Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Recipe for Dinner in a Dish

In the farming region where I grew up, a general financial downturn ran throughout the 1920s and continued as the Great Depression beginning in 1930. The severe economic conditions rapidly worsened, slowly diminished in the last years of the 1930s, and ended more or less in the early 1940s. Extreme heat in 1934 and again in 1936 threatened to make farming a losing proposition. My father said that, in 1934, there were only a few glimmers of hope that the economic slump might end but that, by the late 1930s, the country’s overall financial situation had become noticeably less dire. During the era, even farm families that could grow much of their food were mindful of the cost. Recipes for inexpensive meals were widely shared.

My Father with Horses Named Togo and Maud in April of 1930
The Middle of a Long Economic Depression in Rural Indiana
One such recipe, called “dinner in a dish,” was the contribution of Elsie Dowden, who lived in my hometown but who grew up in Bedford. If you like recipes that combine hamburger with other ingredients, you will enjoy Elsie’s dinner in a dish!

I have used Panko instead of bread crumbs with good results, but, if you prefer a larger crumb, dry several slices of bread on trays in a warm kitchen for a day until the bread crumbles into large morsels.

My mother referred to the recipe’s green peppers as “mangoes.” In the 1700s, fruit, such as the mango, and vegetables, such as the green pepper, were pickled to preserve them. People began to call any pickled fruit or vegetable a “mango.” The generic term stuck for the green pepper and was in widespread use as late as my mother’s generation.

Rev. Lowell Morris and Mrs. Morris on July 29, 1937
At the Parsonage in Westville, Indiana
Before They Moved to My Hometown
Near the End of the Great Depression
If you want to reduce the salt in your diet, you can put only 1 tsp of salt in the mixture without a significant loss of saltiness; in fact, I tend to find the recipe’s salt level a bit too much. I have wondered if people who lived through the Great Depression were so accustomed to preserving meat in salt that they felt they needed lots of salt in a hamburger dish.

The directions warn against accidental scrambling of the eggs when adding them to ingredients that have just come from a hot skillet. You don’t have to worry excessively about scrambling the eggs; even if your mixture is too hot, the eggs won’t entirely scramble, and you won’t notice the scrambling.

Incidentally, to “dot with butter” means to shave some cold butter here and there on top of the bread crumbs to flavor them and brown them.


4 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion chopped
2 green peppers sliced
1 pound hamburger
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 eggs
2 cups fresh cut corn
4 medium tomatoes sliced
½ cup dry bread crumbs


Put butter in skillet and lightly fry peppers and onion for 3 minutes. Add meat and blend thoroughly. Add salt and pepper. Remove from fire, let cool just enough that eggs will not scramble when added, stir in eggs, and mix well. Put 1 cup corn in baking dish, then half of meat mixture, then a layer of sliced tomatoes, then another layer of corn, meat, and tomatoes, cover with crumbs, dot with butter, and bake 35 minutes.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Special Invitation to Middle Grade Teachers


While planning for the spring semester, consider giving your students the opportunity to discuss a captivating novel with the authors who wrote it.


Maggie Quick, a novel set not too many years ago in a Midwestern American town, has received this shining review and plot summary from KidLitReviews, Sue Morrison’s premier website for trustworthy information about high-quality literature for children of all ages:


“Maggie Quick surprised me. First, I am not a big fan of paranormal stories, but this one I love. Also, the overall quality of the actual book, and then the quality of the story—both excellent. Normally, I refuse to review anything older than one year, as I try to keep the reviews current, yet once in a while a story grabs me and I cannot wait to let everyone know about a secret gem. Secret in that the story is not on a best-seller list—though it should be—nor heavily marketed by traditional economics.”

The acclaimed novel is available in a splendid hardcover edition here:

… and as an eBook here:


When you assemble a group of middle grade students to read and discuss the novel, Eleanor Y. Stewart and I will make ourselves available to help plan activities appropriate for the group; for example, as the book explores many fascinating facts about Irish culture in the United States, we can guide students toward research projects involving Irish-American folklore. This provides a wonderful introduction to cultural studies!

MOST IMPORTANTLY, Eleanor and I will gladly join in conversations (by email or, depending on your location, in person) with your students when you contact me here:

Be sure to visit my website for additional information about Maggie Quick and about other award-winning books that I have written or co-authored.