Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Glorious Glop

I realize what is missing in our life during our present health related calamity: casseroles. When I was a child, deep in the swamps of Texas, whenever hard times struck, all the Ladies who knew the unfortunate object would rally round with casseroles. And Jello salads. But mostly casseroles.

During the dreadful, dreadful days after my little brother died, I remember a non-stop stream of pyrex serving dishes and bowls appearing in our kitchen, filled with mysterious gloppy deliciousness. All with the name of the Lady who had prepared them written on a piece of masking tape on the bottom so you’d know whom to return it to.

It’s all too easy to roll my eyes at most of my mother and her suburban sisters shenanigans, but I have to hand it to them, those gals knew how to whip up big tubs of comfort food during times of stress. Usually involving hamburger and noodles and cream-of-something soup, they could pull a family through just about anything and spare the befrazzled mommy from a trip to the store followed by a stint in the kitchen.

All of those women had a series of recipes at their fingertips suitable for sickrooms, trauma and funerals. In fact, I remember most of these dishes being called “funeral food.” And, of course, all of them had a ratings criteria for what emergency called for what dish. There were the standards that were good enough for not too close friends, the better ones a step up for family and people richer than you, and emergency ones that could be pulled together from ingredients at hand in the pantry (cue the Jello/fruit cocktail/Miracle Whip salad.) You know whole reputations were built on someone’s Tomato Fandango Surprise. And pity poor Velma and her universally despised Whole Wheat Mock Stroganoff.

So now when our friends ask us, with suitably solemn faces, “What can we DO for you?” I know they’re sincere, admirably so, and genuinely would run just about any errand or, even better, listen to me bitch and moan until their cell phone battery died, but what I really want is a Frito Tamale Pie. It’s just a shame those gloppy days are gone.


  1. so true. I know when we'd have funerals around here, one could count on broccoli and cheese casserole, dirty rice, jell-o in every permutation, and any number of items "au gratin" There's something reassuring about it all.

  2. I would kill for some dirty rice. Seriously. Kill.

  3. You know I begged my mother to have another brother so I wouldn’t be the baby and I would have my own brother to beat up on.

    He doesn’t speak to me that much these days.

    Well…you can imagine the feasts that occurred having eight great aunts and seven great uncles on one side of the family alone from Mississippi. The Arkansas side had eleven great uncles and two great aunts.

    Family funerals were always treated as a moment of loss and for joy.

    Sadly or not I only have but a few sweet-n-sour feasts to anticipate these days.

  4. Having been raised with the Seven Salads of Marion, we also had Caserole Communions at Church Dinners.

    Each dish had the name of the cook on it, usual on fabric tape written in freezer marker. "Juanita J's" Tuna Noodle Cassrole was always better than "Mary T's" Tuna Noodle Casserole. In Shaker, at Temple functions and Shiva's "Grandma Luischtaag" made a killer "Noodle Koogle"

  5. It still happens in (relatively) small town New England. When my father passed away recently, my mother was deluged with cassarole dishes so that she wouldn't have to think about cooking during that horrible time.

  6. I'll come cook whenever you're ready for me. But it won't be tamale pie, I fear. Can you deal with cauliflower gratin?

  7. Yay casseroles!

    And how ironic that I should read this on what would have been my big brother Mike's 56th birthday.

  8. kabuki zero is gonna make one kick-ass tuna noddle casserole in your honor. With peas - cuz you deserve the best. Stop by and I'll whip up my melted chocolate bar & Cool whip pie. It kills. At least you don't have pyrex soaking in the sink for 3 days trying to get my sister's mess-arole out of a dish. love to you both

  9. Don't forget the shaved carrots, cottage cheese and JELL-O combo. That always seemed to appear post funerals. Like The Blob only half as deadly...

    'casserole' = baked runny cheeses. Nummy nums!

  10. I excel at mixing drinks.


  11. Why not replace Jello salads with Jello shots? It's tasty and fun!

  12. Did someone mention noodle kugel and booze? I'm so there.

    After my mother passed away when I was 14, and my sister six, leaving us with my befuddled father, we had enough casseroles and frozen supper dishes to last us through the winter. And yes, I think the tradition has sadly gone the way of the Dodo bird.

    Personally, my contribution to the repertoire is the very highbrow Hamburger Helper casserole. I'll be glad to run some over.

  13. La Diva's version is a dense lasagna that weighs about 20 pounds and takes a day to make. No canned soup there and great to eat out of the fridge cold with only a fork! Wish it was easier to transport to S.F. along with a pitcher of Manhattans...

  14. I'm sending you mental fried chicken, biscuits and dirty rice. Best wishes to R man and take care of yourself, as well.

  15. Don't worry. The Casserole is alive and well still down here in Texas. My mother does something wonderful with that ultra white bread that never goes bad, eggs, a gallon of butter, and rice crispies. It used to include bacon until my sister and I became vegetarians. It's called Breakfast Casserole 'cause it's like someone took your whole breakfast of toast, eggs, cereal, and possibly bacon and put it in a Pyrex, but in a totally delicious comfort food way.

  16. Growing up in south Texas, seems like we always got lots of "Chicken and Spaghetti" caseroles. There would often be 3-4 dishes of it (those ladies never compared what the others were doing, you were either assigned a main dish, salad or dessert and no vegetables were never mentioned, this is the south).

    "Chicken and Spaghetti" has elbow macaroni, chicken (usaully boiled and then flaked off the bone), cream of mushroom and cream of celery soups and LOTS of cheese on top.

    Sounds like a cardiologists wet dream, but boys it is good. My brother even makes it for us once or twice a year for fun.

    The unspoken rule was that the bereaved family had a month to return all the dishes, washed, to a table in the church fellowship hall.


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