When I was growing up, my mother almost never made casseroles. I was an only child, and she was the type of thrifty person who didn't like to make anything that would go to waste. A normal sized casserole would have taken our family three days to eat, and she always said there was no reason to keep eating the same thing until you were sick of it. More important than that, my father could not abide anything with ketchup or Campbell's soup or Velveeta or boullion cubes. (My mother's lifelong secret was that she always snuck a boullion cube into the gravy for color. My father, Lord have mercy on him, never suspected, resulting in a long and happy marriage.) Needless to say, for such a meat-and-potatoes man, all manner of casseroles were out.
If Mom had been the sort who made casseroles, chances are I would have been tired of them, but because it was a food never served at home, yet perpetually on the tables of all the large, bustling families I knew, I felt somehow as if we were missing out on something.
Almost every Summer, we would spend a week with my Aunt Robertine in the woods of Connecticut. My aunt had five children, more than enough to justify a casserole of any size. How I loved Aunt Robertine's kitchen, always with a huge tray of something savory waiting near the stove. The children would come in and help themselves to a bread crumb topped tuna bake, and I would be right there among them ready to fill and refill my plate. There was something warm and friendly about lining up for food and sitting shoulder to shoulder at the table.
That is not to say my mother could not cook as good a meal as anyone. It's just that two pork chops and three potatoes would feed our whole family, and, good as it was, this did not seem half so friendly to me as a great big casserole.
Yesterday, as I was putting dinner on the table--a completely plain and hearty "Sour Cream Noodle Bake," loaded with browned ground beef and cottage cheese and cheddar--I thought about an only child from long ago and how much she would have loved it, particularly if she could have shared it at a long, beaten up farmhouse table lined with children exactly like ours.
I am very happy for her.