101. Cream-of-Something Soup

27 Mar

I don’t know whether or not anyone has ever heated up Campbell’s cream-of-anything soup and actually eaten it straight. In a bowl. Maybe with some bits of saltines (or oyster crackers for the fancy folks). I, for one, have never done this. Nor have I witnessed it or even heard urban legend-ish tales about people who’ve done it. See, where I come from, cream-of-whatever soup isn’t actually soup. It’s an ingredient. I mean, you might as well dig in to a bowl of flour or down a shot glass of butter.

So how did cream-of-something soup become such a Southern staple? In a word: casseroles. I’m pretty sure casseroles existed before canned soup, but I can’t imagine how. Surely folks didn’t make homemade soup and then toss some combination of chicken and pasta or green beans and crispy onion rings into a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish to make a casserole. I mean, if you’re making homemade soup, well, wouldn’t that be considered a meal unto itself? And now that I’m thinking about it, how on earth did folks make green been casseroles before they started selling those onion rings in a can? Maybe some of my more seasoned readers can shed light on this mystery. I’d hate to have to do research, and by “research” I mean check Wikipedia.

If you’ve ever been to a dinner on the ground (or the non-denominational event known as a “potluck”), you’ve likely seen all manner of casseroles, most of which involve chicken. If there’s anything Southerners like almost as much as fried chicken, it’s casseroled chicken. But we don’t stop there. We’ll happily eat casseroled vegetables, too, as long as there’s cream-of-something soup involved (and also meat of some sort). And, of course, there are dessert casseroles, but thankfully, they’re mostly soup-free.

I can see now that the topic of casseroles is far too broad for one blog post (seeing as I was about to expound on the sweet potato casserole marshmallow vs. crunchy pecan topping dispute), so I’ll stick to discussing only those involving cream-of-something soup.

One time, a friend was telling me about one of her relatives who became quite indignant upon arriving at a potluck and discovering that someone had “stolen” her recipe for chicken and rice casserole. I said, “You mean that same chicken and rice casserole that every Southern person has known how to make since birth?” She said, “Precisely.”

For the benefit of folks who don’t have the recipe embedded in their DNA, here is my mom’s version, which she credited to one of her sisters. Apparently, providing vague directions is a genetic trait.

Chicken Dinner (Geneva)

Chicken breasts

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 large onion, chopped

1 stick butter

1 1/2 cups uncooked rice

1 1/2 cans water

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together and place in a large baking dish. Place chicken breasts on top and pat with butter. Bake at 325 for 3 hours.

I have made this dish many times over the years, but have yet to produce anything that tastes nearly as good as my mom’s version. It might have something to do with the vague directions or my inability to wait three hours for dinner to cook. Then again, it might have to do with all the tinkering I’ve done trying to make it healthier and/or a smaller serving size.

I do not recommend:

Using 98% fat free cream-of-something soup

Using only the cream-of-chicken soup

Using only the cream-of-chicken and cream-of-celery soup

Using skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Omitting the onion

Using only ½ a stick of butter

Adding way too much salt

The last time I made this, I followed the recipe (such as it is) exactly (except for jacking up the oven temperature to 450 or so). Still wasn’t as good as mom’s, but better than any previous attempts. And for the first time ever, I had half a casserole in the freezer. It was almost like having funeral food, except nobody had to die. Yay!

I’ll have more to say on casseroles later, but I just have to tell y’all that during my time in Seattle, I’ve attended not one, but TWO casserole potlucks. Which is two more than I’ve ever attended in the South, but I reckon that’s because at Southern potlucks there’s no need to add the word “casserole” to the invitation. It’s implied.

What’s your favorite use of cream-of-something soup?

Photo Credits:
Cream of mushroom soup ad available from Bamboo Trading, Chicken casserole from Campbell’s, Cream of chicken soup ad available from A Glass Collector.

10 Responses to “101. Cream-of-Something Soup”

  1. Barbara March 27, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    Chicken spaghetti (using Cream of Mushroom soup). The casserole would be better described as creamy cheese sauce with spaghetti and chicken. Love the post!

    • Kim Holloway March 27, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

      Thanks Barbara! I remember the first time I heard of chicken spaghetti, I was quite dubious (picturing marinara), but it’s delicious. Haven’t had it in years, but hope to encounter it next time I’m back in MS. Hint, hint, MS friends…

  2. Sabrina March 27, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    I like Cream of Chicken soup in cornbread dressing or “dressin'” as I like to call it. Off subject…have you made pimento cheese? That’s another good Southern concoction for potlucks (finger sandwiches, stuffed in celery ribs, etc.).

    • Kim Holloway March 27, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

      Hi Sabrina, that sounds like a great use for cream of chicken soup! I’m sort of ashamed to admit that not only have I never made pimento cheese, I’ve never even eaten it. The little tubs of it they sell in the deli section have always frightened me. I’ll bet the homemade variety is good though. Maybe without the pimentos. 🙂

  3. Clayton mosby March 28, 2012 at 3:49 am #

    I wasn’t hungry till i furst saw this,dag nab it!But thanks

  4. Renee Mason March 28, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    You’re back! I was delighted when I saw your new post. Hooray!! My mom’s favorite Catholic Friday night cream of something was creamed tuna on toast, Lord help us all. It involved one can of tuna, crushed potato chips, one can of peas, and one can of cream of mushroom soup. Then you just added enough milk to stretch for however many mouths you had to feed. Throw that vomit-inducing mess on a piece of toast and it was PARTEE time.

    • Kim Holloway April 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

      Thanks, Renee! I must say, I can’t fathom a dish that sounds more unappetizing than creamed tuna on toast. Glad you survived to adulthood!

  5. Sara April 5, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Well, crap. I recently moved to Scandinavia, and you’ve made me realize that I haven’t seen cream of *anything* soup at the stores. I went on a shopping trip, specifically looking for cream of soup, and found nada. How is one supposed to make a casserole without cream of *something* soup?! Off to do research on how to make my own…this should be fun…

    • Kim Holloway April 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      good luck! I’ve heard that it can be done, but i’ve never actually tried.

    • Ann Luce May 19, 2015 at 9:59 am #

      It’s easy as eatin’ pie, sugar! If you can count to one, you can make cream of sumthin’ soup. 1 tbl Wondra flour, 1 tbl butter (no margarine!), 1 cup 1/2-n-1/2 (or half broth), 1 chopped up onion, 1 cup of the sumthin’. Saute and caramelize the onion and the sumthin’. Add the butter, and the flour, and stir around until it takes on a nice color (or it will taste pasty), then add the liquid. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring all the while, reduce heat, simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened. Cream of sumthin’ without another trip to the store because that was the one thing you forgot to get. My mom used to add a shot of sherry, but she was a Yankee, so what can I say…. (Or maybe she drank it. Not too sure at this point!)

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