Not everything retro needs to return and the highly processed casserole or hot dish is one that needs to remain in the past. My mom was the casserole queen of Main Street (we really did live on Main Street) in Anytown, USA in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Give mom a pantry stocked with Campbell’s Soup, a freezer full of Birds Eye vegetables and a protein and she had a hearty meal on the table in 30 minutes or less. Oh, yeah, don’t forget the carb (rice, noodles, or biscuit).
Casserole was her nightly “go-to” for this busy working mom due to its versatility, as well as the time-saving aspect of literally throwing everything in the ingredient pool at once. But most importantly how economical these oven-baked creations were for her raising a family of four kids, three of the growing boy, eating machine variety. Casseroles were everywhere back then. In school lunches, at potluck dinners and always at church suppers. Taste was never the point, it was how quickly and cheaply, it could get to the table. These dishes were so full of salt and other highly addictive, unnatural, preservatives that we soon grew to love, crave, the comforting taste of the goo.
I still love the stuff. Green bean casserole anyone? But I no longer use canned soup (RM still tries to slip celery and mushroom soup into the pantry), use more fresh vegetables and limit the fat, sugar and salt content in our dishes. I still make some of the old dishes especially the ones from my hand-written or typed recipe collection but I have found ways to lighten them up and get rid of all the preservatives.
The first dish I learned to make in my youth was a goulash casserole. Mom’s recipe went like this:
Brown two pounds of ground beef. Add one can of tomato paste, one can of mushroom soup, one can of corn, 1 /2 lb. of Velveeta, liberal dash of salt, pepper, paprika (it’s why we called it goulash) and cooked egg noodles. Place in your Corningware French White casserole dish (still have one) and bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly. What’s not love? It’s a heart stopper!
Other favorites from her recipe box included tuna casserole with canned peas, tuna, celery soup and generous amounts of Miracle Whip with those same egg noodles and bake it until heated through. Or my personal favorite — hotdog casserole made with cut up hot dogs, chopped bacon, canned baked beans, dollops of catsup, mustard and Worcestershire (say that three times fast) sauce, and topped with slices of American cheese. Bake until processed cheese is melted and browned. Takes less than 30 minutes. Good gracious those hot dishes were good. Good eating! Easy fixing! As the ad below reinforced. And so bad.
To my mother’s credit, she learned that cooking like this was harmful to our health and she changed our diets considerably in the late 70’s with weekly, scratch made bread, Czech-style noodles and yogurt, seeking out local, farm raised eggs and chickens, and lots of dark greens from her garden including tons of fresh herbs. So like her, let’s leave these greasy gratins and other overly processed colon clogging combinations behind us, where they must stay, for the sake of our hearts, and only in our memories.