Tag Archives: casseroles

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
BBQ
Lasagna
Potatoes (preferably mashed or au gratin)
Homemade mac ‘n cheese
Bread
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?

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101. Cream-of-Something Soup

27 Mar

I don’t know whether or not anyone has ever heated up Campbell’s cream-of-anything soup and actually eaten it straight. In a bowl. Maybe with some bits of saltines (or oyster crackers for the fancy folks). I, for one, have never done this. Nor have I witnessed it or even heard urban legend-ish tales about people who’ve done it. See, where I come from, cream-of-whatever soup isn’t actually soup. It’s an ingredient. I mean, you might as well dig in to a bowl of flour or down a shot glass of butter.

So how did cream-of-something soup become such a Southern staple? In a word: casseroles. I’m pretty sure casseroles existed before canned soup, but I can’t imagine how. Surely folks didn’t make homemade soup and then toss some combination of chicken and pasta or green beans and crispy onion rings into a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish to make a casserole. I mean, if you’re making homemade soup, well, wouldn’t that be considered a meal unto itself? And now that I’m thinking about it, how on earth did folks make green been casseroles before they started selling those onion rings in a can? Maybe some of my more seasoned readers can shed light on this mystery. I’d hate to have to do research, and by “research” I mean check Wikipedia.

If you’ve ever been to a dinner on the ground (or the non-denominational event known as a “potluck”), you’ve likely seen all manner of casseroles, most of which involve chicken. If there’s anything Southerners like almost as much as fried chicken, it’s casseroled chicken. But we don’t stop there. We’ll happily eat casseroled vegetables, too, as long as there’s cream-of-something soup involved (and also meat of some sort). And, of course, there are dessert casseroles, but thankfully, they’re mostly soup-free.

I can see now that the topic of casseroles is far too broad for one blog post (seeing as I was about to expound on the sweet potato casserole marshmallow vs. crunchy pecan topping dispute), so I’ll stick to discussing only those involving cream-of-something soup.

One time, a friend was telling me about one of her relatives who became quite indignant upon arriving at a potluck and discovering that someone had “stolen” her recipe for chicken and rice casserole. I said, “You mean that same chicken and rice casserole that every Southern person has known how to make since birth?” She said, “Precisely.”

For the benefit of folks who don’t have the recipe embedded in their DNA, here is my mom’s version, which she credited to one of her sisters. Apparently, providing vague directions is a genetic trait.

Chicken Dinner (Geneva)

Chicken breasts

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 large onion, chopped

1 stick butter

1 1/2 cups uncooked rice

1 1/2 cans water

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together and place in a large baking dish. Place chicken breasts on top and pat with butter. Bake at 325 for 3 hours.

I have made this dish many times over the years, but have yet to produce anything that tastes nearly as good as my mom’s version. It might have something to do with the vague directions or my inability to wait three hours for dinner to cook. Then again, it might have to do with all the tinkering I’ve done trying to make it healthier and/or a smaller serving size.


I do not recommend:

Using 98% fat free cream-of-something soup

Using only the cream-of-chicken soup

Using only the cream-of-chicken and cream-of-celery soup

Using skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Omitting the onion

Using only ½ a stick of butter

Adding way too much salt

The last time I made this, I followed the recipe (such as it is) exactly (except for jacking up the oven temperature to 450 or so). Still wasn’t as good as mom’s, but better than any previous attempts. And for the first time ever, I had half a casserole in the freezer. It was almost like having funeral food, except nobody had to die. Yay!

I’ll have more to say on casseroles later, but I just have to tell y’all that during my time in Seattle, I’ve attended not one, but TWO casserole potlucks. Which is two more than I’ve ever attended in the South, but I reckon that’s because at Southern potlucks there’s no need to add the word “casserole” to the invitation. It’s implied.

What’s your favorite use of cream-of-something soup?

Photo Credits:
Cream of mushroom soup ad available from Bamboo Trading, Chicken casserole from Campbell’s, Cream of chicken soup ad available from A Glass Collector.