Squash casserole. It’s the recipe Bobby Shealy says is his favorite, but something happened on the way to publication of his first cookbook — he accidentally forgot to include it.
Three years ago when the local Realtor was looking for a publisher to share recipes mastered for family and friends over 40 years, he told the folks at Mascot Books that his cooking was not “health food.”
“My opening line to them was that if there is going to be a problem with bacon or cream cheese or butter or sour cream, then this isn’t probably the book for you,” recalled Shealy, who lives in a contemporary cottage in Riverland Terrace. “They said, ‘No, Southern food is coming back.’ ”
They struck a deal and he got to work. At the end of the month, area bookstores will have copies of A Taste of Living in Charleston: Lowcountry Dishes Anyone Can Cook. It’s also available online for $29.
It includes about 80 non-squash casserole recipes ranging from breads, desserts and drinks to Lowcountry standards, including almost as many ways to cook shrimp as Bubba from Forrest Gump could recite.
When asked which was his favorite, Shealy demurred (it’s a question most cookbook authors seem to hate). But when asked which was his favorite in terms of butter, cream, bacon or sour cream, he immediately said, “My squash casserole.” Then he paused. “Damn. I think I forgot to put it in there.” Moments later, he was still beating himself up over it: “I can’t believe I don’t have the squash in there.” (Fortunately for City Paper readers, he provided the recipe; see the end of the story.)
Shealy says his family in Charleston goes back to Captain Robert Seabrook, who sailed into the Holy City in 1680. Through the years, they’ve lived off the land and sea and enjoyed its bounty. Shealy added that he comes from a long line of good cooks who filled their homes with great smells and delicious food.
During college at the University of South Carolina, he worked part-time as a page at the Statehouse, only to take a job with the state Employment Security Commission after graduation. He retired in his mid-40s to launch a 20-year career as a top real estate agent in which he sells millions of dollars of homes year after year.
“I’m a people person,” Shealy said during an interview in his spacious grand room filled with knick-knacks collected in travels around the world. “I enjoy that part of the job. I’m very competitive. I strive to be No. 1. I’ve developed a lot of very good friendships with clients.”
Before the pandemic, Shealy entertained frequently in his home, opening it up to friends to share cocktails and meals. About five years ago, he built his current house on James Island, just down the street from an earlier home. He lives with his frisky cat Bailey in the 2,500-square-foot home that could easily appear in Coastal Living magazine. It has three bedrooms and two baths, plus a big pantry and a large and eclectic entertaining space highlighted by a grand kitchen island, two stoves and two dishwashers — all the better to cook for people. Outside is a small pool flanked by a shower, bar and space for smoker. A comfortable sitting garden set off by a privacy fence fronts the property.
Shealy’s cookbook was supposed to come out last year, but the pandemic got in the way, just as it interrupted plans for most people.
For a guy who loves to entertain and wrap people around good food and drink, the pandemic was especially hard for Shealy, who couldn’t entertain for months. He says it affected every aspect of his life. “Prior, I attended church, went out to dinner to try new places, went to the gym. All of that stopped.”
‘If I can cook it, so can you’
Friends suggested that Shealy write down his recipes in a book because they enjoyed his practical, tasty food.
“People love delicious Southern food,” he wrote in the book introduction, “and they are totally capable of making it, but they claim they just don’t have time to cook. This book provides many shortcuts to fabulous (mostly Southern) recipes.”
James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Nathalie Dupree, who heavily influenced the Charleston foodie scene before moving recently to North Carolina, said Shealy’s book will bring a bit of Charleston into any kitchen. “Bobby’s roots run deep in his recipes, highlighting Lowcountry flavors and authentic Southern cuisine,” she wrote in a book blurb. “With delicious and easy-to-follow recipes, Bobby reveals the secrets to stress-free cooking without sacrificing taste or presentation.”
Dupree also nudged Shealy in the direction of two friends, Virginia Willis and Cynthia Stevens Graubart, to help with publicity and share how to write a cookbook.
Now, Shealy is ready to share the book with people across the area.
“I hope these recipes bring as much happiness to my readers’ tables as they have mine,” he said. “There has been a lot of love, good times, friendships and relationships cultivated over my food. My wish is that these become traditions for others, as well.”
And now, without further adieu, the piece de resistance:
Bobby’s Squash Casserole
Prep time: 20-30 minutes; Cook time: 30-40 minutes. Serves six to eight.
- 2 pounds yellow crook-necked squash, stewed (see below)
- 4 oz. stick of butter, melted
- 2 medium Vidalia onions
- 14 oz. can sliced carrots
- 8 oz. sour cream
- 10.5 oz. can cream of chicken soup
- Two 8 oz. cans diced water chestnuts, drained
- 1-2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
- 1-2 cups chicken broth
- 1 pack Ritz crackers, crushed
- 1 cup bacon crumbles
- Several packs of stevia
- Morton Nature’s Seasons to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Stew squash. Dice your onions and cook for 3 to 5 minutes in olive oil in a large skillet. Then add your squash, sliced thinly and in small pieces. Saute in the oil with the onions for a few minutes. Do not let it burn. Then add one to two cups of chicken broth and put on low heat and cook down with the lid on for 10 to 20 minutes. Might take a little more depending on your stove. Use potato masher and mash the squash as it cooks. Check every few minutes and stir well.
2. Add the bacon crumbles. Then add salt, pepper and Nature’s Seasons to taste.
3. Add two to three packs of stevia and see if you like that flavor. I prefer sweeter with some pepper and add accordingly until I get the flavor I want.
4. Take the top off the skillet to help any excess liquid cook out. Once cooked (taste it), drain into a colander.
5. Once drained, pour the squash mixture into a greased 9-by-11 casserole dish and add all of the other ingredients, except the crackers and butter.
6. Sprinkle the mixture with the crushed crackers and drizzle the melted butter on top.
7. Bake until bubbly at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.