is a way of utilizing left-over, stale, dried-out bread which is saved for just this purpose. That's why it needs soaking in water (or milk.) Coming out of the Great Depression and the privations of WWII, this is what people did. I never in my life purchased boxed stuffing mix and wouldn't have it in my house except that my husband has claimed the stuffing-making duties for Thanksgiving since before we were married. I much prefer using dead bread.
As for the authors' contention that sourdough bread was not well known outside of San Francisco at mid-century, I say "nonsense." San Francisco is NOT the beginning and end of sourdough, no matter how good it might be. Sourdough traveled west with pioneers and Forty-niners, but it didn't start in San Francisco. I knew what sourdough bread was as a child in Upstate New York around the time Marilyn was cooking up this recipe. It wasn't until Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery Bread Cookbook that I was actually able to make a starter from scratch (using the grapes in my garden) but thinking that sourdough wasn't well-known in the 1950s is pretty naive.
My mother also used Parmesan, bird livers and lots of parsley, but no beef. Occasionally, chestnuts were added (but I think they might have been hard to come by and I do remember some exploding in an oven once upon a time.) I agree with the writers that the recipe shows a Sicilian influence with the use of raisins (I'd argue that came by way of Phoenicia as there's a lot in Sicilian cooking that reminds me of Lebanese food) because my Southern-Italian heritage doesn't use them in stuffing. My husband always puts raisins in his stuffing, which I find foreign. His Jewish family came from Poland and Russia, but I wonder if the raisins go back to a Middle Eastern origin.