My childhood piano teacher, Ruth, was the loveliest person you could imagine. She gave me lessons for several years, after I got on the last nerve of my previous piano teacher, an austere man who berated me for my too-long fingernails and once yelled at me, in a fit of exasperation, “Don’t do things to it! Just play it!”
Whereas Dr. Doom (ahem, not his actual name) thought I was a no-account wastrel and put me on probation for my disinclination to practice, Ruth was gentle and encouraging. She never steered me away from pieces too difficult for my fingers, those unruly appendages that never seemed to hit the right keys at the right time. Ruth let me explore and decide for myself what I wanted to play, which was, it turns out, the perfect inducement to practice.
Ruth was the piano accompanist at the church where my father was the choir director, so our families were friends apart from my lessons. Ruth’s oldest daughter was my age and just as kind as her mother; she never seemed to notice my socially disastrous combination of awkwardness and obnoxiousness. I always felt comfortable and welcome at their house and had dinner there more than once.
Ruth’s signature side dish was baked pineapple, something I’ve never had anywhere but Ruth’s house. It absolutely blew my young taste buds out of the water. It was sweet and tangy and tinged with cinnamon, and I thought it was positively revolutionary to serve a sweet side dish in place of the usual green beans or carrots. Ruth’s pineapple casserole made me look upon her as a true kitchen maverick.
As I was going through my mom’s old recipe box a couple weeks ago, I was tickled to come across Ruth’s recipe for baked pineapple. The recipe is written in the same tidy handwriting that adorns my lesson books, letting me know when to play soft or loud, when to stick to the time signature or when to take a little artistic license.
I’m thrilled to share this recipe and hope it becomes the newest dinnertime sensation. It’s an excellent accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats, along with sweeter veggies like carrots, roasted parsnips or sweet potatoes. Even better, it can also be enjoyed for dessert. Or for breakfast or lunch, or a little late-night snack or a midmorning snack in between breakfast and lunch, when you need a little something-something to tide you over.
Ruth’s Baked Pineapple
Beat 2 eggs in a casserole dish. Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/4 cup water until smooth and add to eggs, stirring to combine. Stir in one 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. (I also added ginger and nutmeg — my “artistic license.”) Dot with butter and generously sprinkle cinnamon on top; I used about 1/8 cup butter. Maybe that’s a lot of butter, but Julia Child said that butter makes everything better, or something like that, and who am I to argue with what Julia Child may have said? Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
I like how easy-breezy the recipe is, and how it can be adjusted to suit your taste (and it’s gluten-free). Reduce the sugar or substitute another sweetener, or eliminate the butter to make it nonfat, at the risk of angering dear Julia.
A couple years ago I searched the farthest reaches of the internet for “pineapple casserole,” but never found Ruth’s dreamy dish. (Turns out I should have searched for “baked pineapple” because a recipe just like Ruth’s pops right up. So sad! I could have been eating this for two additional years!) I did come across a recipe for pineapple casserole: a sweet-and-savory concoction of pineapple, crackers and cheese. I thought it might work because pineapple is delicious with savory things, like the pineapple in sweet-and-sour chicken or pineapple on cheesy pizza.
I brought the pineapple cheese casserole to a friend’s brunch party and served myself a spoonful. It was unusual, sure, but I liked it. The other guests approached it warily, like crows sidling up to something interesting on the sidewalk. There were a few takers but there were still leftovers. I baked the leftovers into pineapple-banana quickbread and brought it to work, where it was not a hit. (“Wait, is there cheese in this bread?” exclaimed a confounded co-worker before setting her piece back on the plate.)
Just in case you want to throw caution to the wind, here’s that recipe, too, from www.southernbite.com.
Pineapple Cheese Casserole
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 2-quart baking dish. Thoroughly drain two 20-ounce cans of pineapple chunks, reserving the juice. In a separate bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 6 tablespoons flour and 6 tablespoons of the reserved juice until smooth. Add the pineapple chunks and mix well. Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle with 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Next, crush a sleeve of Ritz crackers into a bowl along with 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter (although I just used salted butter). Sprinkle the crackers over the pineapple mixture. Bake for 30 minutes and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.