- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Good Grief: Southern Funeral Food
As a child the funerals were mysterious things. I never understood the camaraderie, the laughter and guffaws. And how on God’s earth could they eat and drink and carry on the way they did, ‘specially when somebody had died?’
I’d tiptoe among the adults, periodically bear-hugged by a distant great aunt, who’d say, (between bites of a cheese biscuit), “Aren’t you Jack and Mary Ellen’s baby?”
I would nod, dodge their eye contact and chafe at the idea of a twelve year-old baby. I’d barely make my escape before, once again, I’d find myself pressed against the lavender scented enormous bosom of another aunt who was sure to inquire, “Aren’t you hungry, sweetheart? There’s plenty. Go over there and get yourself a piece a that pie your Aunt Millie always makes. We wish she’d make it at Christmas ‘stead of waitin’ for somebody to die.”
Nary a morsel of that pie would touch my tongue for fear I’d be next. But alas! I missed some delicious, soul-inspiring food that was prepared by hands that wanted to comfort and hearts that longed to provide nourishment and love. There’s not much else that can be done in our feeble attempts to offer comfort, so I thank God for this especially southern custom of sharing. It’s one of the few ways we can say we’re hurting for them and that we desperately want to help to ease their pain. And so what is allowed? A pie, a ham, a cake, a casserole, pimento cheese, and a prayer.
Strangely enough, grief makes most of us hungry. It gives us something to do, some small talk to babble. It conjures fond memories and a shared community of people on their best behavior. It reminds us – after all, that we are still alive. Food makes us feel that way: A reminder that we exist.
When the crowds come to show their respect, they descend upon the grieving household, their favorite recipe prepared – in a dish of course, that need not be returned. A designated friend whose grief, while real, is not as great as that of the primary bereaved would meet the donators at the door. She, (even now this is clearly a role for the women folk), accepts the comfort food, voices the appropriate clucking sounds of approval, makes note of who brought what, lest there be some confusion at the time of thank you notes, then heads off to find a place of honor for the contribution.
You can surely bet that anyone who had ever cooked for the deceased would offer up favorites of the honored as a tribute to their memory, an ironic twist of taste buds for all in attendance.
I hope that my friends and family will feast on my favorites with gusto and eat plenty enough for me, too. I hope my daughter, Austen will have written down some of the recipes she is (thankfully) always calling about, and will cook anything that makes her laugh in memory of me, like the time she caught me making – literally – dozens of Rice Krispie bunnies in the middle of the night just before Easter one year. (Steroids can do that kind of thing to an otherwise, mostly sane person.) I hope my stepdaughter, Kirsten will bake “Mom’s Pound cake,” which is a recipe she fortunately married into and has done great justice to time and again. I hope my other stepdaughter, Maggie, will ensure that the vegetarians have many delectable choices in the spread. I hope my husband, Lee and his son, Lee leave the cooking to the women-folk. And I hope that no woman is around the very next morning for my husband’s specialty: Moonstruck Eggs (maybe later if whomever she may be – is lucky, but I’ll be damned – even at the end — if I want it delivered as breakfast in bed). Whereas, I hope my son-in-law, Adam will contribute his pickled shrimp, with homemade mayonnaise, so that my friends will know first-hand what I’ve raved about many times. I’ve learned much from Adam, particularly about Charleston cooking ways, during family special occasions in the kitchen. And, even though I’m the “baby,” I hope my sister is around to bake a chocolate cream pie, and my brother will contribute his one, and only, baked good: banana cake. I hope my friends will make some of my own recipes because they actually liked them as much as they claimed to at the time, or some of their recipes that I have relished and replicated (you know who you are and what to bring). I think I’d like it best if someone also cooked up some memories all the way back to my Aunt Melba’s butterscotch pie, or some of Granddaddy H’Earl’s chess pie. If Granddaddy H’Earl were here today, I would still be unable to get the recipe for his chess pie. He always said, “it was ‘jes pie.”
It all sounds likes a delicious Southern sympathy soirée. Wish I could be there. Sure hope you will be.
The topic of “Southern Funeral Foods” and Southern funerals will continue in weeks to come with more stories and more recipes.
As said by my Aunt Ramona Paris of Pride, KY about a friend: “Honey, she knew he was not going to make it. She already had the table ready.”
A Bird in the Hand is Always Welcome: Chicken Pot Pie
The Ultimate Comfort Food
- 3 or 4 large boneless chicken breasts, or a whole fryer
- 3 cups of chicken broth
- 1 cup of dry, white wine
- 3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 clove of garlic – minced
- 2 tbsp. finely minced shallots
- ½ medium-sized onion, finely minced
- 3/4 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped carrots
- 1 cup of sliced, or diced, mushrooms
- 4 oz. Canned, or frozen baby green peas
- 3 tbsp. cornstarch
- 1/4-cup cream
- 1/4-cup milk to brush the crust
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh or refrigerated pie crust (enough for two or three pies – not frozen)
Combine the first 6 ingredients in a heavy pan. Poach on low temperature until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken to cool and set aside the broth and other ingredients. .
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sauté the garlic, shallots, onions, celery and carrots in butter until transparent in a large, deep skillet or pan. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until tender. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the celery and carrots are tender. In the meantime, cut the chicken into small cubes and roll out the piecrust such that it can be used to line a 9 x 13 casserole dish or pan. Place in the dish and spread additional crust up the sides of the pan. Add the chicken and the peas to the sauté, stirring thoroughly. Drain approximately ¾ cup of the hot liquid into a small bowl and whisk in the cornstarch. Pour into the sauté. Stir in the Half & Half. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into the crust and top with a second crust. Cut small slits decoratively in the top of the crust. Bake for 30 minutes. Brush the top of the crust with the milk and continue to bake for 5 to 10 minutes until the crust is golden. Serve with love.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
In his poem The Cabbages of Chekhov, Robert Bly had me again when he wrote that, “William Blake knew that fierce old man, irritable, chained, and majestic, who bends over to measure with his calipers the ruins of the world.” Despite such a fierce image in his poem, Bly has that way about him where he can rescue you in the end from all the bad news that comes tracked in on the dog’s paws. With Bly on my mind, I wasn’t all that surprised that something magical was about to happen this past weekend. On the wings of Bly, a sweet little guy with a funny Read on →
August 13th is National Left-handers’ Day. I will celebrate quietly. I’m not sure about my sister; she is also a southpaw. That means our parents created two left-handed children, well above the national average of 10 to 13 percent. If you believe human traits are the result of parenting and choices from our youth, my parents did something radical to create this high percentage of southpaw children, something I wasn’t aware of. If you accept science, and think we are preprogrammed with certain traits then it was a matter of chance. Being left-handed used to be a tough way to live. Every relig Read on →
I read recently that the woman was so hateful that you could light a cigarette from her glare. There was just some deep hurt or plain orneriness about her that made her a Fukushima Daiichi that refused to cool off. When looking at the tabloid in the supermarket rack, I noticed that her mop of big hair needed some untangling and definitely a good scrub. She sat there showing a tattoo on her fleshy forearm bearing witness to whatever meaning was hidden beneath her skin’s impression of a tractor trailer. And she sure looked pissed. She apparently was nursing a grudge a Read on →
For today, a different perspective, learning from history. Reading Winston Churchill's massive six-book history of World War II gives new insights into that war, at least for me. For instance, it appears that my main interest was the fight against the Germans, by the English, Russian, French and Allied forces. Perhaps others had more interest in the war in the Pacific Theatre. Even I, as one alive during World War II, remember the massive fighting emanating out of the Philippines, in the Coral Sea area, Okinawa and Iwo Jima, other areas, and finally, the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on two Japanese Read on →