Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Funeral Food

My wife grew up Mormon. She is no longer a part of that religion, but all of her family is very active. And one tradition I've always heard about is funeral potatoes. Apparently this is an unofficial tradition among Mormons - especially those who live in Utah. If you Google "funeral potatoes", you'll find more than 90,000 links to blogs, online magazines, recipe sites, and other web sites discussing this particular dish.

Funeral potatoes are not just for funerals. They might show up at other potlucks, parties and gatherings. But they are a staple item at enough funerals that the name has evolved to simply reflect that fact.

For something so commonplace at these events, the recipes can vary quite a lot. Some are made with cubed potatoes while others are made with hash browns. Sometimes they are made with cream of chicken soup, sometimes with cream of celery soup, and sometimes with cream of mushroom soup. And sometimes people go crazy and use two kinds of soup in one dish! Some recipes have no soup at all but substitute cream, evaporated milk, or other creamy substitutes. And some top it off with bread crumbs, some with cracker crumbs, some with corn flakes, and some with frosted flakes.

But in spite of the variations, it is a traditional dish at meals served after Mormon funerals in Utah.

Is it good? I don't know. When we went to my niece's funeral in December, there were no funeral potatoes. My sister-in-law hates them and insisted that none be served. So I can't give you first hand experience of the dish.

But while visiting Georgia for my mom's funeral, we were lucky enough to have many people volunteering to provide meals to our family. My cousin's church provided a meal. My uncle's church provided a meal. My mom's church provided a meal. Even the funeral home provided a meal. There were no funeral potatoes. However, there were other foods that clearly represent the southern funeral. Fried chicken. I guess we could call it funeral chicken now. Every meal that was served by some church or other group had fried chicken as the primary - and often the only - entree. And it was also clear that every platter of fried chicken was destined to be served with something creamy and white. Potato salad...macaroni salad...or cole slaw. One of those was piled high next to every mound of the funeral fried chicken.

Am I complaining? Nope. I love fried chicken and potato salad. I like macaroni salad. I don't understand how anyone can eat cole slaw, but that's just me. But the chicken and potato salad...delicious.

However, there was one thing missing at every meal. Veggies. No green salad. No beans. No broccoli. No asparagus. Nothing that could be classified as a vegetable. And we all started to miss that. At one point, the five of us went to a restaurant just to order the salad bar. It was wonderful!

But the whole experience offered this interesting opportunity to observe the different traditional foods served around funerals. Makes me wonder what might show up at other parts of the country. And what might be missing.

17 comments:

A said...

Again, sorry about your mom! Sometimes the return to "normal" that really isn't normal at all can be the hardest part. My heart goes out to you all. That said . . .

I have to say, I love me some fried chicken! Although, how great to be home! Weather and all! Not only are you dealing with the stress, the family, and being away from home, but the change in diet can almost break you!

Hope your cholesterol recovers quickly.

Dorky Dad said...

Mmmm ... fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

It is interesting how friends insist on feeding people who just lost a loved. It's extremely nice and very helpful, of course. But the common reaction seems to be "MAKE THEM FOOD!"

Kati said...

I've not been to enough funerals (2 that I recall), but I do know what you mean to miss having veggies even among all the masses of other feast-type foods. We're facing a weekend in another town with a lot of girls (hockey tournament) and more pizza than we like to consider eatting in a month (much less one weekend) and all I can think of is how hungry I was for veggies after getting back from the same trip last year.

Like Dorky_Dad said, food seems to be the one thing that is universal in times of change such as deaths (and births), and I think that's because it ties into what literally drives us.... And maybe that's why we don't see a lot of veggies.... How many of us grew up thinking of broccoli as a "comfort food"?!?! I KNOW potato salad & fried chicken are prime comfort food in a good, strong portion of our country, but I'm guessing that not more than 2% of folks in this country look at veggies & see "ooooh, comfort food". *grin* (Our national waistline measurements would seem to agree with this assumption.)

EsLocura said...

here in Puerto Rico we have funeral chicken soup. Neighbors and funeral homes provide it. Then after the burial there are 9 days of rosary prayers where funeral soup and pastries are provided. Yes, we are so into funeral foods, feed the loss, food brings solace, I suppose.

citizen of the world said...

I think what people want at funerals is comfort food - fat and starchy, health be damned. WHich is ironic, when you think about it.

furiousBall said...

at my funeral everything will be wrapped in bacon, even the bacon

charlotta-love said...

So I am Mormon and grew up in Texas. I NEVER had funeral potatoes till I moved here to Georgia. lol. And you are right...we don't believe in vegetables here unless they are deep fat fried. Mmmm...

Mysti said...

Em - SO sorry about your mother. My deepest condolences to you and yours.

I am from the south as well Em (Folks are from Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia) and veggies are rare (unless dredged in flour and deep fried. In that case, okra was a staple)When I had to start cooking for myself, I discovered a love of vegetables that didn't exist before. I hope you had a gigantic salad when you got home. Flush out some of the fried crud. (good crud, but bad for ya LOL)

Hugs Em - may your family rest and recoup with only happy days in the future.

Jazz said...

I think they meant the potato salad as the vegetable. Especially if it had a pea or two in it.

Autumn said...

My husband was raised Mormon, but like you wife is no longer part of that religion but I am going to ask him about the funeral potatoes. I've never heard of them. However being from the south, I do know most churchs bring food when someone passes away. I can remember when we lost my grandparents it seemed the entire community had cooked food and served it at the church after the service. I hope these tradtions continue, it is nice to know someone cares in these hard times.

Anette said...

My condolances to you, I'm sorry about your mom.

In Norway its common to serve pretty open sanwiches with ex roast beef, prawns, salmon, nice cheese, ham etc after the funeral. And then there is cake and coffee.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I'm surprised you didn't get corn with the chicken but it is out of season.

Chelle said...

Funeral potatoes sound like what we call Cheesy Potatoes.....and are yummy!! But I have yet to have them at a funeral here....which is a good thing i suppose. :)

I am so sorry about your mom. :(

Pavel said...

I've had mormon friends and they've never mentioned funeral potatoes; they must be holding back on me because they're good and don't want to share.
Darn it.

Sorry about your mom.

Jocelyn said...

When my dad died, it was lots of pizza--ordered in, dropped off, etc. Don't know what that reflects about Montana...

But I do know you've somehow made me hungry for death here.

Gretchen said...

Ummm...at my mom's funeral, her work gals ordered us all deli trays, which I really liked. As much as you can like something when your face is all full of snot and tears, but that's besides the point, right?

I think the making of food must just be a primal comfort urge. Or one which might have stemmed from really making sure people had something to eat if the provider was no longer there to get it for the family.

My pastor's wife just lost her mom, and I'm thinking of getting an extra crock pot. I just feel like beef stew or chicken noodle soup (with veggies ;)) seems comforting. Plus, if I get it there in the morning, the house will smell all yummy by the day's end.

Again, thinking of you.

Mom not Mum said...

I am a fan of "funeral potatoes" myself. I have learned that even for a Mormon dish they aren't always well known but I do know I have had them at funerals from Oregon to Illinois. I've not been to a funeral here in England though so I'm not sure if they would turn up or not.

Sorry to hear about your mother.