Lillian Hellman’s Pot Roast

Right off the bat, let’s get to the recipe.

  • 4 lb roast –  brush with Kitchen Bouquet
  • 1 can mushroom soup
  • 1 envelope dried onion soup mix
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1 crushed bay leaf
  • 1 tsp each – basil and thyme

Cover, bake in 350°F oven until tender, approximately 3 ½ hours.

This roast has staying power. I got the recipe from a newspaper interview with Ms. Hellman while we were stationed at Ft. Ord, California about 1966. I was a young wife and mother, maybe 23-years-old living on the Monterrey Peninsula.

I can only surmise Lillian Hellman started using this in the late fifties or early sixties as using dried onion soup mix with sour cream dip only surfaced in the middle 1950s. I am sure Campbell’s started the marketing campaign to use canned mushroom soup in tuna casserole about then. I am too lazy to look it up, but I lived through the tuna/mushroom soup casserole craze. Being there sort of gives me the edge.

The next ingredient I did look up as I still use it often. Kitchen Bouquet which is a browning and seasoning sauce primarily composed of caramel with vegetable flavorings. It has been used as a flavoring addition for gravies and other foods since 1879. I use it on roasts that I don’t want to sear brown and to boost flavor and color in gravies and stews. It is sold at all major grocery stores.

The next big ingredient she used was two cups of red wine. Hello, this blew my little South Texas mind. Just pour 2 cups of wine and go on about your business. That was probably the first bottle of wine I ever bought to cook with.

Lillian Hellman was a famous playwright, screenwriter and blacklisted activist. Born in New Orléans to a Jewish family who let her live in a boarding home run by several aunts for half of the year and then in New York City for the other half. In the 1930s, she met mystery writer, Dashiell Hammet with whom she had an off and on relationship for over 30 years. Her memoir is well worth the read if you are interested.

This recipe had another round of success when Nora Ephron published it in her book “Heartburn.” The 1983 novel which was a thinly veiled novel about her divorce from journalist Carl Bernstein had several recipes, including the pot roast. The recipe had another round of infamy when Ephron recently passed away. It is good, but being attached to famous people helps with the staying power.

I happened to run across this recipe while going through my recipe files last week. Realizing I had used it for about 45 years, I decided to put, yet again, another Lillian Hellman Pot Roast recipe on the Internet. Do people still call them Pot Roasts?

“Nothing, of course, begins at the time you think it did.”
Lillian Hellman ,An Unfinished Woman, 1969
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