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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.


March 30, 2009

The Lenten Season has begun.

In most Christian denominations, Lent is the 40-day period of fasting and prayer before Easter.

Growing up, I attended church, religiously. If the doors were unlocked at Main Street United Methodist Church in my hometown of Hattiesburg, I was usually there— Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, Thursday night youth group, and skating in the Fellowship Hall on Saturdays.

My favorite time to attend church was Wednesday nights during the summer for covered-dish suppers. My church was filled with great cooks. Ladies would line the Fellowship Hall with casseroles, fired chicken, and homemade cakes, and pies. In addition to my grandmother’s house, my love of Southern food was formed in church.

At my church we loved to eat. That might be why I don’t remember anyone fasting during Lent. Actually, I was in my 40s before I learned that fasting during Lent wasn’t an practice exclusive to Catholics.

As a kid I always heard the term “Lent” but it was never followed by the word “fast,” other than, “It’s the 12 th day of Lent. How ‘fast’ can we get to the Fellowship Hall to eat some green bean casserole.”

Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, though I don’t remember anyone in my family ever fasting, either. None of my relatives fasted and none of my neighbors fasted. As far as I was concerned, fasts and fish-on-Fridays were for the Catholics.

I never knew any Baptists who fasted. I knew a few Episcopalians who gave up drinking for Lent, but I don’t know any who made it all the way until Easter.

It might have been a communication problem. Maybe the word just didn’t circulate in my church. I have Baptist friends who tell me about how fast news travels in their church. They call it “gossip.” In the Methodist church, we don’t gossip, we just put your name on the prayer list. “Betty, did you hear what Erma’s husband did? We better add his name to the prayer list.”

I am so ignorant when it comes to fasting that the first conversation I ever had with anyone about the subject was last year. My friend, Kevin (a Methodist, by the way), fasted for 28 days drinking water only, he went another seven days with no solid food, and then spent 14 days eating just vegetables. Being a Methodist, odds are high that a green-bean casserole that was the first vegetable dish he consumed after 35 days without food.

“Verily I say unto you, Pyrex is the dish that pulls us through”— Book of Robert, Chapter 2, verse 34.

Maybe it’s not ignorance. Maybe it’s selective listening. My wife says I have a chronic case of that particular malady. Maybe people were talking about fasting all of the time while I was growing up. Maybe I was too busy eating to pay attention to what they were saying. It could have been that they were taking with their mouths full and I couldn’t understand all of the important details that pertained to fasting. All I remember is that we always ate before church, at church, and after church.

Nevertheless, I am not fasting this year. Actually, the only thing that I am giving up during this the Lenten season is fasting. Though that’s actually nothing different that I do during the rest of the year, so it probably doesn’t count.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to people who fast. I have nothing against it. I am probably as devout as the next guy. It’s just that eating is in my church DNA. I am Methodist, therefore I eat (casseroles). For the rest of you— hurry Easter!

Robert’s Mainly Methodist Green Bean Casserole

1 qt Chicken Broth
4 cans Green Beans, drained (14.5 oz cans)

1/4 cup Bacon, very small dice
1/2 cup Yellow Onion, small dice
1/4 cup Red Bell Pepper, small dice
1/4 cup Green Bell Pepper, small dice
2 tsp Garlic, minced
2 tsp Caraway seeds
1 tsp Creole Seasoning
1 tsp Black Pepper

4oz can Sliced Water Chestnuts, drained
1cup Sour Cream
1/2 cup Sharp Cheddar, shredded

1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1/4 cup Parsley, freshly chopped
2 TBL Melted Butter

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large saucepot, bring chicken broth to a boil. Place green beans in the broth and gently simmer 10 minutes. Drain the green beans.

Heat a medium sized sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place the bacon in the pan and cook it until it become brown and crispy. Stir often to prevent burning. Add the onion and peppers and sauté for three minutes. Add garlic, caraway seeds, Creole seasoning, black pepper and cook for an additional three minutes.

Combine green beans, sautéed bacon-vegetable mixture, water chesnuts, sour cream, and cheddar in a large stainless steel bowl. Place in a 2 quart baking dish. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

Combine the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley and melted butter. Remove the foil and top with the bread crumb mixture. Bake for 10-15 more minutes, until the topping is light brown in color. Let casserole sit for 10 minutes before serving.

8 servings

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