Any self-respecting Southern woman has a list of casserole recipes a mile long ready to bake at a moment’s notice. You got a sickness or a death in your family? We’ve got just the casserole for you.
For years, my go-to casserole for such occasions was a hearty shepherd’s pie — a ground-beef concoction topped with creamed potatoes. I added rolls and a dish of green peas then tucked it all into a big white basket and carried it off to the ailing. Now, I change it up. I sometimes make a casserole using leftover Easter ham from the freezer that has rice, green peas and cheese in it or I make a big dish of Aunt Ozelle’s glorious macaroni and cheese. One thing they all have in common? Cream of mushroom soup.
As I often say: You, too, might be a Southern woman if you have at least a dozen recipes that call for cream of mushroom soup. That can of soup is to Southern cooks what chicken is to the Colonel. It is the foundation of our kitchen empire.
Now, over the years, the one problem I always had was getting my dishes back. They would get lost, misplaced, kept or given to someone else by mistake. One of my friends would always take her signature Revlon red lacquer fingernail polish and paint her name on the bottoms of her dishes. Mama, who had an overly fond affection for masking tape, would write her name with black marker on a piece of tape and stick it to the cover of dishes. I tried both methods and lost as many dishes as they both did.
When my brother died a few years ago, Louise, Nicole and I were cleaning out his house. From the cabinet, I pulled a casserole dish. The ugliest casserole dish I have ever seen.
“Yuck,” I said as I pulled it out. “What an atrocious-looking dish.”
It was a dirty beige color with dinky flowers painted in a color that was somewhere between army green and avocado green. Puce, I believe. I held it up for Nicole to see, and she quickly agreed that she had never seen a dish so ugly.
She shuddered dramatically. I come from people renowned for our dramatics. “Throw it away,” she commanded. “No one will use that.”
I also come from thrifty people. If it’s usable, we hate to throw it away. It goes against our raising. As I hesitated, I noticed other dishes in the cabinet. Lo and behold, it was a matching set of ugly casserole dishes in various sizes. As Mama used to say, “It just come to me.” What I could do?
“You know what? I’m not throwing these away. I’m going to use them,” I said.
Nicole looked up from her place on the floor, where she was digging through a box of bits and pieces. Another dramatic look of incredulity. “You’re kidding, right?” she asked.
I smiled. “Nope. I’m going to use them for casserole dishes when I feed the ill and the bereaved.” My smile widened. “I am so tired of not getting my good dishes back. Now, when someone doesn’t return one of these, I won’t miss it at all.”
She laughed and said, “Good plan. Wish I had thought of that.”
I toted the four dishes home, and the next time a casserole was needed, I implemented my plan. I fixed a ham casserole in the ugly dish and took it to a friend recovering from surgery. She eyed the dish with a lack of visual appreciation.
“I’ll get this dish back to you as soon as I can,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I replied with an airy wave.
But she did. Since then, every person who has received a casserole in one of those dishes has returned them. Quickly.
They’re so ugly that I can’t give them away.
Rich is the author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’” Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.