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October 28, 2008


Last week, I was guest speaker at the Joy Club of Poplar Springs Baptist Church. We had a delightful time together. I especially enjoyed the delicious covered dish supper. Among the many choices was a variety of casseroles: squash, broccoli, sweet potato, and green bean.  

          At a recent pot luck dinner at the church I pastor, one of our elderly members commented, “I have never seen a church run out of food at a covered dish supper.”  His wife offered a ready explanation.  “There is always more than enough because people bring casseroles.  When you make a casserole, you make a little food go a long way.”

            In the South, a casserole is considered comfort food.  It is the gift of choice brought to the door when a new baby is born or a family is bereaved.  One man, still grieving for his mother, told me with a smile that he and his family had enough macaroni and cheese casseroles in the freezer to last a year. 

“After my mother died we got fourteen macaroni and cheese casseroles in two days.” he said. 

When words are inadequate, this ministry of casseroles is a way of expressing love and concern. Think of a casserole as comfort in a dish.

            Linda Wertheimer of National Public Radio presented a piece on All Things Considered about the nationwide increase in demand for comfort food.

A comfort food looks good, smells good, tastes good, and goes down easy. More importantly, comfort food takes you back to a place where you felt cared for and nourished, a place associated from childhood with a sense of security. In the same way young children become attached to a security blanket, they often latch on to a specific food, repeatedly requesting their comfort food in high stress situations. Adults tend to do the same.

Most comfort foods rely heavily on carbohydrates. Scientists believe that such foods induce an soothing effect in the brain. According to Linda Wertheimer’s report, after 9/11 the most common comfort foods chosen in New York City restaurants were chicken potpie, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate desserts.

            Jean was the mother of three energetic boys, all teenagers when I knew them.  She was a resourceful woman and an excellent cook.  On a weeklong youth retreat at the beach, Jean served as our head chef for fifty-two youth and adults.  She was the queen of combining bits and pieces of leftovers into gourmet casseroles.  “Leftovers,” Jean would say, “are like money in the bank. Casseroles are the best way to take a little of this and a little of that to make a tasty meal.”   

On the last morning of our retreat, we expected a breakfast of cold cereal.  Instead, we were served a delectable meal concocted entirely of fragments from the fridge. Jean called her creation a breakfast Divan. Believe me, it was comfort food.

Smart cooks know that, when preparing casseroles, extras can be stored in the freezer for those inevitable unexpected situations. When relatives drop in for the weekend, when a last minute dish is needed, heating a frozen casserole is a quick and nutritious solution. Casseroles have been called the emergency fund you can eat

I have often referred to the church’s response to bereavement as a ministry of casseroles.  When caring people don’t know what to say, they bring food.  The more difficult the loss, the more covered dishes come through the kitchen door.  The man whose family received fourteen macaroni and cheese casseroles after the sudden death of his mother, had a very good suggestion. 

“Those inclined toward bringing covered dishes, might try a little variety.”  

            The ministry of casseroles recognizes that at certain times people need comfort. Casseroles provide a way to help.

A busy nurse and mother of two often served her family’s favorite chicken and broccoli casserole for dinner. Whenever she prepared the dish, she made several, putting extra casseroles in the freezer so they would be readily available in an emergency. Her nursing schedule did not always allow time to cook the evening meal from scratch.

One of her friends gave birth to a new baby, so a gift of food was in order. She placed a chicken and broccoli casserole, still frozen, on a tray in the floor of her minivan. Her plan was to deliver it to her friend’s home immediately after she retrieved her son, Joey, from soccer practice. At the soccer field, she discovered that near the end of practice, Joey had been injured. The mother arrived to find him on the ground with the soccer coach attending him.

            “He has hurt his right arm,” the coach said. He needs to go to the emergency room.”

            The nurse/mother looked at her child and his distorted elbow. “We need ice on this to keep down the swelling,” she said, taking charge.

             “Where can we find ice?” the coach asked.

            “Just help me get him to the minivan,” the woman directed.

            Before driving to the hospital to have the dislocated elbow set, the resourceful mom situated her injured child in the front seat. Folding his sweatshirt across his legs, she put the frozen dish in his lap.

Fastening her child’s seat belt, she said, “Joey, put your elbow down onto the casserole. It will make it feel better.”

Casseroles can be comfort food in more ways than one.


Kirk H. Neely

© October 2008






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