Twitter User Demands Answers to Definition of a Casserole

published Sep 24, 2018
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

What constitutes a casserole? Is it the dish itself, or what it contains? Is it both? defines a casserole as two things: a baking dish of glass or pottery, usually with a cover, and also any food (usually a mixture) cooked in such a dish. For all intents and purposes, defining this around-the-world staple is a bit like asking Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

For two years, Australian TV writer and author Benjamin Law has been asking this very same question to his more than 81,000 followers on Twitter. (Yes, you read that right: two years.) His first tweet, posted in 2016, garnered a lot of discussion on his feed, with more than a hundred people offering different definitions of what exactly a casserole could be.

Most folks didn’t agree on what constitutes a casserole rather than a stew, a pasta bake, a Crock Pot creation, or a one-pan dish, but everyone agreed that whatever Twitter user @JCharRoL posted is, well, a mystery.

Later, after a significant cooling period, on September 20, 2018, Law retweeted himself, reposing the question and facilitating just as much debate as the last time he asked.

Since many, many cultures from Australia and America to Canada and Europe, make casseroles, including my Haitian mother, any mention of country, race, or place actually narrows the definition of a casserole to a regional one. (I actually asked my mama to define a casserole for me, and she paused to think for a moment and said “anything I bake in my casserole dish.” Thanks, mom.)

A (Very) Brief History of the Casserole

Historically, the concept of casserole as we know it didn’t exist until the mid-19th century when, in 1866 French-Canadian immigrant Elmire Jolicoeur invented the precursor to the modern casserole in Berlin, New Hampshire, cooking pressed rice, vegetables, and meat in a single dish, much like a Mediterranean tagine or a one-pot Mexican bake.

The modern casserole dish was popularized during the second World War, when the dish was developed for military applications, since the glass ceramic it was made out of could withstand sudden changes in temperature, could be heated, frozen, and used to serve, and was resistant to stains and odors.

After the war, in the 1960s, homes across America and beyond started using the modern version of casserole dishes with brands like Le Cruset and Corningware leading the charge. The time-saving dish inspired home cooks everywhere, who tended to define the food version of a casserole as anything that went in these dishes (even that apricot concoction from earlier), with green bean casserole, tuna casserole, and, yes, some delicious and innovative pasta casseroles becoming kitchen staples across the world.

Still, even presented with all that history, my mother and I argued for a good 10 minutes which one of her dishes was her casserole dish. So, we all may never agree what a casserole actually is, but, like Twitter user @jessica_alice, I like to present the following as the official definition of casserole: