Dessert or side dish? That is the perplexing question surrounding one of the South’s most famous dishes—pineapple casserole. Also known as “that pineapple thing,” this casserole can blame its identity crisis on the implausible lineup of ingredients: canned fruit, sugar, butter, cheddar cheese and crackers. Now, let that combo marinate in the mind for a minute. Is it happening? That’s right—the more you try to make sense of the jumbled flavors, the more it all seems to make perfect, tasty sense.
Or not. When savory, sweet and salty all come together, it’s a taste profile that Southerners typically adore while others just don’t get it. The buttery, toasty cracker topping is sometimes enough to convince naysayers to give pineapple casserole a shot. Pair it with baked ham for the best chance of winning them over.
So how Southern is pineapple casserole? Nobody knows where it first originated, though it likely happened during the 1950s. That was when the Great Casserole Tsunami hit the U.S., thanks to the introduction of convenience foods into the culinary landscape. And what could be more convenient than combining a bunch of convenience foods into a single dish? It certainly made it easier on cooks charged with adding to the potluck lineup. And when it comes to “funeral foods,” pineapple casserole is an often expected and welcome expression of sympathy. Where South Carolina is concerned, the ties that bind us to pineapple casserole are strong. The New York Times once crowned it the most “unusual and popular” Thanksgiving recipe in the state.
The best evidence for this dish’s Southern status is probably its repeat appearances in community cookbooks throughout the region. Sometimes listed under “Desserts” and sometimes under “Side Dishes,” this is a recipe you’ll find in Grandma’s receipt box, wedged between “Deviled Eggs” and “Peach Cobbler.” The fact that nobody eating it cares one lick which category it falls under is a testament to the fact that, in these parts, we think it’s pretty darn delicious.
Ready to give pineapple casserole a try? Here is a sampling of SC restaurants with a pineapple casserole following. Call ahead to check availability.
Thinking about making your own? You’ll be glad to know that baking a ham is far more time consuming than whipping up this dish. If you’ve got 40 minutes to spare, there’s a pineapple casserole in your immediate future.
Southern Pineapple Casserole
20-ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained
20-ounce can of pineapple chunks, drained
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup white sugar or light brown sugar
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup butter, melted
20 Ritz crackers, crushed
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine the pineapple, flour, sugar and cheese. Transfer the mixture to a 9-by-9-inch baking dish or deep pie plate. Mix crushed crackers with the melted butter. Spread it on top of the pineapple mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is toasty brown. It is best served warm with slices of baked ham.