When I was 9 years old, I wanted to be Catholic.
There were several extremely logical reasons for this. First of all, I was Presbyterian. We were known as “God’s Frozen People.” Not to knock the denomination to any of you devout Presbyterians out there, but we were a little on the boring side. Even my mother acknowledged as much since she would play tic-tac-toe with my sister and I in the balcony of First Presbyterian Church in Evanston, Illinois, so we would last through the service. Although I did enjoy my membership in the Children’s Choir until our first performance. We were magnificent and I was horrified when we were met with stone cold silence. “Why aren’t they clapping?” I asked a fellow choir member.
Trisha Walsh lived down the street. Now Trisha’s religion was something I could get excited about. Trisha was Catholic. She was one of nine children. It was 1962 and, not only was her house a hotbed of activity, but there were pictures of President John F. Kennedy everywhere on the walls. I thought he was dreamy.
I went to church with Trisha. Mass, actually. We got to wear little doilies on our heads, fastened with a bobby clip. The priests spoke in a foreign language. There was lots of kneeling and getting up and kneeling again. Activity. Something us Presbyterians were not accustomed to. At Trisha’s house, I got to say the rosary. I didn’t know what that was, but I liked the beginning: “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” Mary. A female figure of authority. We didn’t have that in our church.
But, most of all, I liked the food. Back then, Catholics didn’t eat meat on Fridays. And I waited all week to get invited to the Walsh’s for supper on Friday. Since there were nine kids, the menu did not include lobster. It was sardines, which I got accustomed to. And salmon patties, which I still adore to this day. And my favorite, tuna noodle casserole. Thinking back on it. it must have been a stretch for Mrs. Walsh to have one more mouth to feed.
I didn’t learn how to make tuna noodle casserole until years later. My teacher was Anne Clayton, who ran a catering company in Nashville and whose recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole was published in The Tennessean newspaper probably around 1994. It is the only recipe I’ve used since and it takes me back to Mrs. Walsh’s house every time.
Clayton-Blackmon Tuna Noodle Casserole
Makes 8 servings
1 8-ounce bag wide egg noodles
2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
8 ounces fresh mushrooms sliced
1-2 tablespoons sherry
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream
1 cup frozen peas
2 6-ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained
2 tablespoons diced canned pimento
Dash dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups crushed buttery crackers
Cook egg noodles in boiling water until done, according to package directions. Drain, rinse in cold water and turn into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
In a frying pan, melt the butter. Saute the green onions and mushrooms over medium-low heat until soft. Add the sherry and cook a minute longer. Turn into mixing bowl with noodles.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine soup with sour cream and add to mixing bowl along with peas, tuna, pimento, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.
Turn into a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with cracker crumbs and paprika. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until bubbly.