Betty Jean Anderson gets a uniform reaction when she brings her vegetable casserole to a potluck gathering.
Party-goers or fellow club members take a generous serving, because it looks so good. After the first few bites they are raving.
"Do I taste water chestnuts in there?"
"Are those pine nuts?"
"Where did you get this recipe, and can I have a copy?"
The casserole is based on a family recipe from her mother, Eugenia Peters, now 91. "She still likes to cook, lives alone, and she has a wonderful time." Eugenia, in turn, remembers receiving it from her aunt Ruby, who lived near Selma, Ala.
"We have made this for over 40 years," Anderson said of the dish which is typical of tasty southern cuisine.
"Aunt Ruby was a teacher. I would imagine somebody brought it to school or church, is how she got it originally."
But Anderson, who is also a teacher, has added a few special touches of her own.
"The corn is one of my additions. I had some fresh corn and I thought 'Oh, that tastes so good I'll just add that.'
"You could put broccoli in it - any fresh vegetable you wanted" as an interesting contrast to the canned vegetables already in the mixture.
Anderson also decided to add pine nuts to the recipe.
"I like to make this dish for large groups and for potlucks such as family gatherings, University Women events, Alpha Delta Kappa, Alpha Iota chapter dinners, and church suppers."
Anderson taught family and consumer science in the Toledo Public Schools, including DeVilbiss High School, for 35 years. Of course, it was called home economics at the start of her career.
"My uncle once told me I had so much fun teaching I should pay the school to let me teach," she admits.
She moved to Bowling Green from Toledo in 2003 after her marriage to Roger Anderson, and retired the following year.
"Roger has lived in Bowling Green since 1967. He knows so many people in Bowling Green and has been so active that it has been very easy for me to make this my home."
The couple have filled retirement with travel. Together, they have visited Peru, China, Russia, Egypt and Sicily, and Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.
"We were married in Kauai, Hawaii, in the fern grotto" in a scenic sunset ceremony enhanced by 600 candles and torches.
Even as a child, Anderson enjoyed going far afield, and ties it to her love of creative food preparation.
"When I was young, I used to go down and spend summers with my grandparents in Alabama. We had a lot of fun making jams and jellies, and freezing soup mixture. I didn't mind snapping beans and shelling peas.
"We'd go fishing, too." Her grandmother would freeze the brim (a smaller fish than trout) they caught, "then she'd fry them up and serve them with hush puppies and cole slaw."
Anderson's approach to a recipe is to prepare the dish as directed, the first time.
"Then, a lot of times, I do my own thing."
She's also not above being sneaky if she believes a particular ingredient will make a dish better.
"Roger enjoys growing tomatoes, and I make tomato soup for him. He has a bowl of homemade tomato soup at least once a week during the year."
Her husband doesn't like onions "so I chop 'em up real fine. He doesn't even know! And I always use lots and lots of onions in Roger's tomato soup," she added with a big chuckle.
"Retirement has been wonderful. I am doing all of the things I always wanted to do but could not when I was working such as join many different organizations and travel any time of the year."
She is currently president of the women's organization at First United Methodist Church in Bowling Green and also joined the local League of Women Voters to feed her interest in politics. She belongs to a Toledo Art Museum group and the Bowling Green branch of American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Once she joins a group, she tends to remain loyal. She has belonged to a bridge group for over 40 years and a Skip-Bo card group for a quarter century.
"Roger and I both like to entertain friends in our home" and have regular lunch dates with other couples.
When she makes her vegetable casserole, Anderson sometimes reduces the mayonnaise and butter amounts a bit more than listed, depending upon the audience.
"Originally there was a stick of butter and 11â„2 cups of mayo" in the recipe, as southern cookery tends to have a love affair with butter, "and my mother cut that out!"
But if nobody is on a diet, stick to the portions listed here and the result will be memorable.
Her vegetable casserole is also a potluck winner because it is simple.
"If they just read those directions, they can make it no problem."
Betty Jean's vegetable casserole
2 cans Veg-All, drained (Allen's)
1 small can water chestnuts, sliced
¾ cup onions, chopped
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (Sargento).
¾ cup mayonnaise (Hellmann's).
½ stick margarine or butter, chopped
Corn cut from one ear of fresh corn
¼ cup pine nuts
Mix the above ingredients and place in a buttered 2 ½ quart casserole dish. Use part of the margarine or butter to coat the casserole dish, then add the rest to your mixture.
Crush ¾ stack of Ritz crackers
½ cup French's French fried onions
Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly (about 25 minutes). After 20 minutes add crushed Ritz crackers. When the crackers start to brown, add the onion rings.
Note: This recipe can be made the night before and cooked the next day. The topping is always better when added just before serving.
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