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Onset Of Lent Brings Back Memories Of The White Meal, A Local Food Tradition

Prior to 1966, Fridays and all the days of Lent were times of abstaining from eating meat for the Catholic residents of Ste. Genevieve.

The festival season from Christmas until Mardi Gras had been one of dancing, celebrating, and eating. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday was the last day to eat heartily before Lent began on Ash Wednesday. Following were forty days of fasting and abstinence as a means of preparing spiritually for Easter.

Local cooks prepared a wide variety of meals to feed their families on these meatless days.

One such meal was called the White Meal because it consisted of noodles along with navy or great northern beans. Before the days of store-bought pasta, the cook would mix a batch of dough from flour and egg, roll it out in a circle or rectangle, roll it up into a tube and cut it into thin strips. These strips were hung on rods, on the back of a chair or on dish towels laid on the dining room table or bed. Once dried, they were boiled, drained, and fried in some Crisco along with some homemade croutons. The noodles went on the plate first followed by a big helping of beans. Since both the noodles and the beans were light colored, the dish became known as the White Meal. Sometimes the noodles were replaced with knaeflies without the liver or with spatzle, another German heritage noodle of a different shape.

The noodles and beans were often topped with stewed tomatoes and you can still find this trio of foods at local restaurants such as the buffet at the Old Brick or the fish fries at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

But stewed tomatoes were not the only topping. In our family, the stewed tomatoes were replaced with mayonnaise potato salad and hot sauce (talk about your carb loading). In a cousin’s family, they added spaghetti noodles to the mix along with some fried potato cakes for ultra carb loading. Well, maybe we were a little more active back then.

The White Meal was not the only meatless dish popular on Ste. Genevieve tables. Based on recent comments on a local Facebook page, salmon and mackerel patties were one of the more popular dishes.

Another popular meal used dummis as a base. Dummis is a southwest German dish in which pancake batter is poured into a skillet and then two knives are used to cut it up in little pieces as it cooks. The dummis were served with warm syrup and a variety of different family preferences to include warmed home-picked blackberries or blackberry jelly, sprinkled with sugar, or even topped with navy beans and onions marinated in vinegar. Other batter dishes like French toast and pancakes made for a quick non-meat breakfast. If you had chickens, eggs were either served scrambled, fried or boiled along with generous helpings of German fried potatoes and onions.

Fried egg sandwiches on soft white Wonder bread were a favorite noon time lunch. Macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches were also popular lunchtime fares. One respondent on Facebook indicated their family favorite were noodles covered with a little hot grease and grape jelly.

Vegetable soup made with home canned vegetables and tomato juice was often on the table and was stretched a little bit with the addition of ribelies. Other soups included potato, bean, and mock turtle (another soup made from home-canned tomatoes). The old reliable cream of mushroom soup sometimes made it way to the table when a quick meal was needed or the money was a little tight at the end of the month.

Fried fish was another delectable meatless meal, especially if the fish came from a local creek or pond. Bass, catfish and perch were favorites, especially when served with beans and noodles. During the summer months, a dish of fried frog legs was so tasty that it didn’t seem to be abstaining. But a dinner of crawdad tails obtained from the low-water bridge on the North Gabouri was really almost fasting since it took a lot of those little critters to make a meal.

Local grocery stores provided canned herring, sardines, and tuna. In 1898, you could purchase cod, pickled and smoked herring, salmon, and sardines at the Jokerst Brothers and Yearly store. In the late 1930s, Koettings offered one-pound pail of Russian sardines for a dollar, and Kroger’s was selling oysters, haddock and scallops. In the 1950s, the Model Market offered fresh turtle meat and that ever-popular turtle chili along with jack salmon. Later, as frozen foods became more available, fish sticks became a Friday staple.

All in all, local Ste. Genevievians who practiced fasting and abstaining made do with a variety of meatless meals. However, most were glad when Lent ended and they could again enjoy the Ste. Genevieve staples of Oberle dog, liver dumplings, fried chicken, sausage, and kettle beef.

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