Someone always wins the day on Facebook.
Today, it’s my mother-in-law, Elaine. She’s having cake and lemonade on the lawn at Welty House in Jackson, Miss.
Doesn’t that sound like exactly the way you should be spending a gorgeous spring day – having cake and lemonade on the lawn?
At Welty House, they’re celebrating the 102nd birthday of Eudora Welty, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who lived and died in Jackson. You might have read one of her short stories, like “Why I Live at the P.O.,” “A Worn Path” or “Petrified Man,” while you were in high school or her award-winning novel, “The Optimist’s Daughter” in a college lit class. (If you haven’t, it’s not too late.)
If I’d realized sooner that today was her birthday, I would have made Ms. Welty’s Vicksburg Potato Salad. But I didn’t. So, I made another Southern spring classic, a so-wrong-it’s-right Baked Pineapple Casserole.
It’s the sort of golden mystery dish you might find bubbling away on a Southern granny’s Easter table, since pineapple goes so well with ham.
To appreciate this casserole, you have to refrain from passing judgment on its ingredients: crushed pineapple, sugar, Ritz cracker crumbs, butter and cheddar cheese. You have to accept the logic that, if pineapple and cheese go together, and cheese and crackers go together, then pineapple, crackers and cheese are perfectly fine together.
Because they are.
The pineapple is extra sweet from being combined with the sugar, so it contrasts even more with the savoriness of the cheese. Then the cracker crumbs, which are layered throughout the casserole, absorb some of the pineapple juice and butter from the bottom and thicken the casserole, giving it some body. Under the surface, the texture is similar to a Ritz Mock Apple Pie, only with crushed pineapple instead of no fruit at all. However, those cracker crumbs stay nice and crunchy on top.
Some people serve this casserole for dessert, but it’s a great side dish for pork, especially something like a good Coca-Cola ham. With the last of the summer’s put-up green beans, creamed corn, Sister Schubert’s rolls and potato salad.
Followed by cake and lemonade on the lawn.
I mean, doesn’t that sound nice? Welty House knows how to party.
Baked Pineapple Casserole
Adapted from Louis and Billie Van Dyke’s “The Blue Willow Inn Bible of Southern Cooking”
Makes 8 to 10 servings
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 cups Ritz cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
- 2 cups (8 ounces) grated cheddar cheese (plus 1/4 cup for topping)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Pour the crushed pineapple (juice and all) into a small saucepan, and warm it over low heat. Add sugar. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, and then remove from the heat.
- In a casserole or baking dish, layer the pineapple mixture, cracker crumbs, butter and cheese. Repeat until you have three to four layers. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top of the casserole.
- Bake uncovered for about 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.