The classics are classics for a reason and when it comes to recipes older than the internet it’s always important to stick to the basics and the roots they derive from. The hotdish is, by all means, a classic from the Midwest that is often replicated but never duplicated, and always a dish that grandma makes better. It has progressed from generation to generation and through decades of the harshest winters. It serves as a tasty centerpiece to any gathering, a warm and filling meal for when the sun is outdone by darkness, and above all else, is so much more than a generic casserole.
More often than not the origins of a recipe are often lost or misconstrued due to many wanting the recognition, but there is no question to where the hotdish came from. Finding its origins in the Upper Midwest in and around Minnesota, the first printed recipe of the hotdish was found in the Grace Lutheran Ladies Aid Cookbook. The cookbook was compiled by the patrons of the Grace Lutheran Church in Mankato, MN and distributed throughout the community. The hotdish at its beginning in 1930 was nothing more than a starch, meat, and vegetables. Indeed, the original recipe from the Grace Lutheran Ladies Aid Cookbook calling for two pounds hamburger, elbow macaroni, and peas.
As the years continued the hotdish saw minor improvements including the addition of a crucial binding agent. In 1934 Campbell’s released condensed cream soup, adding a necessary flavor profile to the dish. And twenty years later tater tots hit the market, replacing the macaroni and proving to be the cherry on top the sundae providing a crispy potato crunch to the dish. And to infinity and beyond the hotdish stayed true to its roots with little to no variation from the four main ingredients.
Aside from church gatherings and frozen January potlucks, the hotdish has found its way into mainstream culture. After the 2010 elections, former Minnesota Senator Al Franken hosted a friendly hotdish baking competition with the Minnesota Congressional Delegation. Sen. Amy Klobuchar took first prize with her Taconite Tater Tot Hotdish in the first year and nine years later the competition continues. Outside of competition, the hotdish was found to be a convenient murder weapon in a collection of culinary short stories titled Hotdish to Die For. And because all great things deserve a song and the hotdish is no exception with its own jingle offering these charming lyrics…
“Gonna make a tater tot hotdish
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a tater tot hotdish
To review old memories
My mother made a tater tot hotdish
And Grandma made it with a touch of cream
And even after years of fine dining
I still can taste it in my dreams”
The hotdish is Minnesota soul food and can be found in the heart of Minneapolis, in the burbs where they tend to eat lots of cake, way up north, and even in the surrounding flyover states. It’s a dish built on simplicity and necessity to provide with minimal means. It may not be the first choice for most in the heat of summer, but during the frigid winters in Minnesota, there is truly nothing tastier or more fulfilling than a good ole hotdish.
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