Winning Recipes Are Made From Memory

April 03, 1991|By Charlyne Varkonyi

The winners in our back-of-the-box recipe contest prove that nostalgia and heart-warming memories are still the most appealing ingredients in any family classic. Just the smell of a dish cooking can bring back images -- good and bad -- that food manufacturers who developed the recipes to sell their products never anticipated.

Our readers sent us recipes for every dish imaginable. Their favorites ran the gamut from desserts like walnut squares and sea foam candy to main courses like beef fandango made with scalloped potatoes and ground beef to souperior meatloaf made with onion soup mix. But we wanted more than just the recipe from the back of the box. We wanted a little schmaltz, a story behind the recipe that would pull on our heart strings or tickle our funny bones. The winners did just that.

The five winning stories include tales of a young girl who was sure only Catholics were allowed to prepare the real recipe for tuna noodle casserole, teen-agers who baked a velvet crumb cake at a midnight rap session and a lasagna that took a whole family to prepare.

;+ First Prize: Karen Schott of Baltimore. Karen Schott says she hadn't thought of her mother's recipe for tuna noodle casserole for years until she saw our call for contest entries. Now, more than 40 years after she was forced to eat her mom's version of the '50s favorite, she recalls:

"Growing up in a Roman Catholic home meant that Fridays and holy days were meatless days," she wrote. "I came to believe at an early age that the road to heaven was paved with tuna noodle casserole. My sister and I figured out that one good serving was worth at least one full day less of purgatory.

"Like the parable of the loaves and the fishes, multitudes could be fed from a single endeavor. My non-Catholic friends thought it was great, so I invited them to share the abundance frequently, ** in order to lessen my burden of consumption. (It's documented in family records that my mother's casserole could have fed Ethiopia.)

"I have never seen the recipe written out, yet its ingredients are engraved on my memory like the old form of the Latin Mass, I

knew that it came directly from the Vatican to the hands of my mother and other Catholic homemakers. . . probably through some secret addendum to the rite of confession. Careless sharing of the recipe over back fences on laundry days enabled non-Catholics to find out about it. It's a tribute to nature that the tuna population wasn't completely wiped out during the '50s -- the height of the tuna-noodle craze."

Does she ever make this legendary recipe?

Never, she says. She had enough tuna noodle in her childhood to last a lifetime. Here is Karen Schott's mom's adaptation of Campbell's classic tuna noodle casserole:

Tuna noodle casserole

Makes four servings.

1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell's mushroom soup

1/2 cup milk

2 cups cooked elbow macaroni

1 cup frozen broccoli florets or 1 cup yellow corn

2 cans (about 7 ounces each) tuna, drained and flaked

1/2 cup crushed potato chips

In 1 1/2 quart casserole, combine soup and milk. Stir in macaroni, broccoli or corn and tuna. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until hot; stir. Top casserole with potato chips and bake another 5 minutes.

Second prize: Caroline Lenker, Rising Sun, Md.

When Caroline Lenker and her sister Laura think of the recipe 1/8 for velvet crumb cake, it brings back memories of the post-football game pig-outs during high school.

"After Dad picked us up from the game and drove us the eight miles home, he'd head on up to bed," she wrote. "Even though Laura and I were tired, too, and it was nearing midnight, we didn't stop to change out of our band uniforms just yet.

"Practically automatically, she'd measure out the Bisquick and I'd measure the water and get the egg. As the sweet scent filled the darkened house, we'd sit at the kitchen table quietly laughing and gossiping about who goofed up during the half-time show and who was out of tune.

"Although I haven't made a Bisquick cake since 1979, just seeing the recipe in print makes me smile to recall the innocence and exuberance of my high school years. It was really a wonderful time."

Velvet crumb cake

Makes 1 cake.

1 1/2 cups Bisquick baking mix

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup milk or water

2 tablespoon shortening

1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping, see below

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour square pan (8-by-8-by-2-inch) or round pan (9-by-1 1/2 -inch). Beat all ingredients except topping on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on medium speed for 4 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool slightly and spread with topping.

Topping: Mix 1/2 cup flaked coconut, 1/3 cup packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup chopped nuts, 3 tablespoons butter or margarine softened and 2 tablespoons milk.

Third Place: Mary Jane Bruette of Reisterstown.

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