I can not conceive what it is like to spend your whole life, living in a single house or even a single town or village. But I do not enjoy moving day, except for the casserole.
No one really knows who invented the modern casserole…although folks do seem to be determined to try1. Casserole, is actually a French word for pan2, still no one cuisine has cornered ownership of the humble casserole. Casserole, the original full meal deal began gaining popularity in the 1850’s but after World War 2 the popularity grew exponentially with the encouragement of food companies offering ways to use up ‘must goes3‘. A quick, convenient one pot meal… I guess that explains in part why I not only enjoy an occasional casserole but why I associate them with move day.
After weeks of decision making, planning, farewell dinners at friends houses, and Oh yes, the packing, it all culminates on moving day. There are many ways to experience moving day, if money is no object (which often means the company is paying) the full meal deal is possible. You hand over your house keys (at both ends) to strangers who pack, load, transport, deliver and unpack at the end site.
I must confess this is an option I did not experience as a child nor has it been my experience since. I’ve heard the horror stories about damage to family treasures, the full kitchen garbage bag packed for a cross country move in mid summer. Regardless, I am not the sort to hand it off to someone else. Like my Mother I prefer do it myself, the idea of someone else packing my household belongings seems an intrusion, an invasion of privacy.
Mum was a dedicated wife, mother and a key part of the ministry team she shared with Dad, but she did not enjoy being the center of the spotlight. Mum valued her privacy… Of course living in small rural communities as a minister’s wife, she learned quickly how the focus of the community lands on a new family, particularly the Minister’s family.
From the moment we made our first move, there was some attention paid to us purely because of Dad’s job. When the church community owns the house you live in, have furnished it (sort of) and paid part of the operating cost you understand their ownership is high, and you learn to live with or at least cope with the consequences4.
Mum learned to smile and later laugh at the countless times over four years, one church elder attended meetings at the manse, insisting each time on seeing the oven, which she is sure she hadn’t seen since the electric range was purchased.
The church member and next door neighbour who wore a hole in the flooring under her pantry window which faced the manse; who could and did regale everyone with tales of the sights she’d seen living next door to a variety of ministers and their families. The neighbour who watched the monthly grocery ‘order’ being unloaded from the trunk of our family car and who later mused about not being able to afford to buy the brand of laundry detergent Mum used.
It is small wonder Mum preferred to keep things private. Moving day was an active day for a our family. The last minute rush to pack things which could not be packed before…tucking things away in boxes as the moving van and staff(or volunteers and family) were loading furniture. Once our family possessions were loaded and the van departed for our new home…the last of the cleaning had to be done before we could leave. Much of the heavy cleaning had been completed during the packing phase, the last minute final wipe down of the bathroom, kitchen, including the refrigerator, ended with the floors. Mum literally scrubbed herself out of the door of one house and into the other.
Move days were stressful, hectic and exhausting… and often life added a wrinkle or two in to the mix. A minister’s life is subject to the events in the lives of church members, and church community. Tragedy, death, illness do not happen on a schedule, they just happen, including on move day.
So I guess that is why I always associate moving with casseroles. You see the other side of life in the minister’s household, (fish bowl or a rose bowl depending your view point) is that you experience and witness the ‘goodness/kindness’ of most people. You see and experience empathy, and support in many forms including casseroles.
Casseroles over the last 150 odd years have been taken up by women cooks across this continent, including church women. Casseroles make a reasonably quick, cheap, (lower in meat protein) and tasty meal which can be stretched further by adding a side of salad or bread. Whether it be at a reception following a funeral, a meal to drop off at the home of a ill friend, or at a congregational pot luck, casseroles are ideal. They were a wonderful gift on move day, they quietly awaited our arrival, tucked safely in the otherwise empty fridge for us to enjoy whenever we arrived, no matter how late. The kind person who made this gesture of welcome, could be confident that no matter how late her creation was reheated and eaten, it would taste even better.
This My Mother’s Cookbook casserole is one of Mum ‘good’ favourites, she used it for special occasions. It is one of the few handwritten recipes in the collection which is not attributed, I can only assume she found it in a magazine or other publication. This casserole does not contain condensed soup, although it does use canned salmon and canned veggies.
My Mother’s Cookbooks ‘Salmon Biscuit Pie’
1 cup canned mixed veggies (or frozen)
1/2 lb of canned salmon (or cooked salmon)
3 slices of bacon cut into to lardoons
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp soured milk
1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees F;
2) Drain canned veggies and retain liquid (if using frozen use either stock or water as replacement);
3) Saute bacon in a fry pan, retain 3 Tbsp of the bacon fat in the fry pan, remove bacon to drain;
4) Saute onion in the retained bacon fat until translucent, add flour and stir to coat the flour with fat, add salt, veggie juice(or stock) and enough milk to render 1 and 1/2 cups of liquid, stir to create a sauce;
5) Add salmon, bacon, veggies to a medium sized oven proof casserole dish, add sauce, stir to combine;
6) Place casserole in the preheated oven for 15 minutes;
7) Meanwhile**, place flour, baking powder, salt, in to a small mixing bowl;
8) Cut in the cold butter, add milk and stir until just incorporated;
9) Roll out and cut into rounds;
10) After 15 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven, place biscuits on top, return to the oven and bake an addition 15 minutes, until the biscuits cooked. Serve with a side salad.
** if desired you can top with biscuits made with commercial ‘time saving’ biscuit mix.
Explanations and Resources:
- A review of internet based sites reveals a curiosity… the attribution of ‘inventing’ the modern casserole to a Canadian born, New Hampshire woman. Marie Elmire DeLouche(Deluchez) Joliceour, the wife of a sawmill worker in the town of Berlin, Coos county, New Hampshire according to many internet sites ‘discovered’ the casserole and made it popular through her work in building the first Roman Catholic school and while operating a boarding house for workers and their families from Quebec. Despite her real efforts in community building there is not a scrap of evidence that Elmire had anything to do with the modern casserole, curiously the attribution is new and came as a surprise to Berlin, NH community historians.
- In North American English the dish used for casserole is known as a casserole dish, a casserole means the complete meal in the casserole dish.
- ‘Must -gos’ is a term which entered our family lexicon in the 1970s and quickly replaced the traditional ‘leftovers’ as the term for a meal derived from everything in the refrigerator which must go! The popularity of casseroles grew steadily in the post war period fueled by promotional materials of food manufacturing companies which supplied recipes for using their condensed soups, canned veggies, canned meat and fish.
- When Dad entered ministry many rural community churches were struggling…some of those churches were ‘mission’ churches receiving support from the wider church community to remain viable. Church manses in many of these communities were century old homes, hard to heat and demanding repairs. To keep cost of moving Ministers and their families to a minimum, local churches offered ‘furnished’ homes. Furnished often meant furnished with cast offs from local church families.