Casseroles were the iconic symbol of American home cooking in two decades following World War II. Particularly in the South and Midwest, the idea was to build a one-dish meal around a can of condensed soup along with meat, a starch such as rice or potatoes, a few vegetables and often a smothering topping of cheese.
One-dish cookery has been around much longer than that, of course. But it was Campbell’s invention of condensed soups in the late 1890s, and the company’s marketing of them, that fashioned a new, 20th-century version of casseroles.
The Great Depression bolstered the reputation of casseroles as economical cooking, food stretchers that made good use of leftovers or a small amount of meat.
No, they aren’t very sophisticated in terms of technique (even though casserole is French for “saucepan”) or complex flavors. And frequently casseroles are calorie bombs.
But in their defense, they can be kid-friendly. At least in my family, we ate them with gusto. I still remember my mom’s “Hot Chicken Salad” and how darn good it was. I haven’t had it in years, but I’d bet it would be as tasty as ever.
Casseroles fell out of favor with the dawn of a new food awareness in the 1970s and a certain measure of elitism — well, you know what I mean. But casseroles still represent comfort food to a good many folks.
There will always be a place for them at potlucks, holiday get-togethers and other large gatherings.
I found this priceless excerpt from a June 1954 newspaper editorial by Saul Pett in The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News:
“The next war between the sexes will be fought over the delicate issue of casseroles. ... Woman is never more coy than when she has cooked a coy casserole. All casseroles, I submit are, coy. They reflect the basic tease in women, the urge to attract by the mysterious, the tendency to persuade us that there is more to a dish, female or culinary, than meets the eye. Casseroles symbolize woman’s reluctance to face the fact that yesterday’s roast beef or chicken is still yesterday’s roast beef or chicken, now defrocked, sliced up and hidden like a poor relative under a melange of whipped potatoes, noodles or rice.”
Ha! Nice writing.
We’re talking about casseroles in a follow-up to last week’s column about go-to recipes when someone shares a gift of food to help another person out or just to say “thanks.”
More readers responded this time, like Jeannie Scheirman of Mount Pleasant.
“A very kind and dear friend of ours made and brought this dish to us when our son passed away. It is very good and easy to re-heat and serve.”
Baked Chicken Casserole
2 cups cooked diced chicken
1 cup diced celery (see cook’s note)
1 cup diced carrots
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 cup rice, cooked and drained (use regular Minute Rice)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 can cream of chicken soup
3/4 cup sliced water chestnuts (optional)
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
1 cup cornflake crumbs
Cook’s note: Jeannie says she likes to saute the celery, carrots and onions before combining.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Combine the first 7 ingredients and the water chestnuts (if using), and place in a greased 9x13-inch casserole dish.
Blend the melted butter and cornflake crumbs and sprinkle over the casserole. (Note: You can use a little less butter.) Bake uncovered for 45 minutes.
Jeannie continues, “Another dish, that doesn’t go with the chicken casserole, but is simple to prepare and goes with about anything is:”
1 (14.5-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
11/2 cups water
1/2 stick margarine
1 box scalloped potatoes (Betty Crocker or Hungry Jack)
Some chopped onions and peppers (if desired)
1 (4.5-ounce) jar sliced mushrooms
1 package pepperoni slices
1 (8-ounce) package grated mozzerella cheese
Mix tomatoes, water and margarine in saucepan and bring to a boil.
Put potatoes and cheese packet from box in a 2-quart casserole dish. Add onions and peppers if desired.
Add drained mushrooms and 1/2 package of pepperoni. Pour tomato mixture over and stir to mix.
Put rest of pepperoni and the mozzerella cheese on top.
Cover and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Check from 30 minutes on so it doesn’t get too brown.
Recipe can easily be doubled.
From Carol Scally of Summerville:
“This recipe is a family favorite and improves with reheating.”
Makes 8-10 servings
1 tablespoon butter
1 head broccoli, cooked (may substitute another vegetable)
2 pounds chicken breasts, cooked until tender
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
Line the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan with bits of butter.
Place cooked broccoli pieces on top of butter. Do not stir. Cover with bite-size pieces of cooked chicken that has been boned and skinned. Do not stir.
Combine ingredients for sauce and spread on top of the chicken.
For topping, cut in the butter with the cheese and breadcrumbs with a pastry blender or fork, as you do for a pie crust. Sprinkle on top of the casserole. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
Barbara Merritt of Daniel Island also sends a favorite go-to recipe that she says is easy and tasty.
1 cup raw rice
1 can cream of celery soup
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
1 (4-ounce) can green chiles
Grated cheddar cheese as desired
Cook the rice; then mix the rice with the soup, sour cream and chiles.
Put into a greased casserole dish and top with cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes, until it is heated through.
Sharon Cook of Charleston says for people who don’t care to cook or don’t have the time, a deli “grab and go” item at the grocery store is a perfectly acceptable choice to take to a friend in need.
“The fact that we have thought about others and want to contribute something to ease their minds during a difficult period is what is important. I love to cook, so I generally send homemade treats.
“One really great tip is to enclose napkins, heavy-duty paper plates, good quality plastic serving and eating utensils, and individual packets of condiments or seasoning as necessary. I like to send my offerings in containers that are truly disposable so nobody has to worry about returning the right dish to the right person. “
Here is one of her suggestions:
Rotisserie Chicken Salad
1 rotisserie chicken
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove meat from bones of a rotisserie chicken and cut or shred into bite-size pieces. Combine with celery, mayonnaise, mustard, parsley and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place in disposable serving container with lid. Sprinkle paprika on top.
Serving/gifting options: “I like to include a loaf or two of fresh deli-baked sliced bread, such as sourdough and/or rye bread with this dish. Another option is to include a head of endive lettuce; the leaves can be used as dippers or wraps for the chicken salad.
Who’s got the recipe?
A colleague requests recipes of any kind that use honey in a noticeable way.
Have a recipe you’ve lost or simply desire? To make a request or contribute a recipe, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Food and Features Editor Teresa Taylor at 937-4886.