ROBERT ST. JOHN: Oh, how I love wheat



I grew up mainly Methodist in a mostly Baptist world.

I was raised in a neighborhood filled with Protestants. In my little notch of the Bible Belt, there were a few Jewish families scattered about, but the Hillendale section of Hattiesburg was as WASPy as any neighborhood could be. Nevertheless, I had more friends that were Jewish than Catholic. I knew more about bar mitzvahs than I did Mass. I don’t think I knew any Catholics until I was in college.

As a kid I was in Main Street Methodist Church whenever the doors were open – Sunday school, Sunday morning worship Sunday evening worship, Methodist Youth Fellowship meetings, Wednesday night covered-dish suppers, and skating in the fellowship hall on Saturday mornings. It was a very Wesleyan existence.

I knew all of the liturgy by heart, and could recite the Apostle’s Creed before I was in kindergarten. I was a dyed-in-the-casserole Methodist, yet I don’t remember ever giving up anything for Lent.

I can remember sermons during Lenten season, I knew the word “Lent,” and I am sure there were people in my church who gave up stuff for Lent. I just never paid much attention to it, and I guess no attention was ever drawn to it. I grew up thinking giving up something for Lent was a “Catholic thing.”

It is a fact there was no fasting going on in my house as a kid. I don’t remember any fasting in my church either. Fasting was one of those things “other people” do. We stocked up on casseroles 52 Wednesdays a year.

I love my Catholic friends and found a new appreciation for that denomination during my travels in Europe. Maybe that is why I recently started to practice a form of fasting during the Lenten season.

This whole fasting-during-Lent concept is new to me. My initial brush with it was probably more of a join-the-movement gesture than anything else. Now I take it seriously. Though I will be the first to admit I don’t know a whole lot about other people’s fasting practices during Lent, and today – as a multi-blended denominational type guy – I just give something up and let other people worry about all of the rules.

I had an in-depth Lenten conversation with a friend last week. He was griping about all the people who give up something for Lent and then go around talking about what they are sacrificing for the next 40 days. I wasn’t sure if that was aimed at me or not. Yet here I am squawking about Lent for tens of thousands to read in a newspaper. So whether he was aiming that at me, or not, it probably applies. Guilty. Move on.

Last year I gave up something that wasn’t very consequential. As a matter of fact, it was so inconsequential I can’t even remember what I gave up. This year I don’t have that problem. This Lenten season I decided to “go big” as my son would say. I gave up wheat.

For those who know me, that is huge. I love wheat and everything made with wheat. A chocolate fast or meat fast would be kids’ play. Try giving up bread or pasta or cereal or pancakes or fried chicken or pizza or cookies or cakes or croissants. Did I mention pizza? You would be amazed at the food items that have wheat in them.

Technically, I guess you could say I am gluten-free until Easter.

We offer a gluten-free menu at our Italian concept, Tabella, and it has been growing in popularity for the past two years. Grocery stores have several options for wheat-free/gluten-free products.

So typically this column would be filled with one long angry outburst about how I miss wheat. But since there are options out there and since my friend cleverly admonished me for talking about my Lenten fast, and since I am at pseudo peace with the world during this fast, I’ll just leave you with this one thought – hurry, Easter.

Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.

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