Rerun 68: Funeral Food–Love in a Casserole Dish

10 Jul

mikeWhen I packed up my car and moved away from the South nearly 20 years ago, my brother said “Don’t forget your raisings!” And thanks in part to his constant reminders, I haven’t. A month ago today, Mike Holloway passed away in his sleep. I’m sharing this post in honor of him.

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.

Photo by softestthing
Flickr Creative Commons

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)
Deep fried anything
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
Homemade sweets of any kind (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. While food isn’t a panacea for grief, it does serve as a small island of pleasure in an ocean of pain.

What’s your all-time favorite funeral food? And do you have a casserole in your freezer right now?

17 Responses to “Rerun 68: Funeral Food–Love in a Casserole Dish”

  1. dessertfortwo July 10, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Kim. I know he was a great Southern gentleman. Thinking of you.. xo

  2. Amy July 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    I love your blog and never miss reading it! I’m so sorry for the loss your brother. Siblings are the closest people in this world who have experienced what makes you who you are.
    I know where to get the BEST 8 layer caramel cake at a moment’s notice. So there’s my funeral “go to” food!

    • Kim Holloway July 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

      Thanks so much, Amy! 8-layer caramel cake? I’ve never read such a beautiful phrase in my life!!! That earns my vote as the best funeral food ever. Where do you get them?

      • Amy September 8, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

        Sue Cleckler in Clanton, Alabama. She also sells her cakes at the Pig (Piggly Wiggly) in Birmingham. The eight cake layers are real thin, but it just makes the cake to caramel icing ratio better! Caramel cake fixes everything:)

        • Kim Holloway November 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

          Thanks, Amy! Next time I find myself in B’ham, I’ll be on the lookout!!

  3. debbie July 11, 2013 at 4:12 am #

    I’m a new follower. Please let me express my sorrow for the loss of your dear brother. Your timely advice in these circumstances will come in handy for alot of people. I myself moved from Texas to the Midwest some years back, and some of their ways have been very different to me. Texans share many of the sourthern traditions and I was raised on them. My mom was a stickler for manners and good sense, though many don’t seem to think things like this are important anymore and prove it when they show up for a visitation.
    I usually supply a spiral glazed ham. It’s easy, easy to get, and it’ll feed a crew.

  4. Anonymous July 15, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    I don’t have a casserole – my chest freezer died on me so I don’t have room for one in the side by side fridge – so I keep frozen meatballs. I can toss them in the crock pot with bbq sauce and grape jelly for sweet and sour meatballs. It’s also great for church suppers! So sorry for the loss of your brother. I can’t really send you some comfort food, so I’ll send up a prayer for God to bring you peace and comfort.

    • Kim Holloway July 15, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

      Thanks so much! Sorry to hear about your loss of the chest freezer! Those side-by-side freezers make it difficult to store pretty much anything. Frozen meatballs is a great idea. Back in MS, we used to do lil smokies in the crock pot with bbq sauce. I learned about the addition of grape jelly from a friend here in Seattle. I must admit I was dubious, but it tastes great!

  5. vintageyall July 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Once again, you’re on the money. I had no idea that other cultures did not do this. The countless times growing up I would stroll into the kitchen with my favorite chocolate sheet cake being iced…only to learn that someone from our church had passed and that yummy cake or pie or casserole was headed out the door.

    And I can still recall 12 years later nearly every dish and who made them…that were loving brought to our home. (Aunt Kate’s) It’s the ultimate conform in a sea of sorrow. And yes, we did get a little KFC. No Chic Fil A in our little hometown in Oklahoma.

    I may be in the NORTH now, but still try to take a dish or food to our Italian family here.

    • Kim Holloway July 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      Oh, that’s the worst! Delicious food that you can’t eat! Thanks for keeping the tradition alive!

  6. vintageyall July 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    KIm, I actually just re-read your intro. I think I skimmed it earlier when the pyrex caught my eye. My most sincere apologies for the loss of your brother, hon. It’s great you are honoring him here. Grieve at your own pace, my southern friend. It takes time…lots of time. My heart is with you!! God Bless.

  7. mlawr865 July 24, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Kim, my dear friend I had you on my mind today so I pulled up your blog. I again am so sorry for your family’s loss. As usual your blog is spot on about our way of life down here. You can take the girl out of the South but not the south out of the girl. Some things in life never change thankfully. I’ve seen this in a sign around here and maybe even on a facebook pic but the saying goes “say what you will about the South but nobody moves up North to retire!”

    • Kim Holloway September 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      Hey Marte, thanks for your note! Love the sign. So true.

  8. Hippie Cahier November 15, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    I wondered how I missed this sad news, but now the post seems familiar. Maybe I wanted to come back later to say something thoughtful, or to mull over how to mention something in levity.

    A local fella named Bob Sima has a song about southern funerals. It still doesn’t feel right to share the silliness of it. One day.

  9. Julie December 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    I just found your blog, via Christina of Dessert for Two (isn’t she precious?). While I do not live in the south, nor was raised in the south, my momma and grandmother are from deep south Mississippi (about an hour and a half north of New Orleans). My grandmother moved to Indiana, where Momma had relocated after she got married, to help raise us. She never did forgive us for moving her north of the Mason-Dixon line. Anyway, I attended college in Kentucky, so have several best friends in KY and TN. About 2-1/2 years ago, my best friend’s mom passed away in Nashville. They had the strangest casserole–it was pineapple and cheese with Ritz crackers on top. I thought it was going to be cheesy potatoes, and was shocked at the taste (my brain couldn’t make the transition). I had never heard of this, and neither had my momma. Maybe it’s a new southern casserole thing, because it’s supposedly served all of the time in Nashville at funeral dinners, since they usually have a ham. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll try it again sometime, and have my taste buds ready for pineapple and cheese. 🙂 Fun blog, for sure!! I miss visiting Mississippi and the south.

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