Unless you were raised in a thicket of Loblolly pines by a passel of possums- as a Southerner you’ve eaten your fair share of casseroles. I cannot recall the first time I tasted a casserole, though I do recall the first time I ever watched a casserole being made. I was about four years old, our neighbor cooked for her aging mother on Fridays- she let me ‘help‘. My feet didn’t reach the floor of her kitchen table- yet we always started the morning drinking a cup of coffee- yes, you read that right. My coffee was full of cream and sugar- which to this day I would rather prefer to drink black! Still. I was polite and didn’t make a fuss because when the cooking got under way…well, it was an amazing thing to watch. Her kitchen was fully equipped. Her freezer held an enormous amount of fruits and vegetables she had put up in containers right beside those aluminum ice cube trays that had a lever to release the ice. Miss Margaret, also had a pantry lined with lacy paper edging the shelves- there were rows and rows of pickles, preserves and an enormous amount of canning jars full of tomatoes and other fine things. Her living room might have been filled with doodads, even a Kewpie Doll her husband won for her at the county fair, an upright piano with a crocheted scarf across the top with even more doodads- but her kitchen ran like a well oiled machine. When Margaret was making a casserole, I remember how much I liked the word, I even said it under my breath until I could pronounce casserole just like she did. From then on, my ears perked up when I heard the word and saw an oven proof baking dish. Did I make a lot of them as a kid. Not really, but as an adult, I’ve made my share and eaten even more.
Now, here’s something you need to know about Southern Casseroles, our cookbooks will have a whole section in the index for casseroles– I have one cookbook which has recipes for 97 casseroles! Oh, southern cooks might pretty it up by calling the humble casseroles by different names-
- Au Gratin, Puff, Fancy,
- Gourmet, Luxury, Escalloped,
- Layered or Delight-
Though really, casseroles are only gussied up potatoes, grits, noodles or rice. crushed crackers and maybe chicken or ground beef. Casseroles often have mysterious, exotic and foreign names like-
- Florentine, Italian,
- Mexicali, Spanish, Creole,
- Sicilian, Tetrazzini, Polynesian, Parisian or-
- Hawaiian. (Okay, I know that’s not foreign but it sure sounds exotic!)
- What about Oriental Green Beans? Southerners thought Oriental or Asian was an exotic dish because it had soy sauce, ginger and chow mien noodles!
- We even call a green bean casserole- French Bean Casserole, when the only ingredient in it even remotely ‘French’ were beans cut ‘French style’…
Southerners also love to entitle their casseroles with divine or royal names…
- Imperial, a la King, Regal,
- Supreme, Divine, Angel or Heavenly.
* A word of caution: If a casserole is required for bereavement food– please do not take ‘deviled‘ anything, it sends the wrong message…
- ‘Deviled Peas’ , ‘Deviled Imperial Crab’,
- ‘Beef Diablo’ or ‘Deviled Creole Shrimp’ …
- You may get away with stuffed eggs but please do not say- ‘Now, Ruth Ann- you bring the Devilled Eggs!’
It’s just not fitting for a funeral! Now, there are a few recipes with appropriate names, like:
- Heavenly Hash, Bye Bye Chicken and possibly Wild Rice with Lonesome Doves- though, I would recommend dropping the wild rice and substituting fluffy white rice, and for heaven’s sake- go easy on the cayenne pepper-
- Maybe change the name to ‘Ascension Doves on a Cloud of White Rice’ served in a chafing dish would be more appealing.
Be ever mindful of the unsettled minds and delicate constitutions of the mourners. While we do have a flair for the dramatic, we wouldn’t want to serve anything inappropriate!
At it’s heart, the Southern Casserole really is a way to stretch simple ingredients to feed a crowd and then throw in an unusual ingredient to give it some crunch or zing. Casseroles are generally easy to assemble and bake. If the recipe says- ‘May be assembled and chilled for up to 24 hours before baking’ well, that’s a busy cook’s dream! Now, to be fair, some casseroles are more involved– take more skill to prepare. In one of my favorite cookbooks- Cotton Country from the Junior League of Morgan County Alabama, there is a quote… ‘Beautiful- delicious -The girl who really loves to cook will find this great fun; the girl who doesn’t- will meet her Waterloo’ … I have to admit ‘Breast of Chicken- Deluxe’ – a chicken casserole with Rice Collette, a Sherry Sauce and Bing Cherries might be a Waterloo for me and I love to cook!
Now, a few more things before I tell you how to make Summer Squash Casserole… please don’t think all Southern Casseroles use canned ‘cream of’ soups…though I will say- some of my favorites do! A whole lot of casseroles rely on milk and eggs, a white sauce or even a meat sauce combined with cheeses and other wonderful things. Southern Casseroles run the gamut from fruit to vegetable to seafood and meats to full blown, all out meeting your Waterloo skills!
I recently ran a very quick poll on Camellia’s Cottage community of guinea pigs! Here’s a very skimpy short list of the all time favorites…
- Apricot Casserole, Breakfast Casserole, Broccoli Casserole,
- Chicken Tetrazzini, Poppy Seed Chicken, Mexican Layered Casserole,
- Hash Brown Casserole (Tater Tot came in a close second to this!)
- Sweet Potato Casserole (which might have been number one!) and …ta da!
- Summer Squash Casserole is always welcome at Camellia’s Cottage! Made from fresh steamed yellow crookneck squash and mild Vidalia onions when in season! It has no canned creamed soup…just milk, eggs, cheese and a generous amount of sharp cheddar cheese! Here’s how you make-
Camellia’s Summer Squash Casserole
- To steam the squash: In a medium saucepan, slice 5-6 Yellow Squash- discarding the tip ends and stem ends. Slice a medium sweet onion and separate into rings. Toss gently. Add 3/4 to 1 cup of water , then a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of black pepper. Cover and steam on medium heat until tender. (Some add bacon drippings of a small amount of diced ham and do so if you wish. Summer Squash steamed like this is wonderful on its own!)
- Drain Steamed Squash and Onions. Place in buttered oven proof bowl or dish.
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Grate 1 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar cheese. You will need 6-8 saltine crackers crushed.
- Whisk 2-3 large eggs, 3/4 cup of whole milk, a pinch of cayenne pepper. Fold in 3/4 cup of grated cheddar and a few crushed saltine crackers- reserve the remainder of the cheese for topping. Pour mixture over Steamed Squash and Onions. Toss very gently.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed and brown around the edges.
- Meanwhile, crush 5-6 saltine crackers and strew over the top of the baked squash. Top with the remainder of the grated cheddar cheese.
- Return to the oven and bake until melted and bubbly or…(like I did on this occasion) until the cheese and crackers are crunchy… a few minutes should do it.
- This isn’t necessary- but I do like to make up a Spice Mix of 4 tablespoons of sweet paprika and 1 teaspoon of cayenne or red pepper flakes…to sprinkle over dishes like this Summer Squash Casserole! Feel free to name the Spice Mix- Deviled Paprika. Keep the spice mix labelled and on hand to sprinkle over stuffed eggs or egg salad…anything that could use some color and extra zing!
Serve and enjoy!! Here’s a tip! *I have added a few more eggs and a bit more cheese…poured the mixture onto a buttered sheet pan and made this same recipe for a squash frittata! Cooled, then cut into squares- it’s a wonderful appetizer..Yum! Also, feel free to adjust the amount of cheese- it’s all up to your personal taste.
The Farmer’s Markets now have yellow crookneck summer squash or you can use frozen yellow squash- we love this casserole year round here at the Cottage. Steamed or Casseroled Summer Squash is wonderful with Grilled or Fried Pork Chops, Pickled Beets, Sliced Tomatoes or a crisp Salad and those Cheddar/Chive Drop Biscuits make it a meal!
Folks will be grinning like a passel of possums when they see a Summer Squash Casserole! I suspect Southern Casseroles will be around for as long as folks like to gather for Sunday Dinners, Reunions, Decoration Days, Homecomings or Homegoings! Bless the cooks who bring casseroles! And as always…
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine.
*Cotton Country of Morgan County, Alabama is a wonderful Junior League cookbook- if you can find one, you’ll love it! Mine is part of collection of classic Junior League Cookbooks published by Favorite Recipe® Press through Southwestern Book Company and I purchased mine on Amazon.com – well worth the price for it’s priceless recipes and remarks, if you can find one! Chicken Breast Deluxe with Collette Rice and Sherry Sauce is a recipe from Cotton Country submitted by Mrs. Claude Carter.