1941 Rise of the tuna casserole

Tuna casserole made with mushroom soup was featured in the Campbell's cookbook

Easy Ways to Good Meals: 99 Delicious Dishes Made With Campbell’s Soups popularised the tuna and noodle casserole made with a can of mushroom soup. The tuna casserole had various interpretations and became a CWA (Country Women’s Association) classic in Australia. Convenience cookery relying on store-cupboard ingredients persisted for decades to come.

According to American food writer Heather Arndt Anderson, the first recipe for tuna casserole appeared in Sunset Magazine in 1930. It was called Noodles and Tuna Fish en Casserole and included mushrooms and a cheese topping. The invention of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup in 1934 meant home cooks no longer had to make a white sauce or saute mushrooms – they just tipped a can of soup in with the noodles, tuna and peas, topped it all of with cheese and potato chips (crisps) and voilà!

The tuna casserole went on to become an American – and later an Australian – classic. Campbell’s had been canning soups in Camden, USA, since 1869. In 1898, the first condensed soup in cans appeared, with early varieties including Asparagus, Tomato,  Vegetable, Chicken and Clam Chowder. All of these were available in Australia by 1915, although Campbell’s Soups itself did not set up a company here until 1961.

Arndt Anderson suggests that Americans embraced the tuna casserole during World War II when certain foods were in short supply and canned soup helped fill a gap in the pantry. During and after World War II, Australian food was strongly influenced by American trends and through the 1950s the enchantment of modern, convenience foods persisted.

Although recipes for the American-style dish using canned mushroom soup were published in Australia in the 1950s, the local versions tended to use a homemade white sauce as a base. The noodles were often omitted. In 1941, a story in the Sydney Morning Herald described it like this:

“We usually made simple dishes, as they were what the men seemed to prefer-especially casseroles. Tuna fish casserole was one of the favourites. You flavour a cream sauce with melted cheese and pour it over flaked tuna fish and green peas. After heating it up in the oven, you serve it with toast joints-and it’s pretty good.”

In addition to the canned tuna, the Aussie casserole could contain any or all of the following ingredients: hard-boiled egg, corn kernels, peas, asparagus, mushrooms and cheese.

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