”I have great faith in fools — self-confidence my friends call it.” Edgar Allen Poe
Florence was the casserole queen of Humchittbee County – not just the casserole queen of the Baptists but the undisputed royalty of all the church ladies – be they Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecost or Church or God. She had every situation and every denomination covered with a covered dish.
While others had their usuals that they provided on a regular basis- broccoli and rice, squash or green bean, Florence always had the right dish for the right occasion and crowd. For funerals, she would choose the type and size of dish based upon the deceased’s age, family size, church size and standing in the community – providing two if the situation demanded it. Goulash, macaroni and cheese, Frito pie, lasagna, scalloped potatoes, Chili Mac, cheesy tater tot bake, nacho chicken, shepherd’s pie, the list went on and on.
For those home from the hospital, she gauged the dish based upon their dietary requirements. She had even been known to drop off casseroles to local menfolk whose wives were away on bus trips or visiting relatives. If the need was dire- she managed to provide gallons of chicken and dumplings.
Florence kept her recipes close, never divulging any of her secrets. This was a source of irritation for those who cared about such things. When asked for a recipe or even just an ingredient list, her response was, “Dear, I don’t follow a recipe. I just put in a little of this and a little of that. But I’m glad you like it, bless your heart.”
Over the years there had been a few that attempted to compete with her – some who thought she was too old to keep up the pace or had just worn that crown too long. They tried newfangled recipes to throw her off but it was to no avail. She bested them all. A fancy smancy dish from the pages of Southern Living was no match for Florence’s tomato pie or her creamy chicken with bacon. Over the years, the challengers grew fewer and were usually limited to the young wives of new preachers and displaced Yankees trying too hard to fit in.
Four times a year, Florence would take a few days to round up her pyrex and corning ware that had been scattered across the countryside – be it nine inch or twelve, oval, round or deep dish. She kept a written list of who had what and made sure that sufficient time had passed for those in mourning, before requesting the return of her dish.
Florence passed away awhile back. She went quietly and peacefully in her sleep. Having no children, it was left to the women of her church to begin the process of cleaning out her home and disposing of her personal property.
They started by cleaning out the pantry, fridge and freezer. – They were surprised to find that Florence had two freezers – the smaller one dedicated to nothing but frozen casserole dishes.
They are not surprised to find a date on them indicating when they were made but were dumbfounded to find names on them labeled with freezer tape. As they looked closer, they saw that the names included people in the nursing home, people fighting cancer and almost everybody in the church over the age of 80. One church lady even found one with her own name on it. She was a bit unsettled to say the least.
A caucus was called around Florence’s kitchen table. Some expressed outrage. Other’s reacted with humor and were curious as to the type of casserole assigned to each individual. Each one was examined and a list of the names were made purely for reference. All were a bit dumbfounded. After two pots of coffee, the decision was made to never speak of the matter again and the casseroles were dispersed among the church members (minus the freezer tape).
Later that day, tucked in the back of a cabinet, behind cans of asparagus and creamed corn, the preacher’s wife found a small recipe box filled with index cards – index cards neatly printed and alphabetized, cards with the keys to the casserole kingdom of Florence.
By the next Christmas, the church had raised more than $10,000 from the sale of its latest cookbook, “Secrets of the Casserole Queen” and over the objections of a few of the womenfolk of the church, a small plaque in honor of Florence was placed on the cabinet door over the gas stove in the kitchen of the family life center.