So the other night I got a hankering for squash casserole. I know, I know -- who hasn't, am I right? It is true that it's hard to go wrong with a good church suppery squash casserole, but what I really wanted was a particular squash casserole. Good thing I had the recipe.
Back when I was a Methodist, I was in the Miriam Circle -- a women's fellowship group of which I was the youngest member by about eighty-three years. I exaggerate, but not by much. Well, we enjoyed many a dish-to-share meal together over the years, and let me tell you those ladies were some good cookers! Doris's Hello Dollies and Pretzel-Jello salad became staples of my family's holidays; Evelyn made a green bean dish that could not be topped; Mary Jane's peach cobbler could make you weep. But the best church supper dish I have ever had was Ida's squash casserole. And I asked her to teach me how to make it, but she said no. "Sugar, it's in the church cookbook; you know how to read, don't you?"
Church ladies can be snarky, now can't they?
But the other night, when I went to pull the old church cookbook off the shelf, it was gone -- vanished. I have the elementary school fundraiser cookbook, the family reunion cookbook of a family that is not mine (thanks, Tricia!), the Officers' Wives Club cookbook inherited from my mother, and a different church's church cookbook -- from all the way in Oklahoma. I have a cookbook from the Prince William County Police and Fire Fighters Auxiliary (why?). But the crucial cookbook, containing the squash casserole recipe of my dreams? That I do not have.
Well, phhht, I thought to myself. I'll just look on Pinterest. Surely that perfect church supper casserole is on Pinterest . . . . Of course in my Pinterest search, I was sucked down a squash casserole wormhole. Four hours later, I had found some recipes that seemed close to Ida's recipe, and I had formed an opinion about the kind of person who says something like, "this is Paula Deen's recipe -- all I did was exchange the squash for yams and substitute cumin for the garlic and cut the butter by half and add a quart of lobster bisque." Another thing I learned about squash casserole recipes: those church ladies do love their Ritz crackers.
But in the end, the casserole I made from the perfectly acceptable Pinterest recipe I used just wasn't the same. It lacked the indescribable Ida-ness of Ida's squash casserole. I think her casserole has entered a new, mythic realm: in my memory, it is the quintessence of squash casserole, the squash casserole non-pareil, the archetypical embodiment of all that is good in a squash casserole. O squash casserole, we hardly knew ye!
So -- do you know the story about how Ernest Hemingway asked his wife to meet him in the south of France? She was to take the train from Paris and bring along his briefcase, which was filled with in-progress drafts of stories that he wanted to work on. Well, poor Mrs. Hemingway lost the briefcase, and Ernest never really got over the loss -- for the rest of his life he referred to those lost story drafts as the best work he had ever done. They were the quintessence of story, each draft was a story non-pareil; the briefcase had contained stories that were collectively the archetypical embodiment of all that is good in fiction and the craft of writing. And they were gone forever.
And that's how a squash casserole is like a Hemingway short story.