A Hug in a Bowl: Faith’s Tunafish and Noodles



Today I have a guest blogger, my friend Faith Montgomery Paul. As kids Faith and I spent summers together at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley, Massachusetts. She’s probably the first person apart from my family I ever cooked with. We made a ton of fudge and cookies to share with our friends as teenagers! Along the way we cooked up a friendship that has lasted for decades.

Faith returns to Hawley every summer with her husband Arnold and her son Ian, one of my all-time favorite kids. We only see each other a few days a year, but we’re in touch by e-mail all the time, and it feels as though we’re still just around the corner. She wrote me a few weeks back and said she was in the mood for tuna-noodle casserole, and I said that sounded like a blog post to me!

When I made the casserole (the photo is of my version; I’m sure Faith’s looks neater!) I didn’t have any canned mushrooms so I sautéed a few fresh ones and popped them in. I also threw a little paprika on top because I just love paprika. And I mixed the salt, pepper, and onion granules into the sauce so they would spread out (sorry, Faith; I just can’t help messing with recipes a teensy bit).

Anyone else who would like to share thoughts and recipes is very welcome to do so; after all, the name of this blog is “In OUR Grandmothers’ Kitchens.”

Meanwhile, here’s Faith……… 


Comfort Food


Everyone has his or her own definition of comfort food, and I would be hard put to define it conclusively. But I know it when I eat it. It can take the sting out of winter, or heartbreak, or too much STRESS, at least temporarily. It’s warming and sustaining and non-threatening (no exotic ingredients here!). It’s like eating a hug in a bowl. Usually, it’s something that my mother Jane made when we were growing up. Sometimes it involves noodles, sometimes cheese sometimes both!


Winter is my prime time for comfort food, because I really don’t like winter very much. Yeah, the snow is nice when everything looks impossibly like a postcard. Yeah, it’s great that my son gets to ski (every Tuesday, all day, with his school — great school — but that’s another story). Yeah, I know we only get the other three seasons because we have winter. I get all that. I still don’t like wearing all these clothes and having my hands cold from November to April. I don’t like days with more darkness than sunshine. Really, I’d just like to eat my weight in chocolate around Thanksgiving (possibly Veterans Day) and then sleep until Memorial Day.


So, along about now, when it seems as if winter might not end, I dig into my memories of childhood and produce: tunafish and noodles. Other people might call it tuna noodle casserole, but in my family it’s “tunafish and noodles.” And here’s how my mother made it.




about 1/3 of a 1-pound bag of medium-width egg noodles

2 cans tuna packed in water

2 ribs celery, chopped (more if you’re a celery fan)

1 can mushrooms, optional

1 can cream of celery soup

1 soup can of milk

onion powder (about 1/4 teaspoon, or more to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

several slices American cheese




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook and drain the noodles according to package directions. While they are cooking, drain the tuna and canned mushrooms (if using) and chop the celery. In a 3-quart casserole, combine the drained tuna, drained mushrooms, and celery, making sure to break up the big chunks of tuna. Add the noodles and mix well. Add the cream of celery soup and milk. Mix very well. Sprinkle with onion powder. Taste for seasoning and add more onion powder and/or salt and pepper until it is pleasing. Top the casserole with cheese. Bake, covered, for about 45 minutes. If you like the cheese a little brown, remove the cover near the end. Serves 6 to 8.


Note: My mother always puts butter and salt and pepper on the noodles before she puts them in the casserole, but in a nod to my cholesterol level I don’t. I also use one-percent milk, and we don’t notice the difference. Of course, I do put cheese on top, but you have to draw the line somewhere.


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5 Responses to “A Hug in a Bowl: Faith’s Tunafish and Noodles”

  1. Sara Stone says:


  2. Jim Littrell says:

    Nice to be reminded of Faith and those summer days that now seem long ago–and her bathing suit that lingered on the changing cabin railing long after she was gone. Now as to that tuna casserole, it got me thinking about just about the first thing I ever cooked, another version of the tuna casserole thing based on a recipe from an amazing and awesome little cookbook called “The impoverished students’ book of cookery, drinkery, & housekeepery” by Jay Rosenberg, who when he wrote it in the late 1960’s was a student at Reed College, where it can still be had from the college bookstore for $9.95 (half of which goes to a scholarship fund at Reed in Jay’s name). I learned, pretty much, how to cook from this book, which I acquired in 1970. Not only did it frame cooking as an open-ended and creative endeavor, but it was full of your basic advice on implements and such, and it’s written with great good 1970’s undergrad humor. It’s never been out of print, despite what Amazon says, though early editions are now selling for big bucks. As for the tuna casserole, it’s rightly one of the book’s recommended staples; but so expansive is Jay’s view of cooking that the simple noodles, condensed soup, canned peas, and tuna version he included has evolved in my family over time to include, as above, fresh mushrooms, fresh frozen petite peas, fresh dill, sour cream, bechamel sauces, cayenne pepper and even once fresh tuna! The current gourmet’s delight, which I last made last summer at SBF, would never have come to pass without the influences of my grandmothers and Professor Rosenberg (who went on to become a very important figure–philosopher and teacher–in 20th century American philosophy, a generalist with a bent for Kant whose subsequent canon is nearly indecipherable to me and who, alas, died last year, just my age, of esophageal cancer–but that wasn’t the fault of his tuna casserole!) So I applaud the variation in recipes that keeps cookery away from being a dead science and pushes it always toward art! Let’s hear it for fresh mushrooms, 1% milk, and all the varieties of creamed soups there are–there’s a great comfortable casserole embedded in each! Yum!

  3. tinkyweisblat says:

    Jim–What a great tribute to those from you you learned to cook (and a lot more!). If you’d like to write up your current formula, I’d love to have it on this blog.

    Casseroles forever…………

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