Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Hand-Me-Down Casserole

An article in the November 2005 issue of Guideposts caught my attention for a couple of reasons.  I saved the whole article because I thought it a sweet story about how this recipe had been passed down and around and became a staple for Doralee Forsythe Simko's family at Thanksgiving and how so many people had adopted it as their "go-to" recipe for church suppers. 

Mrs. Voight, a neighbor whom she babysat for during her teens, taught her how to make her Asparagus Almond Casserole.  Doralee took it home to her mother, who began making it for special family occasions and church suppers.  Friends and relatives alike were asking her for the recipe.  The recipe took on the name of whomever was cooking it; Mrs. Forsythe's Asparagus Casserole, Janet McKinney's Asparagus Casserole, Mom's Asparagus Casserole, and so on.

The recipe itself intrigued me and at the same time made me make the face that my mother always called 'smelling your upper lip'.  The reason for the scrunched up face was this.

When I was young, we would have canned asparagus at home and I liked it; I think more so for the texture than taste.  The spears were so soft they were creamy.  But, that was before I had ever tasted fresh asparagus.  Once I experienced asparagus plucked out of the ground the canned variety became a whole different vegetable; and one that never graced my table again. 

A comment that Doralee made about this recipe was that she made it her own by adding her own little touches.  A photo showed her with the ingredients and she's actually using fresh asparagus.

The combination of ingredients and the addition of mayonnaise to the white sauce piqued my curiosity so I thought I would see for myself what it was about this recipe that made it so beloved within the circles it was passed around in.  So, I chose to stay true with the original ingredients.  The only thing I did differently was toast the slivered almonds first.  

Once your eggs are boiled and the white sauce made it's a matter of assembly.

In a greased baking dish, layer one half of the asparagus spears, half of the egg slices, half of the almonds and top with half of the sauce.

Repeat the layering with the second half of the ingredients then top with some crumbled saltines.  Bake for 30 minutes.

I believe what people must love so much about this casserole has to be the creamy, creamy texture with the snap of the crisp almonds.  It also reminded me of creamed eggs (hard boiled then baked in a white sauce).  I admit I found myself eating helping after helping trying to figure out why I was enjoying it so much!  If you can't handle the canned asparagus or hard boiled eggs you will not care for this recipe at all.  I haven't decided if I would make this again using fresh asparagus.  Maybe it should be left as it is and enjoyed for what it is.

Asparagus Almond Casserole
Serves 8

5 Tbsp butter
5 Tbsp flour
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup juice from canned asparagus
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 - 15 ounce cans asparagus
5 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
3/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
3/4 cup cracker crumbs

Mise en Place:
  • Boil eggs, cool, peel, and slice
  • Toast the almonds until golden brown & cool on pan
  • Open up asparagus cans, draining very well and reserving 3/4 cup of the liquid
  • Crush a handful of saltine crackers in a baggie
  • Measure out milk
  • Measure out flour
  • Measure out mayonnaise
In a saucepan, melt butter.  Add flour and blend making a roux, cooking for about 1 minute.  Add the milk and asparagus liquid to the roux and whisk until smooth.  Cook over low heat until thick.  Add the mayonnaise and mix well until sauce is formed.

In the bottom of a 2 quart baking dish arrange half of the asparagus, half the eggs, and half the almonds.  Pour half of the sauce over the top.  Repeat the layering and top the casserole with cracker crumbs.  Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.

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