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Jellied chicken gumbo, anyone?

By Charlie Mitchell

Two cans of lobster, two cans of crab meat and one jar of Cheese-Whiz.

Food, un-glorious food.

We can say our world is awful these days, but at least dining options have improved.

Canned lobster? Who knew?

The prompt for today’s epistle is an unpretentious church cookbook that was sitting atop a stack of other cast-asides.

It was apparently pretty popular because while the first printing was in 1958, there were subsequent editions all the way until 1985.

To be fair, there were far fewer fresh or frozen options for shoppers 50 years ago. Maybe that’s why, according to the recipes compiled by Mississippi church ladies, it was rare to prepare a meal without opening cans.

The lobster, crab and Cheese-Whiz, were, by the way, the essentials for Seafood Newberg. Don’t know about lobster, but canned crabmeat is certainly still available. Cheese-Whiz, which debuted in 1953 and took the food world by storm, is also still marketed by Kraft. It now comes in a spray can and, as these things go, a nacho flavor has been added.

Back to the book: Turn the page, or several pages, and there are Southern Puffs. Very simple. Roll (canned) biscuit dough thin, cut in strips and drop into 350-degree lard. “Especially delicious,” the cookbook says.

No doubt.

Here’s a winner on the same page: Chicken Loaf. Grind together a cooked hen (without bones), a bunch of celery and six boiled eggs and mix together a raw egg, some chicken stock and salt and pepper. Press it all into a loaf pan and bake.

Yummy.

There’s also a Ham Loaf and a Jellied Chicken Gumbo, details of which are best not shared.

And a Ham Mousse.

Same thing.

Cuban Chicken calls for cans of tomato juice and cans of peas. Bring to boil, simmer then serve.

Big in Havana, no doubt.

Many of the other recipes invoke exotic notions of the palates in distant lands:

• Hungarian Roast (round steak cooked in ketchup).

• Swiss Steak (round steak cooked in garlic and ginger).

• Pork Chops a la Hawaii (sweet potatoes and pineapple).

• Spanish Corn (same as Cuban Chicken, minus the chicken and the peas and plus olives).

• French Stuffed Eggplant (stuffing includes are canned deviled ham, canned shrimp).

Molds and rings were big.

• Raspberry Chicken Mold.

• Two-Tier Egg and Chicken Mold.

• Salmon Mold.

• Avocado Ring Mold.

Hungry now?

Most of the recipes were from women. The complex formula for Vienna Sausage Pickups, however, was from a man. Open three cans of Vienna sausages and dump into boiling Worcestershire sauce. Serve with toothpicks.

Classy, huh?

Another recipe that doesn’t need much exposition is Creamed Turkey (to be served with wild rice ring).

Here’s a seafood dish: Crab Bisque. One can of cream of mushroom soup, one can of cream of celery soup, one can of cream of chicken soup, three cans of milk (measured with a soup can) and — you guessed it — two small or one large can of crab meat. It’s a four-can meal in a minute!

Fish Amandine calls for “scored filets of dolphin.” The recipe pre-dates Flipper, but it’s likely to have generated concern once that TV show became popular in the 1960s. Chefs have renamed what was once called “dolphin.” Today, it’s on the menu as mahi-mahi and so far as anyone knows, Bud and Sandy never had a pet/friend mahi-mahi come to their rescue. In any event, the recipe for Fish Amandine (sautéed in olive oil and spices) is one of the healthiest in the whole book.

According to the index, the half-inch thick compendium contains 28 formulations for breads, biscuits and rolls and 29 recipes for cookies. Even more for cakes.

But it’s the formula for Peanut Butter Sticks that explains how so many cardiac surgeons have managed to stay so busy for the past few decades. First, take white bread toasted to remove all moisture. Next get a jar of peanut butter and whisk in enough oil to lighten the consistency to that of whipped cream. Then slather on the bread sticks and roll in bread crumbs. Tasty. Could also be called Artery Cloggers.

Mississippians, for the most part, eat healthier these days. Perhaps because the assortment of foods available year-around has grown exponentially. Perhaps because we’ve come to realize that fresh (or fresh-frozen) is almost always more nutritious than canned.

If any of these recipes are recognized and cherished as family heirlooms, please understand: No mockery intended. This is about gratitude for better days.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at cmitchell43@yahoo.com.