Big Hearted Casseroles…

 

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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 stretch a 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 not be 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 a Casserole has saved the day for me, like the Campbell’s Chicken Casserole below.casseroles-campbells

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 and eat them every chance we get! Ritz crackers got rich on Bighearted Casseroles! So many Casseroles have crumbled Ritz crackers on top- ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ 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 Casseroles are 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-discovered  Apricot 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 Casserole was 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 delicious dessert, 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.

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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 – 🙂

Funny Habits…

Today is my mother’s birthday-you’re not supposed to tell a lady’s age but she was  born in 1929, the year of the Great Depression. Her name is Betty Gene– after Dora Eugenia Holmes, my great-grandmother that suffered from melancholia and my grandmother, Betty Jo, who was one of the funniest women I’ve ever known, not to mention a formidable cook and housekeeper. Mother was a darling child- green eyes, one a shade darker than the other with light brown curly hair. She’s had a dramatic flair ever since she was entered into a ‘Shirley Temple Lookalike Contest’ and actually won 5 Shirley Temple Dresses! Mother is funny- she inherited the funny bone from both of her parents, yet I would say her humor is very much like my granddaddy’s. The truth is, we all like to laugh. This is Mother with one of her granddaughters and my beautiful and funny sister. Aren’t they darling?IMG_0660

A few years ago, for a Christmas party- we got up the program, as we like to say…That year, my husband agreed to play select tunes on his guitar and as a surprise for the guests, we planned to dress up in some sort of costumes. We  knew the leader of a local drama club who would loan us some costumes. Turns out all she had were the nun’s outfits or habits from a play she directed- ‘Sister Act’– which was widely acclaimed here in town then resulted in a special performance at the Ritz Theatre. Our long tall brunette friend Vandella, who can sing like an angel with a blue dress on- wanted to sing back up for my husband. She recruited me to join her. Vandella said we would be his backup singers called- the ‘Two Bad Habits’. We had a big laugh over that one, since his personality is like Andy Griffith-he just doesn’t look like him. IMG_0596

Unbeknownst to us, two other Bad Habits would be joining us, live and in costume. While the guests were milling around the buffet table and swinging around the punch bowl, one of the hostesses was gathering everyone up for the entertainment. They had been told to be prepared for some Chet Atkins style Christmas carols with a reading of the Christmas story at the end if someone would volunteer. Softly the guitar music began to play- ooh’s and aah’s all around…Vandella and I were hovering in the wings waiting for our dramatic  entrance. Vandella was saying- ‘You go first Camellia and I said ‘no’.  When our musical cue, ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’, started up- we walked out- to quite a good reception, I have to say. We announced ourselves as the Two Bad Habits, then rocked around the room in our nun’s habits… Vandella can carry off almost any style because of her height- I looked like one of the Von Trapp nuns…not the cute ones either. Vandella could put Patsy Cline in the shade. We did another number and right in the middle of the tune, a third Bad Habit eased out- this time it was funny ol’ Will aka Mother Superior Willa Deen– who continued rocking on with us- to bursts of laughter.

The guitarist was in full mode- barely paying attention to anything except his music; though when he heard a commotion behind him- he turned, didn’t miss a note, just raised an expressive eyebrow and nodded at the New Bad Habit, Mother Superior Willa Deen in horn rimmed glasses, singing and shaking the mistletoe in the rafters, off key. Howard, an ex of Vandella’s had been circling the eggnog bowl one time too many, though we now think he had arrived slightly imbibed, but hey it was Christmas! Howard joined the music- just about the time another Bad Habit came out dressed as a novice in all white- I looked around and it was my. Mother. !!! Looking as innocent as a jaybird.

She had her hands stuffed in the middle section of the novice outfit. Mother Willa Deen cleared his throat and said ‘Now, before we sing ‘Away in a Manger’- I’d like to introduce a new member of the Abbey, Sister Magdelena…she came to us in a time of great need.’ He turned to my elderly Mother. She bowed her head and said- ‘I’m so thankful they’ve let me in…I’m pregnant.’; she pulled her hands out of her habit and made like she was rocking an invisible baby.

Vandella and I missed more than a beat…we missed whole chords! The crowd was laughing and my Mother was beaming like one of the angels on high. Right up there with Howard, high as a kite by now, from that weak eggnog I guess.  Mother stole the show! Unforgettable…

On into the summer- we planned another, more sedate gathering… loads of people were there. We were all going to be on our best behavior. Even Vandella’s  ex-Howard,  arrived in a starched suit and tie. Over by the peach and apple fried pies, Alabama home grown figs and cheeses, tea sandwiches fit for a king-Howard sidled up to Mother. She greeted him in her own gracious manner- so sweetly, so lightly, saying ‘Now, do I know you?‘ Howard had  a bad habit of falling in love with the wrong women, and he had fallen in love with my mother at the Christmas party….he said ‘You don’t recognize me do you?’ looking crest fallen. Someone said ‘Now, Betty, you remember Howard- from the Christmas party don’t you?’ I was unaware this was transpiring- all the way in another room. I heard an outburst of laughter…Vandella came around and said ‘Your mother is a hoot! She just said, Howard, I  guess I didn’t recognize you, sober!’ Oh lordie… what would she think of next?? Mother went on to do a bit part in a commercial, she marched across a field of hay with her pocketbook.

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We’re all thrilled she’s doing very well after hip surgery in the winter, a short bout with anemia recently, but has bounced back and says she can’t believe how good she feels! She has a habit of being cheerful and getting into some ridiculous situations too! So- to honor my beautiful and very humorous Southern Mother’s Birthday- please- share a link to a funny post you have written or a photograph you think she’d love– for Make Me Laugh Monday! I promise I’ll share them with the birthday girl!

Love y’all, Camellia

*post your links in the comment section! thanks!