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~ The Retro History of All-American Tuna Casserole ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b89343970bTuna Noodle Casserole is a classic 1950's retro main-dish casserole dinner.  Casseroles became popular post WWII, and experienced their heyday in American home kitchens during the 1950's and into the 1960s (because the ingredients were inexpensive and readily-available at any supermarket).  The typical tuna casserole was made from a can of tuna, a can of vegetables, a package of egg noodles and a can of condensed cream-of-mushroom soup.  For the most part, the ingredients were quickly stirred together, right in the casserole dish, and were topped with with a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs, corn flakes or canned onions, and sometimes a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  It was touted as a dish that, from start-to-finish was ready in 45 minutes.

The recipe most associated w/tuna casserole -- a can of tuna, a can of vegetables, a package of noodles & a can of soup -- was created by the Campbell's Soup Company in the 1940s.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b891b4970bAlthough tuna noodle casserole is mainly associated with Middle America (the Midwest is known for its casseroles), the earliest printed recipes appeared two decades earlier in the Pacific Northwest.  The first, "Noodles and Tuna Fish en Casserole" appeared in 1930 in Sunset Magazine and was submitted by Mrs. W.F.S., who lived in Kennewick, Washington.  The same year, "Tuna Fish and Noodles Casserole" appeared as a menu item in The Modern Hospital Magazine (published by the American Hospital Association from 1913 to 1974).  Two years later, "German Noodles and Tuna Fish" appeared in The Cook Book of Many Lands (a cookbook published by the Americanization Department of Portland, Oregon's Parent-Teacher Association in order to help Portland women relate to their immigrant neighbors). All contain the same basic ingredients: tuna, vegetables, noodles and condensed soup.

FYI: The idea of flaking any type of white fish with a scratch-made white sauce and adding a buttery breadcrumb topping dates back to the late 1800s.  The name was: Cod à la béchamel.

A 1950s article referred to the dish as "as perfect casserole".

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d24259f9970cIt's no secret, there are no lukewarm feelings about tuna noodle casserole.  No one says, "I can take it or leave it".  Most people either passionately love it or passionately hate it.  My own mother fell into the latter category and flatly refused to prepare it.  I first encountered it in Home Economics class and developed an instant and unkind opinion of this "no skill required" meal. Decades later, writing my own cooking blog and producing a cooking segment on local television "forced my hand", meaning: it caused me to revisit the dish with a fresh outlook.  I set out to come up with a creamy and comforting made-from-scratch casserole (one that my husband Joe and I would enjoy).  I took the all the time necessary to create a rich, creamy, cheesy casserole topped with crispy, buttery bread crumbs, while taking into consideration it should be in keeping with the concept of this iconic, retro casserole.   

Try my recipe for Made-From Scratch Tuna Noodle Casserole:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b89322970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)


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