If you’re from the Midwestern United States, you’re probably familiar with hot dish or as it’s known elsewhere, casserole. I pulled two books from the shelf of the Kirschner Collection today that give us a glimpse into how both hot dish and American culture have changed over the last 60-ish years. The books: Casserole Cookery: One-dish Meals for the Busy Gourmet (1950) by Marian & Nino Tracy and Hot Dish Heaven: Classic Casseroles from Midwest Kitchens (2006) by Ann L. Burckhardt. The former is an exhaustive array of recipes from “lazy” cooks who liked to entertain. Some of the ingredients such as rabbit, claret, squab (pigeon), and calves’ hearts used in this book would be difficult or strange to come by today, but are fascinating to read about.
Hot Dish Heaven, on the other hand, waxes nostalgic about casserole recipes from the era of Casserole Cookery, but the author has taken care to update these recipes for her 2006 audience. She has done this not just in terms of ingredients (e.g. “chicken” instead of “young fat hen”), but also in terms of cooking times and methods.
To provide you with a concrete example of what you’ll find in these two books, I’m including a recipe from each:
1 rabbit cut in small pieces
1/2 lb. salt pork diced
1 cup claret
1 bunch small carrots scraped and cut in 1-inch pieces
8 small white onions
8 small potatoes scraped
1 buffet-sized can mushrooms or 1/4 lb. fresh ones sliced
1/4 lb. butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon thyme
pinch of leaf sage
8 whole peppercorns
Melt butter and blend the flour. Brown the rabbit and salt pork in this. Place in a deep buttered casserole; add carrots, onions, potatoes, mushrooms. Mix the butter gravy from skillet, claret, 1 cup of water, and seasoning and pour over the rabbit. Cover tightly and simmer about 1 hour in a medium oven (375 degrees) until everything is tender. If you were forehanded enough to marinate the rabbit, just add the marinade to the gravy
Serves 4 or more
Time: 4 hours if you marinate the hare; if not, just 1 1/2 hours
By Casserole Cookery by Marian & Nino Tracy
Pork Chop Bake
Three 1 1/4-inch thick boneless pork chops
Flour for coating
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 cup uncooked white rice
2 large tomatoes
1 large onion
1/2 green pepper, halved crosswise (for rings)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon leaf thyme or oregano
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken or beef broth
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut each chop in half. Dredge pork pieces in flour and brown in hot oil in large skillet, about 5 to 8 minutes. Grease a 9-inch-square baking dish. Spread rice in prepared dish and arrange pork pieces on top. Slice tomatoes and cut onion and green pepper into rings. Distribute vegetables over chops. Sprinkle on seasonings and then pour broth over ingredients.
Cover and bake 1 hour or until rice is tender and pork is done.
From the author’s note on this recipe
In adapting this 1970s recipe for today’s kitchen, I had to switch from thin chops to thicker ones that would match the cooking time of the rice. Today’s pork has been bred to be much leaner than the meat of the past. And thin-cut lean meat cooks very quickly, more quickly than the rice.
By Hot Dish Heaven by Ann L. Burckhardt