The Flavor of Childhood Summers

For me scenttuna chowder can evoke a memory better than any other sense. A bit of salt and sea in the air and I am transported to my childhood home. A certain mixture of lemon Pledge, Downy and warmth brings my mother’s face instantly to mind. Jessica McClintock perfume does both – it brings both the beach and my mother to me.

But there’s a reason why we talk about “comfort food” not “comfort smells”. With food we get both scent and sustenance. When we eat our special foods we can relive the warm feelings of the experiences that made a certain dish comfort food for us.

Summertime, and the living is easy….
I spent most of my summers with my paternal grandparents in the Bay Area. Like many kids of my generation I had two parents with vital careers which made staying home for summer vacation complicated. My grandmother cared for me and my cousins during the long, hot California summer through the seventies and into the eighties. The flavor of summer when I was young was frozen grape juice-bars, home-made lemon yogurt, poached-eggs-on-toast-with-cheese, and tater-tot casserole. I celebrated a lot of birthdays with my grandparents being an August baby.

When I got a little older and my sister and I could stay home for the summer the flavors were of pancakes with Karo syrup (shudder!), Kraft macaroni and cheese and McDonald’s chicken McNuggets. But in those teen-aged summers I was also home for my birthday.

The birthday dinner I asked for year after year was my maternal Grandmother’s Tuna Chowder. A hearty soup, but a relatively light dinner in the hottest month of the year. It’s a wonderfully easy and quick recipe and served with a green salad and some home-made bread (or my mom’s green onion and jack cheese biscuits) it tastes just like summer to me.

Grandma Hazel’s Tuna Chowdertuna chowder
2 Tbs butter
¼ C chopped celery
1 C chopped onions
1 C diced potato
8 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 ¼ tsp coarse salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1/3 tsp thyme
¼ tsp dill
2Tbsp flour
3 C milk
1 large flat can tuna in water, drained
2 Tbsp parsley
1 C grated Monterrey Jack cheese

Combine the butter, celery, onion and potato in a large, heavy stock pan or Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, until potato is softening. Stir in salt, pepper, thyme, dill and flour. Cook, stirring constantly about 5 minutes until the flour is slightly browned. Add tomatoes, milk, tuna and parsley. Heat, stirring, until soup is thickened and boils. Stir in cheese and serve.

Be careful after adding the thickening as it can scorch.

Enjoy! (and share your summer favorites!)

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