Ship Wreck Casserole – Vintage Recipe

It’s Vintage Recipe Week.  And all I can think about is my Grammy in the kitchen.  I have many a memory of her working hard in the kitchen…working to feeding her brood.

As I made this Ship Wreck, I could only think about her in 1940.  She would have been a teenager, and it would seem that cooking was already an interest of hers.  She signed this cookbook with her maiden name.  Years before she would become a wife. A mother. A grandmother.

I thought of her in her apron.  In her vintage kitchen. With rollers in her hair.

Making this Ship Wreck.

The Original Recipe. (Which I am now calling Ship Wreck Casserole.)

Nope…not a lot to work with. No dish size. No specific ingredients amounts.

But, I got this one.  I got it!

Shall we…

2 onions, sliced into a 9×13 pyrex buttered dish

4 medium-ish baking potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick. Yes, out of sheer laziness did I not peel them.

In what could be full retail prices from 1940, $.39 tomato sauce and $.19 tomato paste.

Pour about half the sauce.

Breaking from the oh-so-detailed recipe here. (Not that it matters!) Added celery and some garlic powder and Italian seasonings.

I decided that it needed some flavor. And it made me wonder if Mrs. J. O. Foley could even find garlic powder and Italian seasonings at the corner store.

Then add 2 cups cooked rice.

Browned ground beef mixed with can of red kidney beans. (Yes. “Breaking” the recipe again. And I’ll likely do it again before the recipe is over.)

I only used a pound, so I took the other pound of ground beef and beans and made it into taco meat by mixing in some homemade taco seasoning and then freezing the meat.

Top with the remaining tomato sauce.

Spread the sauce around with a pastry brush.

Bake covered for 40-45 minutes, or “until potatoes are done.”

(Add some shredded cheese if you like. Last time I’ll mess with the recipe. Promise!)

I must say. Mrs. J. O. Foley really knew what she was doing back in 1940.

A surprising YUM on this one!!!

Ship Wreck Casserole

Adapted from my Grammy’s 1940 Church Cookbook


  • 2 small yellow onions, sliced ($.60)
  • 4 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed and sliced ($.60)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste ($.19)
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce ($.39)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped ($.20)
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • Few dashes pepper
  • 2 cups cooked rice ($.40)
  • 3/4 lb. ground beef, browned ($1.34)
  • 1 15 oz can red kidney beans, drained ($.67)
  • About 1 cup shredded cheese ($.75) Use 2 cups to cover the entire dish


  1. Place the sliced onions into a 9×13 baking dish. Top with potato slices.
  2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the tomato sauce and the tomato paste plus 1 paste cans worth of water. Pour half of the tomato sauce over the potatoes and onions.
  3. Sprinkle the chopped celery over the top. Season with garlic salt and some pepper.
  4. Spread the cooked rice over the top of the celery and seasonings.
  5. Combine the browned ground beef and red kidney beans in a mixing bowl, then top with the remainder of the tomato sauce. Spread the sauce over the entire dish with a pastry brush. Top with shredded cheese. Cover tightly with foil.
  6. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, or until potatoes are done.
  7. Serve as is, or with side of corn or green beans.

Cost $4.05

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  1. Missy_in_WV says

    Oh my goodness, THIS recipe must be where our family favorite recipe comes from!! We use diced potatoes (like if you were going to fry them), sliced carrots, cooked ground beef (with onion), layer in a 13×9 pan and cover with a can of condensed tomato SOUP (do not add water). Add spices that you like – garlic and onion powder, seasoning salt, etc. Cover and bake until veggies are tender, 350 for 45-60 minutes. This can be so easily added to or reduced to feed more or less. If I’m making it for more than four people, I usually have to use 1 1/2 to 2 cans of soup. We have it with a salad and applesauce.

    How cool! Thanks for sharing!

  2. says

    This sounds fantastic! I adore old cookbooks — particularly locally printed ones like this! — and old recipes, too. This Ship Wreck will be added to my menu plan in short order!

  3. says

    We had Ship Wreck tonight! I made a few changes to a recipe I found on All Recipes a couple of years ago (adding garlic powder for one)… the recipe I have doesn’t have rice in it… and uses a can of tomato soup instead of the paste and sauce. I’ll have to try this version soon!

    Not sure of the name, but it’s certainly not a very “pretty” dish when it’s served up. :-)

  4. Tina says

    I saw your recipe for shipwreck casserole and it reminded me of my grandma’s potato and egg recipe. I wonder….I bet it only costs $3.00 and soo good.

  5. Susan says

    I just happened to have ALL the ingredients (including exactly 2 cups of leftover rice!) so have put this together for dinner tonight. It makes a lot!! Smells really good. Thanks for the recipe :)

  6. says

    Making this up… but if it’s really good, maybe if you were ship wrecked on a deserted island, this casserole would be enough to sustain you. :)
    It sounds like one of those basic jumping off point casseroles. If you don’t have celery, no big deal. White onions instead of yellow? that’s ok. Only a half lb of ground beef, add another potato…

  7. says

    Similar to a recipe of my mom’s, which has onions, gr. beef, potatoes and kidney beans; no rice, and the ground beef is the first in the pan. It’s called Cowboy dinner. Yum! Ship Wreck is also a cool name. Much better than “Hamburger Layered Casserole” or another way too descriptive title like that.

    P.S. New to the site, and I’m loving it! My hubby and I always discuss how much dinner cost to prepare, and we’re pretty impressed when it costs less than $10 for our family of 6.

  8. says

    Mine is in the oven right now and smelling so delicious! The only change I made is that I used a can of corn instead of celery because I didn’t want to buy the whole bunch just to use a couple of stalks (I live alone so low chance of using it all up). I found a can of corn for $0.50 so not a huge change. Also, I only used 2 of the smallest potatoes I could find because it seemed like so much! I’m assuming the smallest ones I found were still larger than your “medium” potatoes. So excited to try it!

    • says

      I don’t use celery often enough to warrant keeping it on hand for recipes, but I love having it when I need it for recipes. I bought a huge bunch at Sam’s Club, chopped it up and put about 1 cup worth in ziplocs and put them in the freezer. Super handy!

      • Tami says

        Alana – great idea! I also buy my veggies in bulk, chop them up, and freeze in baggies. So handy to pull one serving out of the freezer, and it’s as good as fresh when used in recipes!

      • Sharon says

        Wrap celery in tin foil to keep much longer. I break it apart (do not cut with knife) and wrap with foil in small bunches. If it does get a little limp soak for a few minutes in a bowl of cold water and ice. It will perk right up.

    • christine simoneau says

      I can tell you if you wrap your bunch of celery in tin foil it will last for weeks, a Martha Stewart tip, not that I am a fan but give the dog its day.

  9. Claire says

    I am so hungry right now and this sounds great! budget friendly also. My family of 8 is getting this for dinner soon.

    • Rachel says

      Kelli, I was wondering about 19 cent tomato paste too! :) I noticed the prices are linked above and upon following it the tomato paste was bought with a 75 cents off coupon at Krogers.

    • Darce says

      The prices are from a long time ago, likely in the 1940’s. I highly doubt someone paid $1.34 for ground beef in this day and time. LOL!

  10. says

    I made a similar recipe a few years ago from a recipe book. It was a bit different but we liked it. Shipwreck probably means it’s like all the stuff from when a ship gets wrecked and floating around. A little bit of everything. I’m gonna hunt for my recipe and see what’s different. I’m thinking it was my taste of home cookbook, one of the few I have!

  11. Janice says

    We are having this tonight I have put it together using sweet potatoes, tomato soup and 1/2 a green pepper instead of the celery. I can’t wait to see hubby’s face when I tell him what it’s called :)
    It smells really good!

    • Dawn Caldwell says

      I’m not a big tomato paste or sauce fan either, so I have experimented over the years by using condensed cream soups. I use mushroom if the recipe has beef in it, cream of celery if pork and of course cream of chicken if the recipe has any kind of poultry. I plan on making this by using the cream of mushroom with a can of 1/2 milk and 1/2 water and see how it does. hope this tip might help you.

  12. Jennifer says

    This is lovely to see in an actual cookbook. I truly believed my grandmother invented Shipwreck. Slightly different, yet enough like yours to bring a few sentimental tears to my eyes. My grandmother’s recipe did not include onions or rice and she spiced things up a bit by sprinkling brown sugar over the soup and “many dashes A-1” over that. Our tradition holds that it was called “Shipwreck” because that’s what you do to it just before you serve it! Thanks for the memories!

  13. Meredith says

    My mother used to make Shipwreck Casserole when I was young, and I loved it! This recipe looks delicious. I’m definitely giving it a go soon.

    I always believed it was called “shipwreck” because it generally contained a lot of random leftovers thrown together. Not sure if that’s the real reason for the name, but it works for me. 😉

  14. Sarah T says

    We just tried this for dinner tonight, and even my picky husband likes it. We did our own modifications, of course, and the potatoes took much longer, but it’s quite good.

  15. mary jane says

    Just to let everyone know, I originally learned this recipe and it uses tomato soup and white progress o beans. Nothing else changes and it is a great tasting meal.

  16. says

    made this for many years when family was growing up was a casserole that was requwsted often used a can of pork and beans instead of kidney beans

  17. says

    To Gloria from another Gloria this is the way my mom made and it was the way my late hubby preferred it was served often as we were “depression people” and every penny counted

  18. Sandra says

    Does anyone know how many calories this recipe contains? It sounds great but I am on a strict diet that involves calorie counting.


  19. Maria says

    Not a fan of kidney beans, I’ll use Roman ( Cranberry) beans. About the rice and potatoes together, my mother cooked cut potatoes with stuffed peppers. Since I am pre-diabetic, I’ll use brown rice. Thanks for the recipe.

  20. Alana says

    I found my recipe for Shipwreck in an old church recipe book published in 1951 in Whitehorse, YT, Canada. Have made it many times. But I had a lot more “guessing” to do than you did – my recipe did not specify that the beef or rice be cooked before they were put into the casserole. And it called for tomato soup as the top layer, not anywhere else in the layers. Because I used uncooked hamburger meat, I started mixing a can of tomato soup into the meat, to make it a lot more palatable.

  21. Judy Vance says

    I have been making this forever for my grandchildren who love it. I crumble up chips for topping. No onions though for my grand kids.

  22. Rebecca says

    My family has a very similar recipe, just that we refer to it as a stew instead of the casserole. Works well when adapted a bit for a slow cooker. I once took a batch to school for a family heritage day, and everyone loved it

  23. Laurel says

    The recipe my Mom used didn’t have rice in it. At the end it said the reason it was called Shipwreck was because when the ship wrecked the canned food all floated to the island but the labels had soaked off so the recipe was born from adding whatever was in the cans( kidney beans, carrots, soup ect) Nice story to explain why sometimes the beans or other veggies were different depending on what was on hand. Always had tomato soup & potatoes at our house tho!

  24. Dorothy says

    Everyone loves this recipe. We had it a lot while growing up. My mom used to use breakfast sausage or whatever meat was in the freezer and different veggies as well. It goes a long way. Some of these older recipes are definitely the best

  25. says

    My aunt’s ship apparently wrecked in Lake Ponchartrain because she used red beans, brown rice and a small amount of cajun seasoning. She also chose red bell pepper, just for the color I guess, and always the celery tops, too, with sweet onions. Back then she wrote ‘Texas’ onions. I ate it her way as a kid and tweaked it a little with no tomato paste or sauce but pureed Rotel tomatoes with peppers which kicked it up a notch, but then I went back to adding the tomato paste, too, and always use a bunch of shredded cheddar because I am bad. Love it. Goes great with coleslaw, but I am not sure why.
    The story about cans with no labels I have heard before and experience when my now 33 yr old son was 4.

  26. says

    This was very yummy, but I chose to use Cauliflower instead of Potatoes. By doing so, I cut down on the carbs, the calories, and all of that potato starch. I used Wild Rice (which my family and I love) and I used 96/4% Ground Beef. This recipe didn’t specify which particular cheese to use on top, so I used Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese. This dish turned out very nicely (with my ‘healthier’ modifications). I’ll definitely make this dish again, but only with my much healthier substitutions.


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