Funeral Food: Love in a Casserole Dish

When 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. Please note that it was intended mostly as a primer for non-Southerners, but I thought y'all would appreciate it, nonetheless.

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.

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:

Great Southern Funeral Food
Casseroles (anything made with cream of something soup is most welcome)
Deep-fried meat or vegetables
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…)
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

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?

Find more of my posts on all manner of Dixie delicacies and doo dads at Stuff Southern People Like.

Photo credits: My brother Mike via Holloway family archives; all other pics via Flickr Creative Commons--casseroles by softestthing, chocolate layer cake by Chris and Jenni, and crudité byRobyn Lee.

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Tags: c-teamblog, cocktails&cuisine, food, lifestyle, like, people, southern, stuff, traditions


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Comment by Cynthia Goulet on November 20, 2013 at 9:50pm

Thanks ladies - Southern hospitality and manners can get you thro more than you can imagine even down under!  Enjoy your Thanksgiving!  Heading back to Virginia in early December for my first Christmas at home in 24 years - just wish it was under better circumstances & with my 'traveling' companion.  XoX

Comment by kim holloway on November 20, 2013 at 9:42pm

Oh Cynthia, I'm so sorry to hear about your husband. Words fail, so I offer you a virtual hug. I'm glad you were able to share some Southern traditions with your friends in Australia. Now that you've introduced them to chicken salad, you'll probably be expected to bring it to every gathering. :-) So many of the recipes I got from my mom were the same way: just a list of ingredients with no clues on how to put them together...

Comment by whitney long on November 20, 2013 at 8:54pm

Hi Cynthia - Good to hear from you, our Southern friend "down under" :)  I am so sorry though to hear about your husband.  It sounds like you did a wonderful job honoring his memory with as close to a Southern gathering as you could do in Australia!  Hats off to you for bringing a bit of Southern culture and hospitality to your friends there as they gathered to show their respect for your husband.  Prayers...

PS - Once you do get the recipe and technique down for the rolls, please share it with us!

Comment by Cynthia Goulet on November 20, 2013 at 6:23pm

Kim - my husband passed away on November 1st.  As he requested we had the post service gathering here at the house which is not at all what Australians do - it's either at the local pub or some hall catered by the Country Women's Association but that's another whole story.  Despite the fact he was a Yankee I just could not have people here without ham biscuits and chicken salad in addition to all the goodies my caterer provided.  I didn't have time to do the biscuits myself so made do with some very good mini dinner rolls similar to Roger's Feather Rolls and there was no Smithfield ham here so made do with locally made prosciutto.  I did make the chicken salad per my mother's recipe and they are all still talking about it.

I promised back in July to get you his recipe and I did find it but its only the ingredients and no other notes.  Maybe I'll get time soon to play with it and test out my memories of his 'technique'  If I find the right one, I'll get back to you.


Comment by kim holloway on August 13, 2013 at 7:41pm

Stephanie, my stomach is growling now!!

Comment by kim holloway on August 13, 2013 at 7:40pm

Cynthia, so sorry to hear about your husband. Hugs to you!!

Comment by Stephanie Hendricks Ayres on July 16, 2013 at 9:53am

When I think of funeral food, I think of fried chicken, honeybaked ham, hash brown casserole, caramel cake, and in the case of my mom's family, buttermilk custard. 

Comment by Cynthia Goulet on July 13, 2013 at 6:06am

Kim - I'll have to admit the feather rolls are made by my Yankee husband.  Sort of like a lighter Parker House Roll.   I'm sure he would love to make them for you if you cared to venture down here to Oz.  I'll try to send you the recipe soon.  Sad story but he has terminal cancer plus had a stroke on Wed so we are in the City while he's being treated.  Hope to get home for a day during the coming week and will get the recipe for you.  XOX

Comment by kim holloway on July 12, 2013 at 5:11pm
Thanks for the kind words, y'all!
Cheri-My sister introduced me to that dish just a few years ago. Yum!

Lesa-Sounds delicious! Yes, cheese is one of the four major food groups in the South!

Cynthia-What, pray tell, is a feather roll? And how might one procure dozen or two? Or at least the recipe?
Comment by Cynthia Goulet on July 11, 2013 at 6:25am

Kim I am so very sorry for the passing of your brother but clearly you have many memories to comfort you during this difficult time.  As for funeral food - I can't remember a time when someone was sick or died that my mother didn't deliver a huge bowl of her chicken salad.  Even though my current "south" is southern Australia, I still do the same but add my husband's amazing feather rolls to the delivery.

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