#popculturefoodie episode 1: The Casserole

Today kicks off the start of my new weekly series called #popculturefoodie. Each week I will be discussing the history and popularization of iconic American foods.  Today’s installment is “The casserole”.


tater tot casserole

The casserole a staple on the American dinner table since the 1940’s. A dish that’s serving up deliciousness during its prominent hundred year run with Americans from providing a quick and nutritious meal for the family to finding a way to utilize the plethora of left over’s and random items in the pantry to the ability to “not screw up the meal if cooked wrong”.

The history of the casserole spans back to prehistoric times where it was discovered that cooking food slowly in a tight covered vessel could help to break down meat structures and soften vegetables and roots. In modern times, the first casserole recipe was found in Fannie Merritt Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1896) and was a two-ingredient recipe of rice and meat to be steamed for forty-five minutes and served with a tomato sauce.

While many of us only remember the casserole from re-runs of Leave it to Beaver and the Brady Bunch (sorry millennials for the GenX references), the casserole roots in America run deep. The history spans back to The Great Depressions of the 1890’s & 1930’s where it was first seen as a way to stretch meat, fish and poultry and anything else they could find. It was a dish that could easily be made with whatever ingredients when food was scarce during WWI and the stock market crash of the 1920’s.

It wasn’t until after WWII that the American housewife transformed this once boring and rudimentary dish into an iconic American classic. Casting canned tuna and canned pea wizardry with the creation of the tuna noodle potato chip casserole bonded together with the introduction of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup (a necessity to be kept in the American pantry) in 1934. This versatile can of amazingness can be held accountable for numerous casserole favorites to include the Tater Tot Casserole (cream of mushroom soup + ground beef + tater tots) and the infamous green bean casserole that is a requirement for every Thanksgiving Day table.

While the traditional casserole that we all think of tends to be pretty “Americanized”, many immigrant variations were also introduced to the American cooking scene in the 19th century as they brought their local flavors and traditions with them to the new world. These traditional dishes evolved into regional favorites as the melting pot truly combined at the turn of the century and now can be seen across the US in various forms.

The New England stove traditionally held a mixture of baked beans and molasses, and on the coast, Yankee Oyster Pie was born as a popular favorite utilizing the abundant ingredient and traditional flavors of the original British Settlers with it’s multiple layers of oysters, oyster crackers and lots of butter, cream and Worcestershire sauce.

In the South, jambalaya could be smelled cooking and other Irish, Greek, Turkish, Spanish and South American flavors were modified and adapted to accommodate a large supply of shrimp, seafood and other items prevalent in southern cooking.

In the end, the casserole is a great way for the average cook to make something extremely yummy in the kitchen without much training and fear of overcooking. In recent years there have been many attempts to make the casserole “healthy” or “allergy free” with new variations, but I will take my mom’s tuna noodle casserole any day of the week.

Below is an old school tuna noodle casserole recipe featuring a box of Kraft Macaroni & cheese and potato chips. A true classic and one of my favorites as a child.

Bon Appetit.

tuna noodle Kraft


%d bloggers like this: