St. John of the Cross knows its food

A nugget of Clarion Herald history is buried inside the most recent parish cookbook from St. John of the Cross Church in Lacombe.

Listed on page 20, “Corn/Shrimp Soup,” by St. John of the Cross pastor, Father Gil Martin, has the distinction of being the first very recipe to be printed in a March 12, 1992 debut feature called “Father’s Favorite Recipe.” The 1992 Lenten feature, which spotlighted a single meatless recipe from a priest living in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, blossomed over the ensuing two decades into the multi-page “Holy Smoke” section that now appears in the Clarion Herald during the six weeks of Lent.
“You just dump it all in the pot and cook it,” said Father Gil of the roux-based soup which was created by his late mother, tweaked by the priest himself and derives its earthy flavor from both creamed and whole-grain corn. “It’s just a good combination of ingredients and it’s easy to make.”

Three in 30 years
Father Gil’s soup is one of 250 parishioner-submitted dishes compiled “Favorites from Our Table,” a cookbook endeavor spearheaded by St. John of the Cross’ Ladies Guild. The works of the 70-member strong corps of parish women include preparing luncheons for bereaved families, cleaning and decorating church, mounting Lenten prayer breakfasts and raising money for charitable efforts inside and outside the parish.

The splatter-proof, spiral bound “Favorites from Our Table” is the 30-year-old parish’s third published cookbook.

“The Ladies Guild was looking for a way to raise some money other than bake sales,” said Paulette Laurent, a former Ladies Guild president and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion who co-chaired the cookbook effort with current Guild president Pamela Miceli.

“We asked all the parishioners to submit their favorite recipe no matter what it was – appetizers, desserts, main dishes, vegetables, soups,” Laurent said.

It turned out to be an easy request, with cooks in the 900-family parish – veterans of numerous potlucks, cook-offs, Family Days and fish fries selling a dizzying 650 plates of food – sending in “tons of recipes.” Ladies Guild volunteers typed in each submission for the cookbook’s April 2013 debut – a date deliberately chosen to capture Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift-giving needs.

“Eating for this parish is very, very important; it’s a community thing,” Laurent said. “It’s a small parish where everybody knows each other. When Father Gil gives Communion, he knows everybody’s name. He is a very community-type person, so everyone gravitates toward that. It is truly a parish family here.”

Parishioners regularly gather to dine in their recently expanded Msgr. Francis Boeshans Community Center, named after their founding pastor, and ministry meetings are almost always followed by a bite to eat.

“We tried to make sure that everybody who had submitted a recipe had at least one or two put in the book,” Laurent said, adding that pains were taken to ensure that parishioners did not submit recipes from other published cookbooks.

Pressed to name her meatless favorites in the cookbook, Laurent cited the “Fruit Ball” recipe she discovered in a magazine and adjusted herself.

“If I don’t bring the Fruit Ball to the Ladies Guild Christmas dinner, Father Gil’s gonna fuss,” Laurent chuckled, prompting her pastor to jokingly add: “I could hurt myself with that.” The dessert calls for very simple ingredients: cream cheese, vanilla pudding and canned fruit cocktail.

“You have to drain the fruit cocktail very well, because it’ll be too wet otherwise,” Laurent said, noting that she likes to use brands that have extra cherries. “Use any kind of buttery cracker you like, like Ritz, not just a saltine,” she advised.

Two other sweets stand out in her mind: Gwen Fousch’s simple to make, “to die for” Banana Pudding (“I think it’s the condensed milk,” Laurent said); and Laurent’s own Vanilla Wafer Cake, a first-place winner at a parish baking contest.

“The original recipe, which I lost at some point in time, was an original recipe my husband’s grandmother used to make, and I loved it,” said Laurent, who went to the Internet to Google in the ingredients she remembered and experimented with the proportions to reproduce the cake she remembered.

“You don’t use flour. The crushed vanilla wafers are your base,” said Laurent of the slow-baking cake. “It’s very moist and solid and firm. It has everything that people down here like – the pecans, the coconut – and it’s wonderful with coffee.”

“Favorites from Our Table” is available for purchase for $15 at the parish office, 61030 Brier Lake Drive in Lacombe. For more information, call the parish office at (985) 882-3779.

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