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Little White Lab Rat

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 01, 2008

Old church magazines are peppered with menus and recipes. Relief Society lessons about nutrition offer sample recipes. Improvement Era articles about ward banquets include recipes for baked-beans-for-250. The Young Women’s Journal suggests party foods to suit various themes. Even the Children’s Friend describes ways for kids to play with their food and call it cooking.

And especially in the 1950s and 1960s, advertisements for this, that, and the other post-War packaged foods offer recipes incorporating their products, cheerily encouraging housewives to take advantage of the convenience while still enjoying the reputation of the fastidious home cook and party hostess. Many of those recipes incorporate cream-of-something-or-other-soup, and often have a topping of crushed potato chips.

The Fleischmann’s yeast advertisement for High-Hat Tuna Soufflé in the October 1957 Improvement Era, for instance, assures Madame Housewife that the dish has “a dressed-up ‘company’ look” while still being “a down-to-earth main dish, hearty, filling and easy … It’s a high scorer at bridge luncheons, a delicious dish for family suppers.”

Here’s the recipe for this miracle dish, slightly edited to suit standard cookbook format:

High Hat Tuna Soufflé

1/2 cup milk
2 tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup warm water
1 pkg. dry active yeast
2 eggs, separated
1 cup sifted flour
1 can cream of celery soup
1 7-oz. can tuna, drained
1 tsp. grated union
1 tblsp. chopped pimiento

Scald milk; stir in sugar, salt, and shortening; cool to lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast in warm water; stir until dissolved. Add yeast to milk mixture. Add egg yolks and flour; beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Cover. Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 40 minutes. In 1-quart casserole, combine soup, tuna, onion and pimiento. Stir down batter. Beat egg whites until stiff; fold into batter. Spoon batter on top of creamed tuna. Bake in 400-deg. oven 40-45 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.

Now maybe YOU have enough sense and imagination to doubt the felicity of a mixture of tuna fish and cream of celery soup. I, on the other hand, have become somewhat dazed by reading even odder combinations in these magazines. I actually tried this recipe this weekend, in the interest of science, bridge luncheons, and Mormon history.

Oh, what I won’t do for you, dear reader.

Verdict: Disgusting. Slightly sweet bread on top of a gag-worthy blend of tuna and celery – and what IS the “cream” in cream-of-something soup, anyway? It was like a tuna fish upside-down cake.

Do not try this at home. Trust me.

On the other hand, the bread part was actually tasty, and there can’t be any easier way to have the delicious flavor of hot yeast bread with no kneading and a relatively short (40 minute) rising time. I can easily see me using that part of the recipe again, in dishes where I would ordinarily use a cornbread or biscuit topping. Next time I serve leftover chili, or leftover chicken stew, I may very well top it with High-Hat Tuna Soufflé.



25 Comments »

  1. Thanks for taking one for your readers, Ardis. You are a brave soul.

    I will, however, note that I never make anything that calls for pimientos. Nopalitos, yes. Pimientos, no.

    And tuna?

    Cat food.

    Comment by Researcher — December 1, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  2. ***queuno, retching, recalls dinners of his childhood.***

    Comment by queuno — December 1, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  3. (Except I was born early in the 70s. Shows how much currency some of these recipes had.)

    Comment by queuno — December 1, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

  4. Ardis,

    Some of my older Utah relatives used to make a dish like this back in the 80’s. Us kids never liked it. Cassoroles of all types are a LDS tradition. Based on family size of course.

    Comment by bbell — December 1, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  5. I presume that Researcher is speaking of tuna fish in cans. Tuna, uncooked, in either sushi or sashimi, is the food of the gods.

    I agree about that stuff in the cans.

    Onward and upward (as in reverse peristalsis, I presume): I heard of a dish brought by a senior missionary couple to a ward potluck near here, which included green jello, peas (I think) and a bed of pretzels. I wonder if you might find the recipe for that beauty in your wanderings, Ardis. But I wouldn’t ask you to try it–such a sacrifice would make Sydney Carton look like a piker.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 1, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  6. Out of morbid curiosity, I googled “high hat tuna souffle.” Anna Brown’s recipe (apparently published in Ladies Home Journal) is strangely familiar.

    Comment by Justin — December 1, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  7. I agree with Mark B. Fresh tuna in sushi/sashimi is divine. Dry, smelly, tuna in a can is barely edible. And even worse, baked in a casserole.

    Thanks, Ardis, for this reminder of a part of our culture that needs to die.

    Comment by Hunter — December 1, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

  8. P.S. Ardis, you really took the time to put this dish together “in the interest of … Mormon history”? You are hard core.

    Comment by Hunter — December 1, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

  9. There is a detail here that I find fascinating. In the 1957 Improvement Era, they published a recipe that is “a high scorer at bridge luncheons.”(!!!)

    Did those same saintly women who sang in the Singing Mothers break out the face cards when their husbands were at work and the kids were at school? I just can’t imagine bridge ladies being an important demographic part of the church in 1957, or ever, really.

    Ardis, you have more courage than I. I’m not sure I’d eat that even after a 24 hour fast. It sounds truly vile.

    Comment by Mark Brown — December 1, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

  10. I would have thought that Mark B.’s mention of the pretzel jello was a joke except I read about something similar in an email yesterday. (No green peas, though.) Lo and behold, here’s one of a number of pretzel jello recipes at a leading recipe site.

    The recipe site has 355 tuna casseroles.

    They even have three entries for tuna souffle.

    To be fair, they also have 18 recipes for squirrel and one for raccoon (spelled racoon).

    And, yes, Mark Brown, my very Mormon Salt Lake City great-grandma played bridge with the other Relief Society ladies of her acquaintance. Every single week. Very typical of the time.

    Comment by Researcher — December 1, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

  11. Reaearcher, that is completely awesome about your g-grandma. I wonder if people still do that? Both Elder McConkie and Pres. Joseph F. Smith warned about bridge clubs and face cards, going as far as to say that members shouldn’t even have them in their homes.

    This post reminds me of a cookbook I saw in Nauvoo which purported to contain authentic pioneer recipes. It gave recipes for dishes like squirrel fricasee and dutch oven possum.

    Comment by Mark Brown — December 1, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

  12. Ardis:

    If you had read any of James Lileks’ books or blogs on 50s era recipes, you probably would have seen the likely result of such a recipe and never had the courage to make it, much less actually taste it. I own both of his recipe books; I’m old enough (55) to remember when such recipes were common, but thankful that my mom never indulged in such recipes. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — December 1, 2008 @ 8:37 pm

  13. I confess that I made Tuna casserole with the cream of something soup and covered with potatoe chips. I was upset that my three kids refused to eat it.Several years later I made it again, just to see if it was as bad as my kids made it out to be. It was worse. I can’t believe that I tried to force it upon my poor little ones. Actually, I tried a lot of “popular” recipes in my day, but ended up throwing the recipes away years later.

    Comment by Maurine — December 1, 2008 @ 10:38 pm

  14. That’s awesome that you tried it. The recipe reminds me of one of my favorites, tuna on toast. Mmmhmmm. My mom always laughed that we loved her cheapest recipe the best. Why don’t the Church magazines have ads and recipes anymore? When did that stop?

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — December 2, 2008 @ 12:27 am

  15. It was like a tuna fish upside-down cake.

    This is prehaps, one of the most disturbing images ever.

    Awesome post, Ardis. Thanks for entertaining us at your culinary expense.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 2, 2008 @ 8:45 am

  16. Mark B.

    Come on now. You have never in your LDS life seen pretzels in a Jello dish? That is a LDS standard on the Wasatch front!!!

    I have even seen pieces of hot dog in a Jello dish before at a ward function.

    At a funeral in rural Idaho once I saw I am not making this up. 30 huge casserole dishes of funeral potatoes.

    Comment by bbell — December 2, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

  17. bbell – yes, but what flavor color jello had the hot dogs in it?

    There is a family the brings Top Ramen noodles to our church dinners. After cooking the ramen and draining the water from the noodles, slices of american cheese are unwrapped and placed on the top. The residual heat melts the cheese which is then stirred so the cheese covers all the ramen noodles evenly.

    Comment by BruceC — December 2, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

  18. bbell, I grew up in the shadow of the Wasatch and never, ever, swear on a stack of Bibles, saw jello over pretzels or jello with hotdogs.

    Now, Top Ramen with cheese. Can you say “projectile vomiting”?

    Comment by Mark B. — December 2, 2008 @ 2:15 pm

  19. Mark B.

    I just checked with my wife. She claims that she has seen jello with pretzels and peas like crazy on the wasatch front. She even makes a dish about once a year (yuck) with red jello, smashed pretzels on the bottom and whipped cream on top. Her wasatch relatives love it. I hate it and if she makes she has to eat it alone. She also claims to have seen and eaten similar dished to what Ardis describes from her really old aunts in the 1980’s in SLC.

    Bruce C, Green jello with hot dogs. Again yuck!!!

    Comment by bbell — December 2, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  20. bbell

    Since I’m the one who started this nonsense about the jello, peas, pretzels, etc., I certainly didn’t intend to gainsay your (or your wife’s) experience. But I do congratulate you on your good taste–surely you have learned to love the good and refuse the awful!

    I do wonder about your wife and her relatives!

    Comment by Mark B. — December 2, 2008 @ 2:33 pm

  21. Chicken Jello went through our ward on the Wasatch front when we lived there about 28 years ago like bacon through a goose. All the women loved it, and none of the men would touch it.

    However, my mother used to make a green jello with cool whip, cottage cheese, and grated carrots that actually was pretty good. I miss it.

    Comment by kevinf — December 3, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  22. The tuna fish of the 50’s and 60’s was much better tasting that what is on the shelves today. Personally, I think they ruined canned tuna when they began packing it in water. I will not buy it–can’t stand to eat it. Solid packed tuna, packed in olive oil (such as is sold in Europe) is a different commodity. I recently spent two years in Romania and since I have been back in U.S. I was thrilled to find some rare cans of tuna packed in oil –even some in olive oil. Now I can have a decent tuna sandwich and on occasion prepare tuna-on-toast for my grandchildren.

    Comment by Dixie Facer — December 3, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  23. My husband loooves tuna casserole. Maybe I will try they souffle on him!

    Comment by Noray — December 10, 2008 @ 7:15 pm

  24. Since someone revived this, I must comment on kevinf’s bowdlerizing of the simile about some substance or other passing quickly through a goose. Anybody who’s ever walked across a field or a lawn or a beach or a golf course after a flock of geese have been there knows all too well that it’s not bacon!

    Comment by Mark B. — December 10, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

  25. Cream of crud is basically a condensed salty white sauce with some crud or another in it. When we make stuff with it, we actually call the result Cream of Crud Casserole. The mushroom or chicken varieties taste better than the celery version.

    Comment by Jami — January 15, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

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