It would be, I decided, a nice gesture of Southern thoughtfulness if I made a dish of my famous macaroni and cheese. I call it “famous” because it Duke’s mayonnaise once put the recipe on its label along with my name and my Aunt Ozelle’s from whom I stole it.
Since we were visiting Tink’s family and staying with them, I wanted to repay a bit of their hospitality. They had gone out for a bit and we were left alone so I checked the pantry for the ingredients.
Disappointed, I returned to the sitting room where Tink was reading. “I was going to make my mac and cheese but there isn’t a single can of cream of mushroom soup in the pantry.”
He threw back his head and laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t think so. You’re not in the South, you know.”
We were in Connecticut.
I placed my elbows on the kitchen island and leaned forward, studying on it a bit. “Do you suppose they don’t sell cream of mushroom soup here?” I once, in my erstwhile youth straight out of college, lived in Indianapolis and I could not find grits there. It was a sad time.
He chuckled. “Probably not.” We were in a tonier area of the state where people tend to eat healthy and stay thin. That would not be the way I was raised. It is an established fact that you are a true blue Southern woman if you have at least a dozen recipes that call for cream of mushroom soup. Next to Crisco and butter, it is an essential in a Southern kitchen. I always have several cans stacked in storage.
Two things had recently happened that had me thinking seriously on cream of mushroom soup. I had spoken at a women’s event for a church, and those fine Baptist women had put together a covered dish supper of the finest proportions. You couldn’t fling a baby spoon without hitting something covered, smothered or drenched in cream soup, either chicken or mushroom. There in the midst of the Baptists, delicious decadence reigned.
A few days before that, though, a business story in the Wall Street Journal reported that Campbell’s had made a deal to acquire a fresh gourmet company because its soup division had stagnant sales growth and they wanted to punch up revenue. By the way, Campbell’s is one of the very few companies still family-owned and controlled. As such, they do fight against hostile takeovers from time to time. I applaud this and while I know there are a lot of folks living on lettuce and salsa, I don’t want them to ever get out of the cream of mushroom soup business.
It’s expensive, though. Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup is almost twice as expensive as a store brand. Campbell’s being no dummy knows that it has a good thing going in the South where we are as addicted to creamed soups as a child is to a lollipop. A can of cream of mushroom soup is $1.67 — I still can’t get over this — while tomato or chicken noodle is well under a dollar. At least that’s the way it is in the Deep South where I shop.
This leads me to believe that the Campbell’s family is smart and will survive because they know the simple economic rule: Price is equal to demand. Especially if you’re selling cream soup to the casserole-driven South.
Here I will admit this: Sometimes I just can’t stomach paying that much for cream of mushroom soup so, reluctantly, I will buy the store brand. Especially if I am making mac and cheese and need to buy mayonnaise. Have you seen how much a jar of Duke’s costs?
Being a Southern cook may end up bankrupting me before the cholesterol kills me.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should).”
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