Casseroles: A Classic Through The Ages
The casserole undoubtedly goes back at least 20,000 years to the Neolithic age. There were probably Neanderthals who made casseroles. The term casserole refers both to the deep dish cooking vessel and the food that is prepared in these large pans. Our Ice Age ancestors probably used bone casseroles and created casserole dishes that integrated mammoth meat with roots and leafy vegetables. The casserole culinary concept represents the simplest way of efficiently cooking a number of diverse foods, integrating the flavor so that the different elements blend together. The term casserole comes from the latin cattia, which simply means pan.
Bronze Age and Medieval Casseroles
The classical period in man’s culinary development witnessed the creation of earthenware and bronze casseroles. Fish and meat stew casseroles became a very efficient and healthy way to gain sustenance from a wide range of plant and animal life, ensuring strong nutritional fortification. The foods of hunters and gatherers could be utilized without waste.
The modern casserole came into existence in the 19th century. The Victorians added cheeses, potatoes, meats and vegetables together to create adjunct dishes to complement the main entrees. These casseroles helped to fulfill the large caloric needs of a society that was focused on physical labor.
The casserole became a very popular dish in the United States during the great Depression. Small amounts of meat, fish, turkey or chicken were complemented with large amounts of noodles, rice or potatoes that were enveloped in cream sauces and which were economical to produce. The development of condensed soup also had a pronounced effect on the proliferation of casseroles, making it easy to give these deep dish entrees a compelling taste. Casseroles increased in popularity through the forties and the fast food fifties, when it became chic to not spend much time or effort cooking.
Casseroles For The 21st Century
The casseroles of the new century have changed radically from their early 20th century, economical forerunners, metamorphosing into very nutritious exercises in culinary bravura. The casseroles of our brave new world frequently use the finest ingredients and are geared toward the Epicurean. Additionally, there has been a strong trend toward using whole grain pastas and whole grain rice so that these casseroles are rich in the naturally occurring nutrients that promote health. Seafood casseroles that utilize a range of fresh fish and shellfish have become exceedingly popular, and these fish stews are noted for their healthy omega oils and concentrated minerals.
With the invention of the crock pot, which is a large casserole dish, cooking casseroles became even simpler and more nutritious. These one pot dinners can be left to cook for eight hours or more at a low temperature, which ensures the preservation of nutrients and eliminates the overcooking that can occur with oven baked casseroles.
From its roots in simple hunters’ stews, the casserole has evolved into a dish that can manifest itself in myriad ways, but it continues to be a very nutritious, easy and economical mode of cooking.
By Tom Lingle
Shirley’s Comments: I love casseroles and always have. They are the best comfort foods quick and easy. I call them one pot meals. They tend to be best in the winter because I live in the heat and in the summer, we prefer cooler foods as the temperature rises. Some of our recipes we have placed here within the website could easily be converted to one pot cooking, especially enchiladas. Try some out and have inexpensive meals that are good, warm, and easy. Let me know what you think with comments or on through our social media below.