Today is the first Friday of Lent. Catholics and other religions mark the 40 days before Easter (actually 46, but Sundays aren’t included) with various forms of atonement and self-denial. The rules have relaxed considerably with time. When my parents were children the devout were still into some serious fasting, whereas during my childhood, things centered mostly on not eating meat on Fridays. Thankfully, children are no longer terrified that they’ll spend eternity in hell for a beef jerky.
I was raised Catholic, but I no longer practice. Some things, however, have remained etched in my psyche. If I were to pop into a Catholic mass, muscle memory would take over and I could recite my lines perfectly. And, to this day, I feel guilty if I eat meat on Fridays during Lent.
Mom was Catholic, but Dad was not. When he and my Mom got married, it was the custom for a non-Catholic to agree that any children would be raised in the Catholic church. Dad didn’t have a problem with that. He was a believer but not a church goer, and just didn’t partake in any organized religion. All of us kids were baptized at birth, made our Holy Communion, our Confirmation, and went to mass with Mom every week.
During Lent, even Dad didn’t eat meat on Fridays. It probably had more to do with the fact that we had a very traditional household than any religious reasons. Mom cooked dinner and Dad came home from work and ate it. End of story.
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, Mom was a good cook, but not a very imaginative one. Meat and potatoes were her thing, so when Lent came along she had to change it up. We were usually less than enthused by the results. I’m being kind. We mostly thought it was gross and couldn’t wait for Easter, and not just because of the chocolate bunnies.
Her Friday Lenten rotation consisted of fish sticks (which back then were more fish than breading); salmon patties (something that I rediscovered after I was married and make quite often); cold salmon, picked clean of bones and skin, straight out of the can (this and the salmon patties were always served with buttered egg noodles). At least once she would make potato pancakes from scratch, which was about the only Lenten meal we’d look forward to. We’d eat them with applesauce.
I don’t remember her ever cooking an actual piece of raw fish. And oddly, she never made tuna casserole, a staple of many a mid-century suburban household. One year when I was very young, she found a recipe (probably in Redbook or Ladies Home Journal) for a meatless noodle casserole. The noodles came out a bit al dente, resulting in a rather chewy consistency. Someone, probably my smart-aleck brother, dubbed it “Rubber Band Casserole.” The name stuck just as the noodles did to our teeth. From then on, when we would ask “what’s for dinner?” we would groan when the answer was Rubber Band Casserole. I found the recipe after she died and had to laugh when I saw that she had indeed typed “Rubber Band Casserole” at the top!
It’s amazing how times have changed. Our modern-day diets are no longer restricted by the region where we live or what’s in season. Here in the Midwest, seafood is as readily available as it is on either coast. Vegetarian dishes are commonplace, as are trends such as “Meatless Mondays.” Mr. Maid and I eat a meatless meal about once a week without even giving it a thought.
When Ash Wednesday rolls around each year to start the 40 day Lenten season, nostalgia for my Catholic upbringing kicks in. It’s more about tradition than religion for me, although I do believe that a little self-sacrifice and a test of willpower every now and then is good for the soul.
So, this year, like every other, I will prepare meatless meals on Fridays. The menu will be more varied than my Mom’s was, but I’ll still fall back to some of the old standbys like salmon patties and buttered egg noodles. Who knows? I may even give Rubber Band Casserole a go!
Do you ever find yourself craving something you professed to dislike as a kid? What dishes take you back to your childhood?
Enjoy this clip of the brilliant George Carlin’s classic take on the changing rules of Lent.