Searching for the Original King Ranch
Do you remember eating King Ranch casserole in the 1950s? Can you prove it?
Campbell's version of King Ranch chicken
The Food Timeline, the ambitious and exhaustive online reference tool maintained by reference librarian Lynne Olver, recently tackled the classic Texan dish and couldn't find any reliable sources dating the messy meal to before 1966.
"If you have earlier recipes, please let us know," Olver pleaded in a tweet sent this week.
According to Olver, a veteran food researcher, King Casserole doesn't appear to have industrial origins, despite the prominent role cream of mushroom soup plays in the recipe. Nor is there any evidence that an enterprising food writer was inspired to combine cut-up chicken, soups, cheese, tortillas and Ro-Tel tomatoes.
Olver quotes from a 1999 Fort Worth Star-Telegram story that turned to a King Ranch visitor center spokesperson for help in deciphering the dish. Kathy Henry explained the recipe didn't have a documented connection to the ranch:
"The word is, a lady in Robstown may have entered it in a national cooking contest like the Pillsbury or Campbell Soup contests," Henry told the paper. "She just named it King Ranch chicken because Robstown is in this area and she though it would be a catchy name."
A Long Beach, California, newspaper sponsored the first recorded competition in which something that sounds like a King Ranch casserole took part: A chicken tortilla casserole baked by Mrs. A. E. Sommer finished third in a 1966 contest.
Do you have a clipping or a soup can that might unseat Mrs. Sommer as the casserole's first champion?