Participation Makes a Good Sauce

By , September 8, 2017

Aly and I engaged in an interesting conversation about home cooked meals recently.

We reminisced about the savory mushroom pie from the previous night’s dinner, and gleefully anticipated its leftovers for lunch.

We compared and contrasted the appeal of savory pie over casserole. We admitted that a savory pie is really nothing more than a casserole with a crust. But to me, at least, a pie sounds much better than a casserole.

Aly asked a few pertinent questions about my upbringing: “were pot pies special in your family?” and “did you eat a lot of casseroles as a kid?”

The last slice of pie, and it’s mine, all mine! (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Pot pies were a special treat in our family, at least to my brother, sister, and me. Much of that status may have come from the cachet “T.V. dinners” and other quick meals held for kids of our generation. And, we ate a lot of casseroles!

We speculated, as my family often has, on my late mother’s cooking abilities and proclivities. She cooked a lot, but I don’t know if she liked it particularly?

The fare she offered generally lacked seasoning other than salt and pepper. We siblings have since debated whether this showed Mom’s lack of cooking talent and imagination, or her focus on pleasing our father, who, bless him, is pretty much a “meat and potatoes man.” I won’t say I found spices unfamiliar, but I do remember my awakening to the possibilities of adequately spiced food once I started college, thanks to my girlfriends and their families.

Mom led a busy life. As a housewife, she raised three children, two of them boys. In many ways, she also raised her husband. Her status as a minister’s wife essentially constituted a full-time career. She also held various jobs.

With her schedule, simple dump-heat-serve casseroles became her best culinary ally.

Besides which, we were Presbyterians. Casseroles form the backbone of the Presbyterian potluck, and their recipes are the informal currency of the church community.

Casseroles offer fast, easy meals delivered to the table right about the time the Man of the House sits down and asks, “What’s for dinner?”

But, I wondered if the pie we’d enjoyed the previous evening would have appealed to me so much, had I been the type of husband/father to sit down at the table of an evening and ask, “what’s for dinner?”

Instead, here’s what happened:

Aly and I spent a significant portion of the day planning, gathering, cooking, and eating dinner.

Over lunch, we discussed the evening meal. We narrowed our choices to a handful of pasta dishes.

Our day, born from a previous day and night of torrential rain, followed by heavy fog, turned warm and sunny. We took advantage of these prime mushroom hunting conditions.

After a pleasant forest ramble, we returned home with two forage bags full of fresh chanterelles (see Gourmet Delicacies for Free: Foraging for Mushrooms). Our goal had been to harvest mushrooms, not gather dinner, but by the time we reached home, our earlier dinner decisions had melded into a meal plan.

We decided to make mushroom pie, using our standard macaroni and cheese recipe’s sauce in the filling.

Aly took the lead, I served as sous chef. We used fresh garden carrots, onions and garlic, our homemade soup mix (see Frugal Food: Versatile Homemade Cream Soup Mix), cheese, and the day’s mushroom harvest. Aly whipped up a crust while I sautéed. We listened to music, chatted, laughed, and jostled each other at the stove top. We had a blast.

When Michelle came home from an unexpectedly hectic workday, we sat her down with a glass of wine and talked about her day as we continued preparing dinner. Then, we sat down as a family and ate (see The Importance of Family Meals).

Nothing here shakes my assertion that pie beats casserole. I have to admit, however, to extenuating circumstances. Quite possibly, my level of involvement had more to do with the meal’s pleasure than adding a crust to a casserole. To bastardize an old saying, “Participation makes a good sauce.”

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