When we were first married, thirty-five years ago, my wife and I ate a lot of tuna casserole. I mean, a lot. Of course, back then, I think everyone did. (Tuna Helper came on the scene in the early 1970s and I ate a fair amount of that as a kid.)
I still like it best when it’s made simply: tuna, noodles, peas, mushroom soup, and cracker crumbs.
Especially when you make your own Cream of Mushroom Soup!
So, I am a happy chef. You see, I love cookbooks. And I got so lucky a couple of weeks ago. My wonderful wife found a used bookstore on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri, that had a first printing, beautiful condition, 1943 Edition of The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer.
Given that Ms. Rombauer was from St. Louis, finding this copy there seemed charmed somehow.
It is a classic. Maybe the classic. And it’s been in print — continuously! — since 1936 with more than 18 million copies sold.
Learning to Cook
Lots of people relied on this cookbook and indeed learned to cook from it and both its earlier and later editions. This particular wartime third edition is considered by many to have been the best overall.
On learning to cook, Julia Child, in her autobiography My Life in France, said,
“I would approach the stove with lofty intention, The Joy of Cooking … tucked under my arm.”
I personally love this book because it’s all about simple, every day, cooking-at-home food. I remember a copy of a later edition on the kitchen shelf growing up.
And as I’ve been reading Michael Pollan lately, and others, I’ve become more interested in how significantly cooking has changed over the last 50-75 years and how that has affected our home kitchens and dinner tables.
So, with that in mind, I thumbed through and found a nostalgic recipe to begin the adventure.
By the way, you know me, I wandered over to look at the ingredients in Tuna Helper today at the grocery store.
Enriched Pasta (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Corn Starch, Salt, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Carrots*, Corn Syrup*, Monosodium Glutamate, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavor, Monoglycerides, Parsley*, Sodium Caseinate, Yeast Extract, Spice, Silicon Dioxide (anticaking agent).*Dried
I have “fond” memories of this, so I’m not judging, but you know this isn’t going to happen.
From the Book
The four following recipes are all variations on the same theme — a starch, fish of some kind and a sauce. Please do not feel bound to follow them too closely.
— page 120, The Joy of Cooking, 1943
Just as an aside, in the cookbook, this dish is labelled as “An excellent emergency dish.”
The original recipe calls for 2 cups of noodles and then gives a page number for how to make noodles. I confess, I love that. Though I doubt I’ve ever eaten it with homemade noodles. Some day, just not today. I measured out 2 cups of an elbow macaroni of 100% durum wheat semolina from Italy that I have in the pantry. We order this in bulk, a dozen packages at a time, maybe once a year.
1 (7 oz.) can of tuna fish. A quick look at the grocery store shelves and you’ll find pouches in 2.6 oz., 4 oz, 6.4 oz., and 11 oz. sizes; cans in 3 oz, 5 oz., and 12 oz. sizes; and cups of 2.8 oz. Not a single 7 oz. can. Not a problem, just something to be aware of if you go looking for one. I hit the pantry for two cans of skipjack tuna. We order this in bulk as well and it is 100% pole and line caught from the Pacific Ocean. One can is 5 ounces so in the interest of full disclosure I used one-and-a-half cans and fed the other half-can to my kitchen familiars… cats, that is. You could easily use just one can or two whole cans, your preference. I cannot imagine it would change things much.
1 (16 oz.) can condensed mushroom soup (plus some water). The cans on the shelf today are 10.5 ounces. I found a 12 oz. box of organic too. As I said before, for the mushroom soup I made my own. It’s worth it and I hope you give it a try too.
And finally, buttered cornflakes or cracker crumbs. To top it off, I used crumbled organic saltine crackers. As interesting as buttered cornflakes sound. Or go crazy and crumble some organic potato chips on top. Better yet, let one of the kids do that part.
Where did that cup of organic peas come from, you ask? It just seemed like the right thing to do. I considered some carrots and celery too but restrained myself. This time.
If you’re wondering, I used a 2.5 quart Corningware casserole dish. (Mine’s a bit older though and doesn’t have those really cool new handles.)
Bake at 450° uncovered until the top is brown. Since the noodles are already cooked, as is the soup, and the tuna should be fine as-is, this step is just to heat it all up, meld the flavors, and brown the topping. It took about 25 minutes.
Tuna, Noodle and Mushroom Soup Casserole
Old-fashioned, homemade, simple, easy, and affordable tuna noodle casserole. Kids love it, we love it, and friends love it. Hard to beat that. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 2 cups noodles
- 7 oz can tuna fish
- 16 oz condensed mushroom soup
- 1/4 cup water
- buttered cornflakes or cracker crumbs
- 1 cup peas (optional)
Cook the noodles and drain.
Alternate layers of noodles and tuna in a casserole dish, ending with noodles on top. (I added alternating layers of peas as well.)
Slowly pour the soup over this mix getting good coverage so that it seeps into as much of the casserole as you can. (If you're using condensed soup and water, stir those together well in a bowl first. )
Top with the buttered cornflakes or cracker crumbs.
Bake at 450°F (for about 25 minutes) until the top is browned.
Let it cool a bit before you dig in. Trust me on this.
If you cooked your noodles in salted water, your soup is properly seasoned to begin with, and you used saltines on top, you should not need any salt and pepper.
I’d like to leave you with this. I learned Ms. Rombauer had some of the same goals with her cookbook as I do with this website.
This book is the result of a long practical experience, a lively curiosity and a real love for cookery. In it I have made an attempt to meet the needs of the average household, to make palatable dishes with simple means and to lift everyday cooking out the commonplace.
— Foreword, The Joy of Cooking, 1943