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The Hand-Me-Down Casserole

First it was Mrs.Voight’s special dish. Then it was Mother’s. Now it’s mine.

Dinner recipes: Casserole through the generations

Ever since I moved to Florida, I’d spent Thanksgiving with my mother. Dinner was always the traditional American feast—roast turkey with giblet gravy; sweet potatoes; hot, crusty bread and something not quite so traditional, a family favorite: asparagus casserole.

But a few years ago, at the age of 91, my mother died just days before the holiday. After the funeral, my grown children went back to Maryland with their families. It was just me and my husband, John. Why bother cooking a Thanksgiving meal? I thought. What was there to be thankful for?

I sat down at the kitchen table and thumbed through a stack of old recipe cards: turkey dressing, cranberry sauce, fresh pumpkin pie. Now it all seemed too hard to manage. “Why don’t I take you out to dinner?” John suggested. A restaurant? Thanksgiving surrounded by strangers?

I flipped to the next card. Its edges were worn, its face spattered with stains from decades of sitting on counters too close to bubbling pots and upended measuring cups. “Asparagus Almond Casserole” the card read. In the upper right corner, in neat script, I had written long ago, “Source of Recipe: Mrs. Voight.”

Mrs. Voight. That’s who started it all, I thought. As a teenager, I earned money by babysitting for Mrs. Voight. Not only were her children well-behaved, but she was the best cook in the neighborhood. She always made an extra casserole or pie for dinner so I could have something to eat after I had tucked the kids into bed.

If I liked it she’d invite me over on a Saturday afternoon and teach me how to make it. One Saturday she taught me how to bake her “Asparagus Almond Casserole,” buttery and sweet, and covered in crunchy saltine cracker crumbs.

I brought the recipe home and Mother added her own little touches to it: a little more milk, Wheatsworth cracker crumbs instead of saltines. But we still called it “Mrs. Voight’s Casserole.”

Then my parents moved to a new town. My mother made the recipe for her new friends and for church suppers. People started asking for it by her name: “Mrs. Forsythe’s Asparagus Casserole.”

My mother also cooked the casserole for special family occasions. It was a big hit, especially with my cousin Janet. “You’ve got to give me the recipe!” she said. My mother passed it on. Soon the directions for making it were being passed around at Janet’s church as “Janet McKinney’s Asparagus Casserole.”

I got married, had three kids and the casserole became my mainstay for special occasions. I added my own little touches as well: some extra seasoning and flavored almonds. My children named the casserole after me, “Mom’s Asparagus Casserole.”

We took that recipe with us wherever we lived: Georgia, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland and now Florida. I even made it in Cambodia when I taught English there. Up to her very last Thanksgiving, my mother would bring that special dish.

Now I held the faded recipe card in my hands. I remembered Mrs. Voight showing me how to make it. Then I recalled Mother doing it her own special way. I thought of all those church suppers when parishioners would ask for a second helping of “Mrs. Forsythe’s Asparagus Casserole.”

I thought about all those Thanksgivings with family and friends, everyone devouring the casserole of many names. Rarely any leftovers. My mother was gone, my family was away, but the memories weren’t. I could still hold them close.

So here’s our favorite recipe. Call it what you will. You’ll make something special of it too—like Mother did. Last Thanksgiving John and I ate the entire casserole by ourselves. Well, not just by ourselves. With every bite, my favorite cooks were right there with me too.

Try the Asparagus Almond Casserole.

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