There’s a saying that says: if you can read, you can cook. I believed that for many years. After all, I could read and I could also cook.
True, Julia Child never had reason to worry and there was no way I was ever going to have my own show on the Food Network, but most days I could throw together a passable meal simply by reading a recipe, doing what it told me to do and remembering to preheat the oven. I even fooled myself into thinking that I was an above average cook because I occasionally made bread from scratch without the aid of a bread machine or quick rising yeast. I kept up the delusion that I knew my way around a kitchen until the holiday season I finally accepted the fact that even though I could read, it didn’t mean I could always cook. I owe that epiphany to the humble green bean casserole.
Where did the green bean casserole come from anyway? I don’t remember it from my childhood. I also don’t recall the first time I tasted green bean casserole, which tells me that it must not have been a culinary experience that rated much of a memory, certainly not like the first time I tasted pizza, hot and sour soup or moussaka. My first awareness of the green bean casserole was sometime during the 1990’s when suddenly everyone who was anyone had a spot reserved on their holiday table for, you guessed it, a green bean casserole.
For a long time I resisted the lure of trying my hand at making my own green bean casserole and our Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter tables always featured a blank spot where the green bean casserole might have been. My resistance melted the year my son came home from his girlfriend’s mother’s house one Christmas and announced that he’d had the best dish he’d ever tasted.
“What was it?” I asked with more than a touch of skepticism since this was also the son who d on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the first seventeen years of his life and who still considered Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers to be haute cuisine.
“Green bean casserole,” he told me. “It was amazing.”
Although he didn’t say it, the unspoken how come you never make anything that good? lingered in the air along with the scent of bread made from scratch by yours truly.
“Easter,” I decided, “I will make a green bean casserole that will be the best green bean casserole anyone in this family has ever tasted.”
As Easter approached I began looking on the internet at recipes for green bean casseroles and came across a surprisingly large number of possibilities. After weighing my options, I decided to stick with the most popular recipe, the one on the back of the Campbell’s soup can. It seemed easy, almost foolproof. And on Easter morning, I carefully followed the recipe, positive I had a hit on my hands and that my picky son would soon be bragging about the fabulous green bean casserole his mommy made.
Sadly, somewhere something went terribly wrong because when I removed my green bean casserole from the oven at the appointed time it looked … nothing like the picture on the soup can. It looked like a murky, mucky mess.
“What did I do wrong?” I asked my husband. “I read the directions and did everything I was supposed to do.”
My husband eyed the casserole suspiciously. “Maybe it’s supposed to look like that,” he said. “Just stick it at the back of the table and see what happens,” he suggested. “Everyone might love it.”
He was wrong. No one loved it. No one even touched it and at the end of the night there was nothing for me to do but toss it in the garbage, a spot where it looked far more at home than it had on our Easter table.
Although I tried not to let the defeat get to me, it did, and I became determined to make the best — or at least an edible — green bean casserole at the next holiday gathering.
It apparently wasn’t meant to be as each try has been worse than the one before and my pathetic attempts eventually became something of a family joke.
I’m tempted to throw in the towel every holiday but an innate stubbornness won’t allow me to give up. Like Scarlett O’Hara vowing that no one in her family will ever be hungry again, I face each celebration with my canned mushroom soup, green beans and fierce determination that this time things will not only be different, they will be delicious.
And one of these days I’m sure I’ll be right.