I believe in casseroles.
Casseroles are the manifestation of God’s grace. Casseroles give me hope.
In certain places in America, when your baby is born, when your family moves, when you are sick, when a family member has died, there are women who will show up at your door with food. A Casserole Leader will call and tell you she and several others want to bring meals to your house: bread, salad, a main dish, sometimes a side dish, and always dessert.
Unless you have a really, really good reason, no amount of protesting will dissuade her. She knows it’s hard enough to cook and do chores on a good day, let alone when you are going through chemotherapy or sitting up half the night with a new baby. When you say: “Oh, please don’t go to that trouble for me,” she can tell if you are being sincere, or only modest. She can tell because she has been there herself.
If you are planning a funeral, you can plan on women arriving early that morning in the church kitchen to make food. It doesn’t matter if they know you or if they don’t. What matters is that your family is able to sit down together for a home-cooked meal on this most difficult of days. If there is anyone who sits at the right hand of God in heaven, it will be the women who cook funeral dinners.
Making meals for others is not only thoughtful, it is practical. It allows people who care to feel useful.
And, home-cooked food has secret powers.
It has to do with what Garrison Keillor calls “the laying-on of dinner.” Homemade lasagna, chicken and noodles, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, baked pork chops — or any meal that can be put in a casserole dish and baked in an oven — all have healing properties. It’s comfort food. It’s energy food. Low-carb diets are for people who sit on their duffs all day, tapping on computers and watching cable. When you are running yourself ragged moving into a new house, or going through one of life’s hard stretches, you need every gram of carbohydrates, protein and love a woman can pack into a dish.
Occasionally, I worry about the future of casseroles. You mention to some people the idea of delivering a week of homemade food and they tilt their heads at you. They say: “That sounds like an awful lot of work.” Or, “Is that sanitary?”
We are so busy today, both working and entertaining ourselves. We are so mobile. You watch a new house go up, then in a year or two a for-sale sign appears in the front yard. Neighbors seem less willing to get to know each other, or to join a civic group or the little church on the corner. I sometimes wonder about the next generation of Casserole Leaders.
All a person can do is hope. The end of home cooking and the demise of the American spirit of community have been incorrectly predicted every generation since World War II. Somehow, both seem to keep on going. They are as persistent as baked-on noodles clinging to the side of a dish.
I am not going to predict the end of casseroles. I am only going to say I believe in them. Like any other article of faith, believing is enough.
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