Let’s Talk Food: Casseroles of the past

Ireceived a very nice note in the mail from Mildred Winans, who said she had a double metal file of recipes, many of them from Hawaii Electric Light Co., where she worked as a home economist with Betty Jo Thompson and Masako Kuwaye. Mildred wanted a good home for her many years of recipes, so she asked me to pick them up.

Casseroles were very popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and many of my readers might remember growing up with one-dish dinners. They usually contained a protein, or meat; a starch; and vegetables and served in the vessel in which it was cooked, straight out of the oven or off the stove. Corning glassworks made Pyrex ware, and most households had a few bowls and dishes that could be frozen and then put directly into the oven. That was a revolution in cooking as casseroles could be made ahead and placed in the freezer.

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The word casserole comes from the French “casse,” or “pan,” and a French cassoulet is a good example of a casserole baked in the oven and then served.

A few of the recipe cards I received from Mildred have dates on them, such as this Ham and Noodle Casserole from January 1960. I find it so interesting that ingredients change with time, such as using margarine or butter, shortening instead of vegetable oil, processed cheese instead of real cheese and adding in monosodium glutamate.

It also was common to use numbers for can sizes, such as No. 303.

Ham and Noodle Casserole

Serves: 6

1 1/2 cups noodles (3 ounces)

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

2 cups grated processed cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons catsup

1 tablespoon bottled horseradish

2 cups diced, cooked ham

1 cup frozen peas

Cook noodles as package directs, drain. Meanwhile, in saucepan over low heat, melt butter; add flour, stirring until smooth. Gradually stir in milk; cook, stirring until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat; add cheese, stirring till melted. Add noodles and remaining ingredients, then pour into 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Freeze. Thaw in food compartment of refrigerator. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1/4 cup bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and crumbs are browned.

• • •

Italian Casserole

Serves: 6

1 large eggplant

2 eggs, beaten

3 tablespoons shortening

3 ounces pepperoni, sliced and cut into 1/4-inch strips

1 pound ground beef

3 medium onions, chopped

1 No. 303 can tomato puree (14-16 ounces or 2 cups)

1/8 teaspoon basil

1/8 teaspoon oregano

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated

Peel and slice eggplant in 1/4-inch slices; dip in egg and saute in shortening until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper. In the same pan, saute pepperoni and remove, then saute ground beef until crumbly; add onions and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes longer. Add tomato puree, basil, oregano, green pepper, salt, pepper and garlic. Arrange a third of the eggplant in a 3-quart casserole. Top with layers of meat mixture, pepperoni and cheese, repeating to make three layers of each. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for one hour.

• • •

Crab and Spinach Casserole

Serves: 8

1 package frozen chopped spinach

1/3 cup chopped onions

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

1 cup sour cream

One 8-ounce can mushrooms

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Dash of Angostura bitters

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon monosodium glutamate

Two 6 1/2-ounce cans crab

2 tablespoons sherry

1 tablespoon chopped chives or parsley

Thaw and drain spinach well. In saucepan, saute onions in butter until clear. Add soup, sour cream, drained mushrooms, cheese and seasonings; cook until smooth and thoroughly heated. Stir in drained, flaked crab, sherry and chives. In an oiled casserole dish, place alternate layers of spinach and crab mixture. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbling hot.

• • •

Tuna Rice Casserole

Serves: 6

2 cans (7 ounce) tuna

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 can (10 ounce) cream of celery soup

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups cooked rice

1 package (10 ounce) frozen peas and carrots, thawed

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons sliced pimientoes

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish. Drain tuna and put into small bowl; sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. In a large bowl, mix cream of celery soup, mayonnaise, milk, Worcestershire sauce and salt; fold in rice, vegetables, cheese and tuna. Pour into prepared casserole dish and sprinkle with crumbs. Bake for 45 minutes.

• • •

I think it’s interesting that the addition of soy sauce and water chestnuts qualifies this recipe to be called Chinese.

Chinatown Casserole

Serves: 6

1 package frozen French style green beans

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 cup sour cream

2 cups diced cooked ham

1 (4 ounce) can water chestnuts

1/2 cup soft buttered crumbs

Thaw beans. Melt butter; blend in flour. Add milk and soy sauce; cook, stirring until sauce thickens. Add sour cream, ham, beans and thinly sliced water chestnuts. Turn into oiled 2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle crumbs around the edge. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

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Here’s to memories of our childhood dinners for many of us.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.