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.