68. Funeral Food: Love in a Casserole Dish

9 Feb

Photo by softestthing
Flickr Creative Commons

Most Southern ladies of a certain age keep at least one casserole in the deep freeze at all times. You never know when somebody will up and die, so it’s best to be prepared. However, if you’re momentarily casserole-less, not to worry: grieving Southerners always welcome fried chicken, even if it’s store-bought. I’d like to put in a plug for one (or more) of those chicken nugget platters from Chick-fil-A (unless somebody dies on Sunday, when all the Chick-fil-As are closed). I’m still grateful to the kind soul who delivered one of those when my mom died.

I should mention that funeral food isn’t actually served at the funeral. You bring it to the home of the deceased, so the grieving family members and the people who drop by to pay their respects have something to eat. When Southerners lose a loved one, they rarely lose their appetite, but almost always lose the desire to cook.

Of course, you needn’t only bring savory sustenance. Sweets are an essential part of a Southern mourner’s diet. And for the love of all that’s holy, do not make funeral sweets with Splenda, people! Grief and dieting go together like…like…ok, they just don’t go together AT ALL.

Photo by Chris and Jenni
Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to bring over some meat-flavored vegetables, that’s great. But a salad probably isn’t your best bet. No, not even a congealed “salad.” Especially if the recently departed had been hospitalized for any length of time before their departure. Nobody wants to be reminded of institutional gelatin, even in the best of times.

In case you’re in a quandary about what to bring, consult this handy guide:

Banana pudding: YES!
Photo by Jason Meredith
Flickr Creative Commons

Great Southern Funeral Food:
Casseroles (anything made with cream of something soup is most welcome)
Fried chicken
Chicken ‘n dumplings
Potatoes (preferably mashed or au gratin)
Homemade mac ‘n cheese
Ham (spiral sliced preferred, but not required)
Chili or hearty soup (Not chicken noodle; no one’s getting better anytime soon…)
Deviled eggs
Deep-fried anything
Homemade sweets of any variety (remember, no Splenda!)

Suitable Southern Funeral Food
Cold cuts and sandwich fixings
Egg/potato/chicken/pasta salad
Store-bought sweets (think Sara Lee, not Little Debbie)
Ice cream

Crudité: NO! P.S. Where's the dip??
Photo by Robyn Lee
Flickr Creative Commons

Ill-advised Southern Funeral Food
Green salad
Crudité platter
Fruit basket
Low-cal frozen entreés
Tofu of any variety
Chewing gum

If you can’t get over to the home of the deceased right away, don’t despair. In fact, I’d recommend avoiding the rush and swinging by with snacks a few days later. Trust me, the bereaved will appreciate a fresh supply of comfort food.

When my mom died, I can’t remember eating much else but cold fried chicken and some kind of cake (caramel, maybe?). But I do remember my relief at not having to think about fixing something to eat.

I don’t know much about funeral customs for non-Southern folks, but I will always be thankful for the ginormous basket of cookies my decidedly non-Southern friend Karen sent over when I got back to Seattle after my mom’s funeral. I reckon everyone knows that while food isn’t a panacea for grief, it does serve as a small island of pleasure in an ocean of pain.

This one goes out to my friend Beth, who just lost her Aunt Sue. Hugs to you…and lots of homemade Dixie delicacies, darling.

What’s your all-time favorite funeral food?

27 Responses to “68. Funeral Food: Love in a Casserole Dish”

  1. Implore Vida February 9, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    That is a pretty accurate list of what to bring. The smell of fried chicken is more potent then the waves of grief that meet a person at the door. Kentucky Fried Chicken was the express lane for many a funeral when I was growing up. People wanted to sit with the widow/widower instead of cooking up the food in the kitchen. I can appreciate that… and I bet Colonel Sanders does too.

    And to your friend, Beth, I would send a deep fried snicker bar if I could.

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 10:50 am #

      Seems like there’s no problem that can’t be at least temporarily eased by fried chicken. Except maybe obesity.

  2. Sarah Smith February 10, 2011 at 5:34 am #

    Glad to see this one – eating and preparing good food is part of being Southern! I think the examples you gave of what constitutes the right ‘funeral foods’ are pretty much spot on. You can’t go wrong with fried chicken (maybe biscuits, too); potato salad, or a good cake!

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 10:50 am #

      Oh yes! Biscuits are most welcome! Thanks for adding those to the list.

  3. bayoubyme February 10, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Your sense of humor shines through! I like you pointing out that “even store-bought” fried chicken is acceptable.

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 10:51 am #

      Sadly, all of my fried chicken is store-bought these days…

  4. Cathy Tyree February 10, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Love it! Great post… people up North just have no idea the complexity of living (and dying) in a genteel society, do they?
    – C.A.Tyree, Richmond, Virginia

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      Glad you liked the post! I’m sure non-Southerners have their own rituals, but I’m just not familiar with them.

  5. Debbie February 10, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    Great list! And you’ve definitely hit the mark with the ham and fried chicken — anything that hangs around for a while and helps prolong the getting-back-to-routine-cooking is a welcome thing to bring to mourners.

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 10:56 am #

      It’s almost like ham regenerates itself overnight in the refrigerator. Has anybody actually finished a big Honeybaked ham??

  6. Remy February 10, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Some of us have our funeral “specialties”. One of mine is cheesebread–good for breakfast, great with the ham for lunch or dinner. When my daughters came home to find me making it, they would simply ask “Who died?”

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 11:00 am #

      It’s said that man cannot live by bread alone, but if you throw in some cheese, I’m pretty sure I could hang on for quite some time…

  7. reneemason February 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    5 1/2 years ago, when my husband passed away unexpectedly, I was stunned when the doorbell started ringing about two hours after the sheriff’s deputy had departed. It was like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade crossing through the house, with neighbors and total strangers bearing platter after platter of food, cakes, pies. I’d spent 23 years of my adult life in NY, so, as a recent transplant to North Carolina, this was a stunning, but very welcome, turn of events. Your posts nail it every time!

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      I’m glad you were treated with such an outpouring of Southern hospitality. I know that food doesn’t really put a dent in the grief, but it does make those first few days a bit easier to get through.

  8. Marla February 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    You have described what I watched being unloaded at every funeral I attended growing up!
    What wonderful memories you are bringing back to me with your blogs. I miss living in the South, for all 68 reasons you’ve posted about so far!

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 11:04 am #

      I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog and look forward to bringing back more of your memories of home!

  9. reelingintheyears.wordpress.com February 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    Wow–caramel cake–such a southern delicacy, but I never realized this until I moved back from the northeast and midwest.
    Or, as my relatives say–them that are left–“Care-mel.”
    Great post!

    • girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 11:09 am #

      I am glad I learned to make caramel cake myself, seeing as I’ve never seen it anywhere around Seattle or California.

  10. Suzee March 1, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Finger sandwiches were most welcome after my dad died. That week seemed like one big long draining day that never ended, and we were so busy, we would forget to eat! Finger sandwiches were good because you could eat them while doing other things and you could eat them one or two at a time, and they were always available.

    (very deep south here)…

    Going to a funeral today… someone up and died. I’m actually thinking about making a mexican casserole– you know, something different other than ham (which I’m sure the widow has already had enough of…)…

    Don’t forget toilet paper and paper towels. All of those visitors use the bathroom and eat…..

    • girloutofdixie March 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

      Sorry to hear you’re having to make funeral food, but a mexican casserole sounds wonderful.

      Thanks for the note about TP and paper towels. So true…

  11. nonsequiteuse March 5, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    I would have to add ham biscuits, which someone not from the south might think you have covered by having both ham and biscuits on your list, but which the rest of us know is actually kind of different. I try to always bring a Texas sheet cake.

    I heartily second the paper towels & toilet paper, and would add paper plates & plastic silverware. And yes, I get that it isn’t silverware if it is plastic, but you know what I mean.

    • Kim Holloway March 9, 2011 at 12:43 am #

      I love learning about new stuff from my readers. I googled “Texas sheet cake,” and it turns out that I’ve made it but didn’t realize it. I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe called “The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.” Which it is.

      But what, pray tell, are ham biscuits?

      Thanks for mentioning the paper plates and plastic silverware. I’m all for being environmentally friendly, but when somebody dies, all bets are off.

  12. Sherylnsc March 22, 2016 at 11:36 am #

    I remember the lemon pound cakes, there were always more than one. Deliciously made from scratch with love.

  13. girloutofdixie February 14, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Thanks for linking to my post!


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    […] Most Southern ladies of a certain age keep at least one casserole in the deep freeze at all times. You never know when somebody will up and die, so it’s best to be prepared. However, if you’re momentarily casserole-less, not to worry: grieving Southerners always welcome fried chicken, even if it’s store-bought. I’d like to … Read More […]

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