My grandmother loved apricots- fresh, canned or dried. Mimi made an apricot casserole that wasn’t really a dessert, it wasn’t a savory casserole. What it was – is still one of my favorites! For years, I didn’t make it- couldn’t find a recipe, for sure not Mimi’s Apricot Casserole. In my collection of old cookbooks, perusing one day, I ran up on an Apricot Casserole! I knew the recipe was close to Mimi’s , yet I had watched her make it – so I knew the recipe I had found could be tweaked and what do you know? First time out? The flavors of Mimi’s classic Apricot Casserole filled me with such wonderful memories! And really, isn’t that why we all come to the table?
An unusual and old recipe- a wonderful buffet side dish, can be served warm or at room temperature. Goes well with ham, turkey or chicken; yet also is wonderful topped with whipped cream and eaten as a dessert!
Course: Side Dish
1stick butter (melted)plus more for buttering the pan
316 oz. cansapricots in heavy syrupdrained but not rinsed
1 1/2cupslight brown sugar
1 teaspoonground cinnamon
1/2teaspoonfreshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 sleevesritz party crackersroughly crushed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x9 glass baking dish. Mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and ritz party crackers. *I use a bowl, however sometimes I crush the crackers in a large freezer bag, then add brown sugar and spices. Blend well. Pour melted butter over spiced cracker crumbs and mix gently to combine. In a well buttered 9x9 glass baking dish, layer one can of drained apricots face down. Cover with 1/3 of crumb mixture. Repeat with second can- a layer of crumbs and end with the third can of apricots ending with a generous layer of the buttered crumbs. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until brown and bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature. 9-12 servings
Note: If you have dark brown sugar on hand instead of light- just use one cup and add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. For a buffet or a larger crowd, this recipe doubles and triples well.
Shared memories and shared flavors comfort us. And speaking of comfort food- Mimi’s Apricot Casserole is perfect for a bereavement buffet, it’s not overly spicy, it’s mildly sweet and tends to go well with other casseroles, salads and also with the main meats- baked ham or turkey, even fried chicken. The casserole is delicious hot or at room temperature which is great for any buffet.
Fresh apricots weren’t readily available during Mimi’s lifetime and we don’t see them often even now, so she always used a high quality canned apricot for this casserole and I also continue to use canned apricots, with the addition of party crackers, brown sugar and spices- it’s unbelievable that such simple things combine for a delicious unique dish. So, Mimi’s Apricot Casserole is one of those delicious heirloom side dishes we can enjoy year round! I’ve even enjoyed it as a dessert, topped with whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream! I hope your Spring and Summer activities are shaping up nicely! And, maybe you’ll have just the right occasion for Mimi’s Apricot Casserole!
Scalloped Potatoes are equally at home at Sunday Dinner, a Covered Dish Supper, Bereavement Buffets or a Glamourous Holiday Meal. And let’s not forget- Scalloped Potatoes could play a supporting or starring role on one of our famous Vegetable Plates. Perhaps not a strictly southern dish, scalloped potatoes make a regular appearance as a satisfying side dish any time of the year. Not limited to just potatoes, I honestly believesoutherners could scallop almost anything! After a quick glance through some of my reliable cookbooks, in addition to potatoes, I found- Scalloped Shrimp, Scalloped Oysters and even Scalloped Scallops! Scalloped Seafood is almost always combined with a subtly spiced cream sauce topped with bread crumbs then baked in a large flat scallop shells, sold by the stack for just such occasions. Vegetables are a southern favorite to scallop- Tomatoes may be at the top of the list to scallop (after potatoes) yet watch out! Any vegetable that can be sliced into rounds can find themselves buttered, creamed and baked- Onions, Summer Squash, Eggplant, Zucchini, even Sweet Potatoes are often scalloped.
Okay. What is the difference between a Casserole, Au Gratin or Scalloped Potatoes? It’s the design and the cooking method. Sliced rounds- arranged in an overlapped manner create the scallop design, then the dish is baked using some sort of thickening sauce which doesn’t disguise the scallop design. Some use the term – Escallop (my grandmother did!) instead of Scallop, yet it still is the same design and cooking method. Still. There’s always an exception to the rule… some experts use the verb – to escallop or to scallop as a cooking method of chopped meat(chicken is good example) or vegetables (corn is too small to create a design)- which is covered with milk or a cream sauce, dotted with butter, seasoned- often topped with cheese or a sprinkling of bread or cracker crumbs. In it’s simplest explanation- scalloped potatoes are a casserole with potatoes layered in a scallop design. Whatever it is- I have to admit, I’ve loved everything I’ve ever tasted which has been scalloped and served- hot!
This week, at the last minute I realized I needed to send a covered dish to a potluck supper- no time to run to the store, I realized I had everything I needed to make Scalloped Potatoes! I added bits of chopped ham to the mixture- *this is often suggested in many southern recipes as a variation. Bacon or even Sausage is also added to many types of escalloped vegetables- just remember you’re not making hash! You’re adding flavor. I chose to use chopped garlic chives instead of my usual finely sliced green onions. I also wanted my Scalloped Potatoes to be a rustic version, so the potatoes weren’t peeled and weren’t thinly sliced as I would for a finer presentation! Now, let me stop here and explain- some recipes call for uncooked potatoes to be cooked in a thin cream sauce , however- I needed a quicker more reliable method that only works for Scalloped Potatoes, not other vegetables. My potatoes were cooked in advance; I didn’t make a cream sauce, because as my grandmother so wisely pointed out many years ago- ‘Potatoes have enough starchin them to create their own sauce!’ To her, adding flour created a flavor akin to paste- not good at all. Oh, how I do run on… just let me tell you how I made:
Camellia’s Rustic Scalloped Potatoes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9×9 glass baking dish.
Microwave 3 medium size russet or Idaho potatoes. (slightly under baked is fine- overbaked is awful- throw them out and start again if that happens!)
Allow potatoes to cool down a bit, do not peel- slice into 1/2- 3/4 inch rounds.
Arrange potato slices in a scalloped pattern in prepared baking dish.
Meanwhile, chop a handful of baked ham (I used Smithfield® sliced ham)
Chop a handful of garlic chives. green onions or chives- *add a bit of chopped garlic- maybe one small clove- or a teaspoon of garlic powder mixed with green onions or chives- if you don’t have garlic chives or if you’re in a bind.
Dot with a generous amount of butter- maybe 12 pats or half a stick cut into slices.
Sprinkle ham and chives evenly over the potato slices.
Add a grind or two of black pepper and a pinch or two of salt- be careful, the ham is also salted!
Now, this is not an exact science, but pay attention– Pour whole milk more than half way up the potatoes. This probably close to 2 cups of whole milk.
Run the whole thing in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until most of the milk is absorbed. (Don’t overbake!)
Turn oven off.
*While potatoes are baking, you will need to finely grate- 1 cup of Sharp Cheddar Cheese. (Okay, I usually add more! But not so much that the scallop is hidden when it melts!)
*Some purists insist cheese must not be added to scalloped potatoes- I’m not a purist when it comes to Rustic Scalloped Potatoes!
With oven off but while it’s still very warm, top cooked potatoes with grated cheese- allow the heat of the oven to gently melt the cheese.
*If sending Rustic Scalloped Potatoes as a covered dish, immediately cover tightly with foil. It’s also a good idea to surround the covered dish with clean dish towels to retain the warmth- though I have to say… even cold- oh my! it’s still good! Now, I don’t want you to think I don’t know how to make prettier designs or a finer, more glamourous dish of Scalloped Potatoes. Thinly sliced, artfully designed it is a beautiful dish. Great for anything other than the finest of food displays- Rustic Scalloped Potatoes are perfect for almost any occasion- offering extra fiber, more color and texture, and best of all- I’ll bet you have everything you need to make them on short notice and with very little effort you get great taste! By the way- don’t you love reading… ‘ I need to send a covered dish to a potluck supper.’ ? You can hardly get a more southern sentence than that!
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-
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 chilledfor 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; thegirl 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…
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.
Bighearted Casseroles are a mainstay in the South. With just a few things added to a main ingredient like Chicken, Potatoes- sweet or white, Canned Green Beans or even Fruit- we can make up a Bighearted Casserole.. Dishes generous enough feed a crowd or stretcha thin budget. Bighearted Casseroles will put up with almost anything– being thrown together last minute; assembled the night before and refrigerated or even wrapped tightly in the freezer, ready when you need to take a dish. Bighearted Casseroles aren’t fussy about when to make an appearance either– they’ll be there Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. There are Classic Casseroles which can grace a fine Brunch, a High Holiday Buffet or a Ladies Luncheon with style in silver carriers- yet notbe snobbish when a Bighearted Casserole is taken to a new mother, a sick friend or as part of a backyard picnic. I wish I had a nickel for every time aCasserole has saved the day for me, like the Campbell’s Chicken Casserole below.
No doubt every culture in the world has it’s own version of a ‘one pot’ meal …yet Southern women have elevated the Bighearted Casserole to an art form; Campbell’s Soup benefitted enormously from our Love of Casseroles- many Savory Casseroles use Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken soups. In fact, you can tell if a Southern Lady has been tasting too many Casseroles if her ankles are swollen from the high sodium content. No one wants to admit they like Green Bean Casserole with canned fried onion rings, Poppy Seed Chicken with crushed Town House crackers or even a Tuna Casserole topped with Golden Flake Potato Chips. We do sneak around andeat them every chance we get! Ritz crackers got rich on Bighearted Casseroles! So many Casseroles have crumbled Ritz crackers on top- ‘Puttin’ on theRitz’ takes on a whole new meaning. Alabama’s colorful former governor, Big Jim Folsom once stopped late at night and ate a concoction that consisted of long simmered turnip greens, hog jowl and was topped off with canned onion rings. When someone asked the name of the dish- Big Jim spoke up and said, ‘It’s called ‘Ain’t Mad at Nobody Casserole’…that’s how you feel when you’ve eaten a Bighearted Casserole, so soul satisfying, it’s hard to be mad at anybody!
Fruit Casserolesare Bighearted enough to be a delicious side for Baked Ham or Roast Turkey and can even fill in as a delicious dessert. If you have never had a Pineapple Cheese Casserole- well you missed something truly good. Topping our list here at Camellia’s Cottage is the re-discoveredApricot Casserole, which my grandmother made. She adored apricots, fresh, dried or canned. Apricot Fried Pies, a jar of re-hydrated Dried Apricots smeared on her famous Sharp Cheese Toast was the best breakfast I recall as a child. Fresh Apricots topped off Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream. A bowl of Canned Apricots made a good everyday side- At Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas, Mimi’s Apricot Casserolewas divine. Simple to make, complex in flavor- I hope you’ll try it. For Apricot Casserole you will need:
1 stick of butter (melted) plus more to butter a 9×9 Pyrex dish
3 – 16oz cans of apricots- well drained (but not rinsed)
1 1/2 cups of brown sugar firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
One sleeve of Ritz Crackers crushed- (I often crush about 6-8 additional crackers)
Method– Preheat Oven to 350 degrees
Mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
Add crushed Ritz Crackers to this mixture. Blend well.
Pour melted butter over crumbled Mixture to gently combine.
In a well buttered 9×9 Pyrex dish, layer one can of apricots face side down (as shown above )
Cover with 1/3 of the sugar/cracker/butter mixture.
Repeat with second can of drained apricots, then top with mixture.
Repeat again with third can of drained apricots and finish with the rest of the sugar/cracker/butter mixture.
Bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until brown and bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature as a Side Dish as shown in opening photograph- Or as a deliciousdessert, served warm with whipped cream! (Shown below)
Your Waistline is practically guaranteed to get Thick but it is highly unlikely that your Ankles will Swell with Apricot Casserole.
See just how Bighearted a Casserole can be! From sweet and fruity to savory and warm…they’re UmUm Good! Let me know what your favorite Bighearted Casserole is!
Love y’all, Camellia
Photograph of Chicken Casserole was credited to Campbell’s Soup on AOL images- Golden Flake Potato Chips are made right here in Alabama! The other photographs are straight from Camellia’s Cottage Test Kitchen – 🙂