Thursday, June 14, 2012

Casseroles, Cazuelas, and Five-Can Hot Dish

Where I grew up, people served casseroles. I can't remember My-Mother-The-Dowager-Duchess ever serving one; clearly it wasn't her specialty. But if she ever did make a meal in one of those large, deep dishes used for both cooking and serving, she most definitely would have called it a casserole (from the French word for saucepan). Casserole is what people called it in the City of New York.

In Spain, they have cazuelas. Same word origin. Different ingredients. But, cazuelas are easily recognizable as casseroles.

In South Dakota, where San Geraldo grew up, they served "hot dish" (vocal emphasis on the word "hot"). The first time I heard the term was when I met Jerry's parents (who lived in southwestern Minnesota at the time). We were going over to his aunt's house in nearby Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one afternoon and we had to bring some food. Jerry's mother, Alice, said everyone was bringing "hot dish." I thought that was odd and I was confused by the lack of a pronoun before "hot dish." It wasn't "a hot dish," it was simply "hot dish." That's when San Geraldo (just plain Jerry at the time) explained to me what "hot dish"was. I then explained to him that what they really meant was "a casserole." That wasn't the first time he thought New Yorkers had a very strange way of speaking. "It's a hot dish," he said. "Why not just call it hot dish?" Hmmm.

Since then I have been to many pot-luck suppers where everyone has brought hot dish. Hot dish is popular at picnics, barbecues, and before and after funerals. I also learned over the years that there is everyday hot dish — like mac 'n cheese or tuna or "weiners" (which my family called frankfurters or hot dogs) — and good-company hot dish, such as "Five-Can Hot Dish," which is very gourmet because it includes chow mein noodles. I know you're all dying to try it now. Luckily, Jerry came across his mother's old recipe the other day. Remember: If the guests are good enough for Five-Can Hot Dish, you'll have to put out the fancy guest towels in the bathroom.... and make sure the kids don't use them. They're for company!


Sadly, many South Dakotans have gotten uppity since Jerry left town all those years ago. Now, hot dish is more often called "casserole." Jerry came across another dish in Alice's recipe box. It's listed as "Hot Dish — Penny Casserole." It's likely it's a later recipe when South Dakotans were switching over to the word casserole. I don't get the impression it's for good company. But what do I know? I grew up in New York. The ingredients include one-and-a-quarter pounds of "spuds" and 10 "weiners" (cut up), and of course there's the obligatory can of cream of mushroom soup.



  1. I grew up in California and we called 'em casseroles, too.
    My mom was a Casserole Queen, though she rarely used soups or soup mixes in her casseroles. Hers were totslly made from scratch.
    So, to this day, I love a good casserole, or cazuela, or, and i may start calling 'em this, hot dish.

    1. Bob:
      I think you should start calling them HOT dish...

  2. And, voilà, this is why Julia Child didn't know how to cook anything decent until she went to live in Paris :) (and why she wrote the famous cook book--with nary a HOT dish in it!).

    So, Mitchell, I assume you call a soda a soda-- what did Jerry's world call soda when he was growing up? And what was their pizza like? (In St. Louis, they use a super thin crust, and provel cheese, and they cut the pizza in little squares! I didn't know what the heck was going on when I first moved from NJ and ordered a pizza!)


    1. Judith:
      Yes, a soda was a soda. And Jerry grew up calling it pop. He also sat on the ruff and threw stones in the crick and he pulled weeds out by the ruts. But for some reason, he did root root root for the home team. I could never get him to explain that.

    2. Judith:
      Oops. Forgot to comment on pizza! Don't get me started!

  3. Spanish lessson # 5: "CASUELERO/A" is a term given to a busy-body or a meddler.
    Origin? unknown.
    usage: all over the Spanish speaking world.

    Also, there is a difference in Spanish between "picante" and "caliente" which in English is only one word: HOT. picante refers to spicy and caliente to heat.
    We no longer own earthenware as Jonathan has made sure each and everyone ceased to exist when he washes dishes. But there is no better place to make paella or other cazuela dishes than in the earthenware pots.
    In Cuba we had one enormous earthenware "tinaja" (you see them in gardens or as water collectors) filled with pork fat and in it we stored the fried pork have no idea how good they were.
    saludos, raulito

    1. Raulito:
      Thanks for the lessons! I'll try to remember casuelero/a. I hope there won't be a test. Just came back upstairs from Dos de Mayo where we had a cazuela of fish and shrimp that was out of this world!

      Jonathan and I are simply making more space in the cabinets!

  4. Casseroles were a big part of my mother's winter cooking, but for some reason I remember stews more than casseroles - stews with huge fluffy dumplings drifting around like continents (stretching the ingredients)!

    1. The Owl Wood:
      Oh, The Dowager Duchess didn't DO huge fluffy dumplings -- "too much starch," she would say. But if Jerry reads this before he goes to bed, he will be dreaming all night of huge fluffy dumplings. Well, knowing Jerry, he'll probably dream about them either way.

  5. Was in a specialized supermarket on Wednesday, and they sold grits in a can. I know what it tastes like from a visit to the local diner in Kentland, Indiana, so I left it on the markets shelf. But a can of pumpkin puree and bagel chips [New York Style] made it home. I still wish Triscuits [Nabisco] would be sold in EU, but alas that's only sold in the US.

    1. Peter:
      An old friend of mine who grew up in Florida turned me on to grits when we lived in Boston. I love them. And even I can't imagine eating grits from a can. Blech!

      I love Triscuits!

  6. Wow!
    Today 7/26/19 you mentioned in a comment on my blog your recipe for five-can hot dish. I went to DuckDuckGo to locate the recipe. The first link is to The second: to your blog and this entry!


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