A stroll down memory land when Father always knew best, and Mother made casseroles...
Have you ditched your landline? Yet? Have you cancelled your TV subscription and gone all Netflix like the cool kids? Have you boldly gone where no man has gone before, eyes on the horizon, wind in your sails, splitting your infinitives with wild abandon?
The future is exciting, don’t get me wrong. But it lacks the cozy complacency of the past. The golden years of television when we all loved Lucy and dreamed of Jeannie. Father always knew best and Timmy always made it out of the well in time for dinner. Language was proper and society’s ills were firmly, carefully whitewashed.
Mom quit her job when she got married. Her new job was housekeeping. She looked after the house, the children. She cooked all the meals, canned the phantasmagoric produce of her neatly tended garden, sewed everyone’s clothing, held the church and the PTA together by sheer force of will and elbow grease, entertained her husband’s clients, wormed the dog, tuned the piano, buried the budgie, unclogged the drains, lent a sympathetic ear to the children’s friends when they were fighting with their parents, typed the kids papers and cut Dad’s hair. Dad didn’t have to dream of Jeannie or the bewitching Samantha who could set the world to rights with a twitch of her nose. He married her!
Alright. There was an undercurrent of despair, perhaps, and “mother’s little helper” may have provided some of the fuel that kept this lifestyle chugging along. Definitely not perfect and we are definitely not sliding back there, but before we put Pandora back in her box, let us reflect on one facet of her magic that deserves a nostalgic sigh: the casserole!
Every ironed and aproned housewife worth her salt, had a battery of casserole recipes she could fire out of a cannon and off to a needy neighbor at a moment’s notice. A broken hip, a surgery, a death in the family, and neighborhood ladies with the reliability of the bridesmaids in Ruddigore, would spring into casserole action! The holy grail was a tasty recipe that could be cobbled together with ingredients solely from the pantry. Slap it together! Into the oven! A slash of lipstick, a fresh, frilly apron and she was off at a sprint!
It is actually possible that Cream of Mushroom soup was the very glue that held this lifestyle together. And yes, Cream of Celery was a frisky variation. You could put all and sundry into a “casserole dish” stir in some “Cream of,” sprinkle with something crunchy and toss it into the oven. Serve with a salad. That, a cake mix cake, some instant decaffeinated coffee and all was well with the world. Well, there was the hand washing of the dishes...
Another fine feature of the casserole was its freeze-ability. If too many neighbors appeared on the doorstep bearing bubbling offerings, some could be “saved for later”. The freezer was a handy addition to the housewife’s arsenal.
1 pound ground beef.
(This recipe also works fine with chicken)
1 (10.5 oz) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (10.5 oz) can cream of celery soup
1 1/2 c. water
1 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. uncooked rice – whatever kind you like is fine. Not “minute” style rice though. It just gets all bloaty in a casserole.
1 c. chopped celery
A clove of garlic minced– optional, but I recommend it
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 (4 oz) can mushrooms, optional. Fresh, if you have them but be careful not to get too upscale
1 can Chinese noodles. Remember those? If you can’t find them, a can of crispy onion rings. Or if you can’t find those, crushed corn flakes. Slivered almonds? Crunch is your objective.
Brown ground beef. Drain. Mix mushroom soup and celery soup with water. Combine browned ground beef (or chicken) soup/water mixture, onion, rice, celery, soy sauce and mushrooms. Place in buttered 2-quart baking dish. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Sprinkle Chinese noodles on top and bake uncovered for an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Also just dandy in your slow cooker!
We may scoff at the simplicity of these one-pot wonders, but they did feed a generation. There were pre-Mushroom soup generations and post Mushroom soup generations, but for one brief, shining post-war moment, we were pretty sure we had it all figured out. And then along came rock and roll.....