My mother and her friends exchanged recipes when I was growing up. From Dorothy Walker we got the wonderful Italian Spaghetti Sauce recipe featured in my book Family Recipe. From Nadine Spanner we got a decadent chocolate fudge cake with gooey frosting that is rich and moist and tastes like heaven. I made it just this past weekend to feed a crowd. It’s more trouble than cake from a box, but worth it.
But sometimes dishes our friends ate readily didn’t suit my family at all. Family Night Casserole was an example.
Mrs. Jones (not her real name) had six children, and therefore made a lot of casseroles. The Jones family visited our house one evening when I was in high school for a potluck supper. Mrs. Jones brought Family Night Casserole, a vile concoction of hamburger, noodles, corn, cottage cheese, and a variety of spices, including green peppers.
I hate green peppers. They smell disgusting and taste worse. I must be allergic to them, because I puke if I eat them in any quantity. Even a small amount makes me queasy.
But Mother required me to be polite. I had to eat the Family Night Casserole so Mrs. Jones wouldn’t be upset. (Mother felt it best not to upset Mrs. Jones; maybe she didn’t want to hear about my picky eating at every bridge club meeting for the next year.)
I ate the casserole, and was sick all night.
Mother had a regular weekly repertoire for dinner. Meatloaf on Monday was followed by a predictable procession of entrées all the way through tuna on Friday and oven-fried chicken on Sunday. For a time, Mother worked Family Night Casserole into the line-up.
I tried to skip dinner when Family Night Casserole appeared. When I couldn’t, I picked out the green peppers. But I protested every time Mother served it.
“It makes me sick,” I whined. That didn’t seem to make a difference.
After a few appearances of Family Night Casserole, my father chimed in when I complained. “I hate green peppers, too,” Dad said. “Do we have to serve this stuff, just because Jill Jones does?”
Mother listened to him, though she hadn’t listened to me, and did not serve it again.
I went back to complaining about the glazed carrots served on Mondays with the meatloaf.
“How can you not like glazed carrots?” Mother asked. “They’re so sweet.”
“They make me gag,” I said. To get dessert, I would sit at the table for an hour after everyone else was gone, choking down the carrots.
Before I got married, Mother brought out her recipe box and asked which recipes I wanted her to type up for me. We went through the box, card by card.
She tried to talk me into taking Family Night Casserole. “You might need something that will serve a crowd cheaply,” she said.
I refused. I’d go broke before I made it. Or just serve them Nadine Spanner’s cake.
In the early years of my marriage, my husband’s female relatives also tried to foist their recipes on me. Some I liked, and some were failures. Godetta, a Mexican dish that surprisingly does not include green peppers, is the only good casserole to come from this side of the family, though some of their soups and stews are excellent.
One recipe we got from my husband’s side of the family was Baked Rotini, which called for green peppers. I only made it once to be nice, and picked the peppers out of it, too. My husband has fixed it a few times, but I refused to eat it after the kids left home.
He asked me once why I didn’t like it.
“It’s got green peppers,” I said.
“What’s wrong with that?”
You’d think he’d learn a few things in thirty-five years of marriage. “I hate green peppers,” I informed him for the umpteenth time.
President George H.W. Bush declared he wouldn’t eat broccoli. I’ve declared I won’t eat green peppers. No more Family Night Casserole or its ilk for me. I’m old enough to know better.