Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Apple #272: Horseheads, NY, and Casseroles


I just came across the name of this town. You know there's a story behind this name.

Horseheads, NY is near Elmira, near the southern border of the state.
(Map from the Real Estate Agents guide to New York agents)

Turns out, it's a pretty unpleasant tale.
  • In 1779, George Washington sent out a bunch of soldiers to completely destroy all towns and settlements of the Iroquois nation, many of whom were supporting the British in the Revolutionary War. The soldiers fanned out in various regiments across what is now Pennsylvania and New York. This is now referred to as the Sullivan Expedition, after the general who led the majority of the troops.
  • In compliance with those orders, the soldiers destroyed, burned, ate, or otherwise annihilated everything belonging to the Iroquois that they could find: cultivated fields, orchards, houses, log cabins, hundreds of bushels of corn, even the birds' nests in the trees.
  • The Iroquois that survived lived in absolute destitution. Many retreated to the British at Fort Niagara and had to be fed by the British to survive the winter, but many starved or froze to death.
  • During this expedition, General Sullivan marched his men and horses across such an expanse of territory and through so many swamps and muddy areas that his horses got completely worn out. Finally, so many of the horses were so debilitated they had to be slaughtered on the trail.
  • White settlers who later came to the area discovered all sorts of bleached horses' skulls lying around, so they named the place Horseheads.

Horseheads, NY today has a National Guard base.
(Map from the New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs)

Well, that's upsetting. Let's talk about casseroles.


This isn't a complete non sequitur, trust me. A friend and I were both experiencing some particularly stressful weeks last month. We were on the phone -- she lives many states away -- and she was telling me of various rent, tuition, and job nightmares that were all descending on her at once. In an expression of sympathy, I said that if I were closer, I would make her a casserole. Complete with melted cheese and crumbled potato chips on top, of course. That made her laugh, so in a way, it worked.

In my opinion, the tuna noodle casserole is the quintessential casserole. At least, it was one of my mom's go-to standards.
(Photo from all recipes; recipe provided by Pam (not Pamela) Anderson)

  • The word casserole refers to the dish in which it's cooked: a deep pot or dish, usually earthenware, that allows the food inside it to be cooked slowly.
  • Cooking the casserole way is something practiced by cultures all over the world, from France (where the word casserole most recently originates) to Morocco, to India and China -- although I'll bet that not many hot-weather cultures make casseroles.
  • The base of casserole recipes is some form of starch, usually rice. Though I've made a few casseroles in my time that used pasta or potatoes.
  • Then you need some form of sauce or moisture -- milk, sour cream, tomato sauce, etc. For those folks like my mom who find condensed soups eternally useful, the sauce tends to be cream of mushroom soup. Sometimes she gets all adventurous and branches out into cream of broccoli, or cream of asparagus, or sometimes -- and this is when she's going for the southwestern recipes -- nacho cheese soup.

This cheesy chicken and rice casserole uses Campbell's cream of chicken soup. The recipe for this and other casseroles that use their condensed cream soups are available at their Casserole Kitchen site.

  • Next comes the star of the dish, whatever protein is your comfort favorite -- tuna, chunks of roast beef, ham cubes -- and/or vegetables -- broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, etc.
  • And I don't think any casserole is complete without some form of cheese. Whether it's mozzarella mixed in with the sauce, shredded cheddar on top, or Parmesan sprinkled liberally over the pot after the cooking is done, there's got to be cheese involved or it's not a true-blue casserole, as far as I'm concerned.

Two casseroles: Spicy polenta lasagna (front) and Smoky vegetable casserole (above). The first uses polenta as the starch and mozzarella and Parmesan as the cheese. The second uses zucchini, bell peppers, yellow squash, artichokes, and chick peas plus Swiss cheese on top.
(Photo by AP/McIlhenny. Recipes from The Decatur Daily)

There. Now, after just looking at a few casseroles, don't you feel a bit more comforted? I know I do.

P.S. If you're looking for a tasty casserole recipe, has an enormous selection of all different kinds of casserole recipes to browse and search.

Horseheads, NY
Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central American and the Struggle for Peace, 1985, page 76.
Stanley J. Adamiak, Archiving Early America, The 1779 Sullivan Campaign
Andrew Slough, Sons of the American Revolution, The American Revolution Month-by-Month, August 1779
Wikipedia, John Sullivan
Horseheads Town Court
Ulysses, New York, Trumansburg History

Food Timeline, casseroles, Casseroles Through the Years, Do-Ahead Casseroles


  1. While the story is unpleasant enough, the town loves its name, and even has a sister city in Japan, also called horse heads, only in Japanese.

    Horseheads, Painted Post, Big Flats. Bunch of colorful names, some of which are connected to equally colorful stories.

    Not to mention the county (and river) Chemung: Land of the Horn (actually a Mastodon tusk)...

  2. Thanks for the input, pb!

    I agree, it is a really cool name, despite the facts that underlie its origins. I'm with the citizens of Horseheads, New York, in my appreciation of a good name when I see one.

    I was wondering about that word Chemung, but I decided to stay focused on my original goal for the entry.


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