Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers in Food: #29, Betty Fussell

Betty Fussell is first and foremost a writer. She has been writing articles and books for 50 years on the subject of what it is to be an American, first looking at movies and theater and then at food. I really like what interviewer Cheri Sicard had to say about Betty:
"Fussell is a writer who is also a home cook, one who loves the sensuousness of words as much as the sensuality of foods. As a writer, she sees food as a window into the culture, past and present, of America. As an historian, she sees any meal as a way of eating history on the plate. As a cook, she likes recipes that are simple, improvisatory, fresh, and tasty, something anyone could do with no more than a sharp knife and a skillet and a few good fresh ingredients."

Betty was born in Southern California in 1927. She ended up with a PhD  In English lit, married her childhood sweetheart Paul Fussell and taught literature and film  at Columbia University. In the 1980s she left teaching to write full time. Her first book was a biography of Mabel Normand. Since then, she has won fellowships to MacDowell Colony, Millay Colony for the Arts, Yaddo, Villa Montalvo, Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers and Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

Moving on to food writing, Betty is best known for the book I Hear America Cooking  and she authored The Story of Corn, an in-depth study of the plant as a crop, religion, and culture. She considers corn the basis of American cuisine. Betty says: "I didn't know how complex, how ancient, how complicated this subject was. I am still immersed in it years afterwards because there's no end to it---corn is in everything". This book won her the International Association of Culinary Professionals' Jane Grigson 

Her latest book, Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef, takes a stab at how America's past and future is inexorably linked with its iconic beef dish of choice.

In 2007 she won a James Beard Foundation Award for Journalism for “American Prime” in Saveur’s Steak Issue of July. She was recently celebrated, along with other winners of the Silver Spoon Award, by Food Arts Magazine

Unfortunately, she also wrote a book called My Kitchen Wars, about her decades-long marriage and its breakdown. To be frank, I have no interest in reading it. 
(Let me know if you've read it and what you thought.)
Over the decades, her essays on food, travel, movies, theater and the arts have appeared in scholarly journals, popular national magazines and major newspapers. Critical and scholarly essays have appeared in literary publications She has lectured at museums, universities, cooking schools, food & wine associations, state fairs, corn festivals and steak workshops all over the country
For a complete list of betty's books click HERE.


When I did the recipe search for Betty, I was thinking in terms of the holidays, so Betty's famous recipe for Popcorn and Venison Sausage Stuffing would have been quite timely. Sorry about that! Well, you can save it for next year. :) 
Anyway, I was intrigued when I read about a stuffing recipe made with popcorn. As it turned out, it was an excellent stuffing, but the popcorn part is a tad gimmicky don't you think? (Perhaps the recipe was a result of Fussell's obsession with corn?)  The stuffing was a bit chewier than I cared for and you can see the bits of white in it which does make for interesting table conversation. I doubt I would make it again. In addition, I should have contacted D'Artagnan to get some venison sausage but instead I used some fine pork sausage I found at Whole Foods.

Popcorn and Venison Sausage Stuffing

(for a 12-15 lb turkey, or about 8 to 10 cups stuffing)

Turkey giblets and neck plus water to make about 3 cups stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 cup unpopped popcorn kernels (to make 4 cups popped popcorn, to be ground in a blender)
8 to 10 slices dried day-old white or wheat peasant bread (to make 4 cups toasted bread cubes)
1 pound venison sausage (or well-seasoned loose pork sausage)
¼ pound (1 stick) butter
2 cups white onions, chopped medium fine
1 ½ cups celery, chopped medium fine
2 tablespoons dried Herbes de Provence, or mixed dried sage, rosemary, thyme.
Salt & black pepper to taste
1 cup dried cranberries

Place neck and giblets (except for liver) in cold water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to simmer, season to taste, and cook slowly 45 minutes to an hour. (Cook liver in the broth 3-4 minutes only; remove gizzard and heart after 20 minutes cooking). Chop giblets and set aside. You’ll need about 2/3 to 1 cup chopped giblets. Discard (or chew on) the neck.

Film the bottom of a heavy cast iron skillet with the olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Add the popcorn kernels and cover loosely with a large (wok) lid until the kernels begin to pop. Shake the skillet slowly over the flame as the kernels pop until they stop popping (5 to 7 minutes). Uncover the skillet so the kernels don’t “steam” because you want them dry as possible.

Scoop popped kernels a cup or two at a time into a blender and pulse until they are finely chopped. Set aside.

Cut bread (leave crusts on) into small cubes and toast them in a low oven (300-325) about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

In the same cast-iron skillet, quickly sauté the loose sausage (no more than 2-3 minutes) in 2 tablespoons of the butter, chopping the meat with a spatula so it cooks evenly. Remove meat and set aside.

Add remaining butter to the same pan, sauté the onions and celery and season them with the dried herbs and salt and pepper. Cook 5-6 minutes until the vegetables begin to brown but are still crunchy.

Add to the pan the cranberries, chopped giblets, ground popcorn and bread cubes. Add 2 cups of the turkey stock. Taste for seasoning and moisture. For a wetter stuffing, add more stock.

Pack the stuffing into a casserole dish and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes to make a slight crust on top.

Helpful Notes: This stuffing cooks separately from the turkey as a side dish. It is meant to be crunchy, with a lot of texture. For those who want a really soft dressing, add stock.

Giblets & stock can be done ahead, with leisure to distinguish cooking times between heart, gizzard and liver. You want to retain the soft texture of the liver and keep the heart and gizzard from turning to rubber.

Popping the corn kernels can be done the day before. You want it to be dry and crisp. If it’s not, just dry it in a big baking pan in a low oven (225 degrees) for an hour. Unless you’ve got a superpowerful blender, you’ll need to grind it in small batches so that it’s like coarsely ground nuts.

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Kathleen Van Bruinisse - Bake Away with Me 
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Lines from Linderhof
Amy - Beloved Green

 Ciao Chow Linda


  1. That is such an original sruffing! It must be so flavorful, mmhhh.



  2. I actually bought her memoir, but haven't had time to read it yet. I'm unable to open that link to the review (but perhaps that's for the better so I don't go in biased). I'll let ya know what I think. I was intrigued (okay, still am) about popcorn stuffing...I can imagine that bit of extra chew, though. I'd still try it at least once. She has a Popcorn Pudding that uses half ground popcorn with a bit of whole for the fun-factor, I imagine. Anyhoo...your stuffing definitely looks tasty!

  3. Many years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Betty Fussell and work with her. In addition to being smart, and so good at chronicling the American experience in food, she is a delightful person.

  4. Thanks for the information about Betty Fussell. I read her article in Saveur but didn't know anything about her at the time. This is an interesting use of popcorn, and I do love popcorn. I seem to keep seeing it in surprising places lately. Happy New Year!

  5. This recipe certainly has us thinking outside the box, but perhaps it is a study in using what you have available. Very interesting Barbara.

  6. I saw her at a NY Food historical society meeting.. she seemed formidable.

    As for the popcorn... I can't recollect where but someone makes a buttery grits with cooked popcorn that is put through a sieve. I thought it sounded gross but the review was an absolute rave.

    I have never understood the crunch bread stuffing idea... like Ina Garten's 1 c stock to 16 c bread... it wouldn't really even flavor it, would it? I am liking the idea of the gamey venison with it... perhaps a little trial stuffing a chicken???

  7. Betty sounds like a truly remarkable woman. And what a unique stuffing! Although it wasn't a favorite of yours, I'm tempted to just try it for the sake of trying something new...it sounds unlike any stuffing I've ever had!

  8. I was very interested to see how this would turn out! Looks wonderful. I would be interested to make it sometime.

  9. The stuffing looks amazing! Interesting how she uses popcorn in so many recipes. Corn is everywhere.

  10. You found a truly unique recipe to share with us today. I give you kudos for even trying it, Barbara :-). She is a fascinating woman with many passions and a zest for life. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  11. I always enjoy your game changer posts even though quite often I've never heard of the chef!
    I do like to learn though!
    Happy New Year from Normandy.

  12. I have to give you credit for best unique recipe to try. I love popcorn but I think I'll continue to eat it in the usually way :) The rest of the stuffing recipe sounds really good!

  13. Hmmm! I have a boatload of venison in my freezer right now ... and I didn't make a turkey for Christmas or New Years ... perhaps I will try this recipe. it certainly is different!

    Bravo for going out on a limb with this one!

  14. Curious. I love both popcorn and venison, but... I doubt I'd have an audience if I made this, and Sissy can't eat corn anything or deer.

  15. Very intriguing recipe! Sounds superb!

  16. Happy New Year Barbara!
    Interesting recipe to be sure. I would have been tempted to try it just for the conversation I could get about the popcorn.

  17. fun to learn about her and I don't think I want to read a marriage break up book depressing love this stuffing and happy new yr

  18. Yeah....I'm not so sure about the popcorn stuffing either, but I will definitely look for some of her work..

    I am always up for reading anything about food, kind of addicted, actually...

  19. Reading excerpts of her memoir was more than enough for me. I'll stick to her cookbooks. This stuffing sounds so interesting. I'm not sure if it's good or bad interesting! However, it does look good.

  20. i've loved learning about these women, such great tributes! the stuffing looks amazing too, so fun and unique!

  21. Darling Barbara,

    WHAT A GREAT READ THIS WOULD BE!!!!! I have got to check out this author, as I have never heard of her. But to combine a Ph.D in English, a lover of FOOD and words, well, that is just up my ally!!! AND POPCORN and VENISON STUFFING....now that would be tasty! How was your Christmas my friend? Ours was quiet and it just went by too fast. Here in the upper Midwest, we have NO SNOW and warm temps (50 degrees in the Twin Cities!) THAT IS TOO STRANGE!

    Wishing you a splendid New Years and thank you for coming by to visit!!!! Anita

  22. I can see why you were attracted to the stuffing - now I am also and my husband would be so pleased - so am saving it. Original but lots of grand flavor. Lovely write-up of a fascinating woman.

  23. What an interesting recipe, would never think to use popcorn in stuffing, although not sure about the chewy bits. Bravo for trying this recipe.

  24. I will see if I can get a book by her here...Basically, I see many points in common between her and my life. I spent so many pent being a teacher, literature as well..Thanks, SO interesting!

  25. Popcorn in stuffing? wow..how original and delicious as well!

  26. Without your recommendation this is a recipe I would probably never have chosen. Popcorn and stuffing are two words I would never have paired up. She sounds like a fascinating and accomplished woman who makes a significant contribution to the American food scene. Nice post, Barbara.

  27. Well, if this isn't an original and out of the ordinary stuffing I don't know what is. Happy New Year Barbara and hope that New Year will bring to you everything the old one missed!

  28. Interesting - I'm glad you tried it. I was too chicken.

  29. I'm so glad you chose this recipe...When I saw Popcorn Stuffing...I Knew I had to try it...next year as you suggested.

  30. I think I'll just leave the popcorn for eating at the movies.

  31. ground popcorn!?!? what an interesting concept--i'm so glad you shared this, barbara!

  32. Popcorn in stuffing? Man, I wish it was Thanksgiving all over again, so that I could try this. But heck, why limit stuffing to just the holidays. This might just be on my to-cook list this weekend. ;)

  33. Just love this fantastic series that you are writing!



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