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 – 🙂

Tomato Sandwiches…

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Summer tomatoes are a delicacy. The closer you live to a tomato vine the better your life will be. There is nothing like the smell of a warm tomato on the vine, nothing. Here at Camellia’s Cottage-we not only hire a pet sitter, we hire someone to water our tomatoes if we’re gone on vacation!  We’ve even been known to bribe folks with tomatoes…‘If you’ll come by and pick up the mail, you can pick some tomatoes.’ Works every time.  We wait on the tomatoes , fret over them- we check on them, often. When we talk tomatoes- we say morbid things like –

  • ‘I think my tomatoes have blossom end rot’
  • ‘Well, the hornworms are going to get to the tomatoes.’
  • ‘I think a possum uprooted the tomato plants.’
  • ‘The birds are going to get all of the tomatoes if you don’t get them first.’
  • ‘This is the last year I’m going to plant tomatoes, so you better enjoy them.’
  • ‘These tomatoes aren’t fit to eat, they’re mealy, because we’ve had too much rain.’

Even against the odds we continue to plant more than we can eat. We’ve come to believe that the smaller the tomato the bigger the taste; but the real reason is this- you can get a ripe tomato sooner! Some people want a one tomato slice sandwich- from a tomato so big, just one slice covers the whole piece of bread! Southern cooking depends on tomatoes. Fried green tomatoes originated in the south, don’t argue with me about this. We know tomatoes, especially in the very county where I live. In the upper part of St. Clair County- the most famous and highly prized tomatoes are grown, the conditions are said to be perfect right at the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains- in that one boat shaped plateau– Chandler Mountain! People take vacation time, even plan whole expeditions to go to tomato farms, owned by men like Dwight Rogers or the Smith Family and pick Chandler Mountain tomatoes!

There are at least three things folks don’t understand about southern cooking:

  • Why we love to eat Grits
  • Why we drink Sweet Tea
  • The fascination with Tomato Sandwiches

Grits might have to wait for another time- just know that adding sugar to grits is disgusting to a Southerner. Sweet Tea we’ve already covered. Tomato sandwiches are a delicacy which can be eaten for a short span of time, only when summer tomatoes are available; otherwise you have to add things to a tomato sandwich- like bacon and lettuce or a hamburger pattie! You have six to ten weeks to consume tomato sandwiches, depending on where you live in the south- maybe less. Now, here is the recipe for one perfect tomato sandwich:

  • 2 slices of white breadthis is not the time to break out the whole wheat.
  • Good mayonnaise, smeared on both sides of the bread- this is to create a barrier between the bread and the juicy tomatoes.
  • 1 summer tomato– sliced as thick as you dare.
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • And a generous sprinkle of good salt, tomatoes take to salt.

That’s it. There are only a few things that you can add to a tomato sandwich. Vidalia Onions sliced as thin as tissue paper and a bit of lemon zest added to the mayonnaise if you didn’t think to look for lemon juice in the ingredient label on the jar! Add anything else and you no longer have a tomato sandwich. On the side, I like to nibble a hot skinny green pepper and munch on Golden Flake Potato Chips made right here in Alabama, with my Tomato Sandwich. Pure, simple- nothing better.

 

 

I don’t expect you to understand this if you don’t have a southern palate. For me, there is a romance to a summer tomato sandwich. Imagine it- a sultry summer morning, you sashay barefoot out to check on the tomatoes, the dew is still thick on the grass. You smell the scent of the tomato vines, you see the green, the newly ripening and the perfect red fruit. Tomato red, like polished toenails. Hanging there, tempting you to reach out and pick. Oh lord, my mouth is watering now… your hand reaches out to pick the tomatoes, the prickly vine warns you to think before you pick– is it ready or not? is there any White Wonder Bread? some good mayonnaise? Golden Flake potato chips? You pick a few perfect vine ripe tomatoes, maybe a green one or two to fry…the tiny green ones would be good pickled. Bend down to the pepper plants and pick several slender.. long…green hot peppers …perfect.   As the sun goes down, you might hear this-

 ‘Honey, do you want me to grill some steaks?’

No darlin’- it’s so hot, I think I’ll just fix us a tomato sandwich.’

‘Sounds good to me.’

I hope wherever you are, the summer tomatoes are red, ripe and delicious- maybe you’ll find it in your heart to try a Summer Tomato Sandwich!  And remember, Southern Recipes are always part passion, part potion and part inherited wisdom.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Image of Dwight Rogers by Mike Callahan from Discover – the Essence of St. Clair – a wonderful local Alabama magazine! The editor is our dear friend Carol Pappas. Click on the link  and you can read more about Chandler Mountain tomatoes! and visit their website- www.discoverstclair.com