Lent: Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup

ESCANABA – Golden brown grilled cheese sandwiches on the back of the wood stove. Milk tomato soup made with home canned tomatoes simmers in the kettle. Tuna melts and tuna fish casserole, salmon patties sizzle in the cast-iron frying pan…

These comfort foods of the Lenten season were a part of my up-bringing.

Upper Michigan is famous for its traditional Friday night fish fries consisting of deep fried perch, baked beans, french fries, cole slaw and homemade bread.

For many of my growing up years, the Lenten fish were caught right out on the ice of Little Bay de Noc in the fish shack. I can still smell the distinctive odor of fresh fish being cleaned and scaled in the backroom.

The sweet zesty smell of beans roasting in the oven was a prelude to hot fragrance of the deep fryer.

Meatless meals and fishy Fridays are of course supposed to be a sacrifice as we prepare to celebrate Easter. But, even our simpler Lenten meals were always scrumptious at our house. My mom was one of those great cooks who could take a few simple ingredients and make it taste like gourmet.

If my Dad or brothers, or uncles had caught fish, the Friday meal would be perch, walleye, whitefish or lawyer.

If the freezer was fish-less, tuna fish casserole was a family favorite. Back in those days of eight or more around the table, we seldom went out to eat.

Lunch bags took on a whole new Lenten smell, egg salad on rye or tuna toast with onions.

It’s funny how some of these meatless, comfort foods have come back in style. I am so fortunate to have always been so well fed, that I’m forced to do something other than food for a Lenten sacrifice. So, while I’m thinking about giving up candy, chocolate or coffee for Lent, here is a favorite old recipe.

Milk Tomato Soup

4 tablespoons of butter

1/4 cup chopped onion

3 tablespoons flour

3 cups of milk

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 teaspoons of sugar, salt and pepper to taste

2 quarts of home canned garden tomatoes

1 teaspoon baking soda

Pasta cooked and drained (optional)

In a large sauce pan heat butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, cook until tender. Stir flour into vegetable mixture, mix well. Gradually stir in milk and sugar, salt and pepper. Continue to heat until mixture thickens and begins to boil. Stir in a teaspoon of baking soda. Meanwhile on another pan, heat tomatoes, mash tomatoes slightly with potato masher if desired. Then gradually add the two mixtures, garnish with parmesan cheese.