Summer Squash Casserole…

C7D81DCC-0D98-478C-BAF8-E28C674A9BE7Unless 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! C7D81DCC-0D98-478C-BAF8-E28C674A9BE7
  • 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!)D892F7D0-532A-4BC3-83EF-E9CF24907B43
  • 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.E730F2A2-FDA7-4E19-BACC-C0E45E628F82
  • 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!

BD40B95F-5A1F-4F8D-BBE5-CB54252BE68EFolks 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 – 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.


Cookbook Therapy…

444257F5-F821-48DD-BF08-DF8D90F28256Most Southerners take prolonged cold weather as a personal insult. Oh, we put up with chilly days in a good natured way, some even going so far as to say they love cold weather or that it’s a good thing ‘because it’ll kill off the bugs’. More than a few days? The novelty of wearing wool or goose down or cashmere has worn off- we’ll put on Bermuda Shorts with fake fur lined boots and heavy socks as if to defy the unwelcome visit of Jack Frost.

I admit it, I have taken the recent cold spell as a personal insult, even blaming the Devil for a few days and for me that’s extreme. Okay, I said, ‘It’s cold as the devil.’  Extreme weather conditions call for extreme blame. Fed up, I refused to go out in it and settled in to soothe my nerves. Bundled up in socks and covered with a throw, I was surrounded by my highly prized Southern Ring Bound Cookbooks, you know the ones- that real folks have tested and written. I took perverse pleasure in finding the most difficult, unusual, or even grotesque recipes I could find, with no intention of cooking any of it.  Well, maybe the sugar laden ones. Still. I was looking for more than recipes. Let me explain, Church or Organization Cookbooks are Story Books to me. I’m a descendent of at least 2 Grandparents who loved Crossword Puzzles, who were also Amazing Storytellers and one of them was an Amazing Cook- who clipped recipes from her beloved Birmingham News. Thus, I am a collector of- words, sentences, phrases, stories and recipes.

Cookbooks give me a window into other kitchens, other times and in most cookbooks- there are stories, methods, hints and tips that are priceless. I do not buy these cookbooks new, I want the recipes with a star beside favorites, or a note written to improve the recipe at hand.

  • I found mostly mathematicians in the Baking Sections, the insistent precise ones.
  • Then there were the Happy Socialites- especially in the Beverage and Appetizer Sections, though I wondered about a non-alcoholic punch I found…the recipe called for an entire bottle of Almond Extract! I asked myself if perhaps the person offering it up was in a 12 Step Program.
  • The Casserole Ladies might be my favorites, they improvise, aren’t precise, give options and also instruct the reader that the recipe can be stretched to feed a crowd, they are a big hearted group no doubt.
  • To my surprise on that cold and dreary day- hovering over the Soups and Stews Sections were other Southern Cooks whom I fear must have shared my disdain for cold weather.

One fine example was called NO PEEP STEW. After a sketchy mixture of ingredients was put in a Dutch Oven- the recipe writer directed- ‘Bake 5 hours at 250 degrees. DO NOT PEEP, REPEAT, DO NOT PEEP.’ … I wondered what would happen if one decided to go rogue and PEEP? and who in the world wrote it? a former Drill Sargent?  Apparently deciding to calm down- the writer adds- ‘Serve with wedges of your favorite cornbread and a green salad.’  Still another, in another cookbook, had a much nicer even fun title for hers- it was ‘No Peekie Beef Stewie’ … you have to love her!

Another Stew which was full of ingredients and difficulties was followed by ‘Served with hot buttered French Bread and Assorted Pickles, this will serve about 8 hungry men.’ … From vast experience with hungry men, no doubt. Surely this one had cabin fever like me- with the added pressure of being cooped up with 8 hungry men to feed!

Then there was the sweet lady who got a bit bossy about when to add egg yolk and vinegar to Pig Stew… but regained her composure and politely said- ‘My grandmother’s cook made this every Christmas and it was served alongside turkey, dressing etc. It’s very rich and not too good in warm weather, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without it at my home in New Orleans.’    Bless. Her. Heart.     Just so you know… we Southerners who had grandmothers or great grandmothers who employed cooks – You have to know- you must know, we  do KNOW who taught us how to cook right! I have a cookbook to prove it! It’s ring bound cookbook with recipes compiled by household cooks, fairground workers and large military service organizations. These recipes have exquisite names-

  • Chicken Elegante
  • Mardi Gras Chicken
  • Custard Pie Excellence
  • Sicilian Meat Roll
  • Sweet Potato Souffle
  • Asparagus Souffle
  • Squash Croquettes
  • Celery and Almond Gratin
  • A Devil’s Food Cake that has 3 layers with a Lemon Pineapple Filling and a Dark Chocolate Icing boiled to a soft ball stage!
  • Pillow Pastry
  • Luscious Chocolate Cake
  • Lane Cake (a Southern Classic)
  • Honey Caramels
  • Fig Conserve and Creole Pralines
  • Oh, and please don’t let me forget- Chocolate Fudge that is poured on a platter- this is the hallmark of an old but great fudge recipe!

Some recipes assume you know how to cook. One I’m particularly fond of simply says-

  • Cook Chicken, cool and shred.
  • Save Broth. Blanche Broccoli.
  • Make a White Sauce. Add White Wine and Grated Parmesan Cheese.
  • Brown Cracker Crumbs in Butter.
  • Assemble.
  • Bake at 350 until bubbly. Serve with Rice. That’s it.

I made that one recently. I need no nonsense, clear direction when it’s cold weather. Now, recently I offered you a recipe and our friend Bob remarked ‘Any recipe that starts with frying bacon can’t be bad’. He’s right. These are the recipes you know are winners- if they start with a Cast Iron Skillet and Bacon. C6BD81F7-75CE-4851-A2DA-025E41542AD7

When I found one of those, my Freezing Cold Day- Cookbook Therapy was beginning to kick in. The recipe – no doubt submitted by a beautiful and fragile Southern Cook was so well written,  I fell in love with her …not sure about her recipe, but her gentle coaxing ways soothed me.  Her Southern Charm, her impeccable manners won me over, not to mention she started out her recipe with charm…

  • ‘Fry Bacon in a heavy cast iron Dutch Oven until crisp- set aside.
  • ‘Pour off almost all of the fat leaving just enough to leave a thin film on the bottom.’  There were no upper case letters… gently implied was this-
  • .‘Now darling, you better save that bacon fat, you may need it later’.
  • She gets fired up…‘Heat fat to smoking hot, brown meat a few pieces at a time… if needed, add a little more bacon fat.’
  • (Later on, when she finally finishes browning all of the meat and has removed it to a platter, she goes on… add butter to the pot…onions…)
  • Then says, ‘You may need more bacon fat.’
  • Alright, now she wants us to add Beef Stock, Spices and Beer.
  • Umhmm…Winter Stew for sure…
  • ‘Return browned meat to pot. There should be enough sauce to cover, but if you’re a little short, add beer.

Please, please notice how polite she is! You may need more bacon fat,if you’re a little short,  you may need more beer! Almost as nice as the lady who is making Beef Roulade Sandwiches…she starts out by saying- ‘First, be nice to your butcher. Smile.’ They both put me in a better frame of mind! Cookbook Therapy works!

Peruse the recipes in good Junior League or Church Ladies Cookbooks and what you’ll find are stories of real people making really good food. And what’s better than a collection of stories that could end up as a feast on your very own table?

Love y’all, Camellia

*Some of these recipes were found in a cookbook my friend Sandra and I think is the cream of the crop- Southern Sideboards compiled by the Junior League of Jackson Mississippi. Others were picked at random from River Road, Junior League of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The other cookbook shall remain unnamed…it is from my own private limited edition- privately published stash! *Photograph from Tante Marie, a French Cookbook published in English in the 1950’s- please note that Café au Lait, is not made with coffee at all…it’s made with a coffee extract and…on the next page we’re told it’s made with chicory– which could explain why Café au Lait in New Orleans tastes so good! Bon Appetite, y’all!B06450F9-AA38-4A90-8329-9CA61F333BBA

Imaginary Southern Party…


Southern Party Food, just those three words conjure up delight. I’m not sure why I haven’t had more parties. I think I might regret it one day. I have helped with quite a few Southern Parties, but ‘at-our-house-parties’ have mostly been given for the now all-grown-up children. I do however, plan quite a few Imaginary Southern Parties. Sometimes, I will dream of having a table groaning with pick up food hearty enough for the men but in dainty portions for the ladies. Maybe I will have a neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt, with big containers of jelly beans and foil covered chocolate eggs, a bakery cake with all of that icing, big decorated sugar cookies and Pre-School Punch! Or perhaps I will do something unexpected like have a Build Your Own Shrimp and Grits Party– with all of the extras,

  • grated cheeses, chopped green onions, diced bell peppers,
  • pickled sliced jalapenos, diced ham, halved cherry tomatoes,
  • crisp crumbled bacon, fried okra, maybe even slices of Conecuh County Sausage and of course Tabasco®!

I would add baskets of corn muffins, tiny biscuits and cheese crackers alongside a big platter of fresh fruit. And Oh! the stories that will be told! I love the one about a high ranking military man who impersonated Elvis to entertain the troops! I will have a piano and a fair haired young man whose slender fingers softly play familiar tunes like Summer Time, the Tennessee Waltz or Broadway show tunes; perhaps a lady crowned with a cloud of white hair wearing Red Revival® Lipstick  will drape herself across the piano singing low and slow.  Maybe some of the guests will sway. I’m sure there will be a tall dark handsome man eating a slice of Mimi’s Pound Cake who insults me by saying his mother’s Cream Cheese Pound Cake was better, but I won’t care, after all a man should love his momma’s pound cake best. When the Beauties arrive, lacquered and sleek with twinkling eyes and big wide smiles, the men will hear- ‘Hey good lookin’ – what ya got cookin’ , then they will exclaim over every Brown Eyed Handsome Man. No matter how old we get- Southern ladies love to flirt and flatter. Outrageous stories will be told and re-told, followed by bursts of laughter. Perhaps there will be a jigsaw puzzle set up by a window and every now and then someone will pause to see if they can find solve a piece or two. The dessert table will have a big bowl of Banana Pudding, Pound Cake with Sugared Strawberries and fresh whipped cream standing by; there might be bite size tarts like our famous Pecan Pies. Coffee will be served to those who want it. Small groups will form and a few secrets shared. By the time the party is over, spirits will have been lifted and later we will say- ‘A good time was had by all.’   These are the Southern Parties of my Imagination. We used to call these- At Homes.  img_2098

Southern Party Food is like none other. It can be quick and easy or so complicated even Escoffier wouldn’t be able to pull it off! The best place to start when planning a party in the South is to weasel recipes from the best local cooks or find them in local and regional cookbooks. Southern cookbooks always tickle me, set my tastebuds tingling and are the cookbooks which fire up my imagination, especially the local Church or Junior League Cookbooks. I went on a tear recently and ordered about a half dozen cookbooks which had been on my wish list for years. I always start at the beginning, just like a best selling novel. I read the prologues, I scan the names of the contributors, the auxiliary, or officers. Then I imagine them planning  in soft southern drawls.

  • ‘Now Betty Gene, don’t forget to include that Pre-school Punch you always submit for the Beverage section- we can’t have the teetotalers out there thinkin’ we’re all a bunch of winos’ – or
  • ‘Tammy Faye, now you know we can’t put together this cookbook without your Great Aunt Mary Sue’s recipe for Cheese Souffle, I know she never made them herself but she guarded that recipe like it was pure gold- which, to be honest it was.’
  • Gaynelle, now we must have the recipe for your Sunday Roast Beef and Horseradish Sauce- it won’t be complete without it.’

I am forever amazed at how much drama there is in a single cookbook- recipes which are not for the faint of heart- like Fried Rabbit wherein we must leave to our imagination just who shot that rabbit and where- but the dainty lady who submits it makes sure that you rinse it well- making sure there is no hare in it- uh I mean hair, that all the leaves are rinsed out of the cavity – and ‘Oh my! get the saltbox out to kill the bacteria! I love to dream up scenarios for these formal little ladies who use their husband’s names. These cookbooks bring my Imaginary Southern Parties a special flair. Recipes warn or designate that some dishes are ‘Chafing Dish’ and some are to be served Hot, Chilled or Room Temperature. The Beverages are an amazing array- one Party Punch left me wondering if you would have to use a big galvanized tub to make it up – I’ve changed it up a bit with fond memories of Pre-School Graduation parties, but not the quantities so you can see what I mean!

Pre-School Punch

  • 1/2 Gallon of Pineapple Sherbet, 1/2 Gallon of Lime Sherbet,
  • 4 -28 oz. bottles of ginger ale – chilled, 1- 28 oz. bottle of soda- chilled,
  • 1- 48 oz. can of pineapple juice- chilled,
  • 1- 16 oz. jar of maraschino cherries, 1 quart of sliced fresh strawberries.

Mix all ingredients together. Stir and Serve. Yields two punch bowls. *Now, I ask you what size container would you need to stir and serve all of that for two punch bowls??? I can tell you now it would be slopped all over the place if I was making it! However you can take it from me- this punch is famous! I think if the recipe is halved it would be great for my neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt. For my Imaginary Build Your Own Shrimp and Grits Party– I would definitely add these whimsical appetizers from Bay Tables of the Mobile Junior League! I would double or triple the recipe, I do believe they would be just that good!

Jalapeno Gator Eggs

  • 1 (12 ounce) jar of jalapenos
  • 1 pound of Cheddar Cheese – grated
  • 1 pound lean ground sausage
  • 1 (10 count) can of biscuits

Drain jalapenos and remove the stems. Cut the jalapenos lengthwise and remove the seeds under running water. Stuff the jalapenos with the cheese. Shape the sausage into patties. Wrap around the stuffed jalapenos. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Drain and cool. Sausage Jalapenos can be frozen at this point. Separate the biscuits into two layers. Wrap each around the sausage jalapenos and seal the edges. Place on baking sheet. Bake at 400 degree for 10 minutes. Yield 20 servings. * Note: Some recipes leave out some critical information-for instance, these would be whole pickled jalapenos. The canned biscuits would be the flaky type. I would also use mild sausage since the jalapenos add heat, but hey go for it if you love it hot! Recipes like Jalapeno Gator Eggs- get me in party planning mode- real or imagined!  Now I ask you darlin’, which Imaginary Southern Party would you come to? Or, maybe there’s another one…just a few pages away! I’ll keep you posted…

Love y’all, Camellia

All cookbooks were found and ordered from  Photographs are obviously mine!