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
Store-bought sweets (think Sara Lee, not Little Debbie)
Ill-advised Southern Funeral Food
Low-cal frozen entreés
Tofu of any variety
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.