The majority of us have shared in the process of supporting a grieving family after the loss of a loved one. But how do we best provide comfort during a time of heartbreaking sadness? More often than not, the answer is food. As part of our “Around the World” series, we’re exploring Funeral Potatoes and other traditional funeral foods.
The concept of nourishment as part of funeral rites is universal. The Jewish tradition has the Seudat Havara’ah (“Meal of Condolence”) where the immediate family of the deceased gathers to eat. The Chinese have a custom of eating jai (a vegetable and rice dish) and avoiding meat during the time of mourning. Hindus also avoid eating meat and focus on simplicity.
Utah, Idaho, And Funeral Potatoes
The signature food of Utah and Idaho is a pan of funeral potatoes. The dish is a cheesy, crusty combination of hash browns, cream of mushroom soup, and cheddar cheese, topped with crumbled up potato chips and a dollop of sour cream. It has become so popular that Walmart recently started to sell them. Funeral Potatoes are associated with the Mormon community and are often prepared by the women’s auxiliary offshoot of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Relief Society.
Minnesota And North Dakota
In the midwest, and most specifically in Minnesota and North Dakota, Hot Dish is the go-to comfort food for families. Hot dish is a standard casserole with a combination of meat, canned soup, starch, and peas or corn. Another popular item is bundt cake. Bundt cakes lack messy frosting and are easy to freeze and store for families.
In Pennsylvania, the Amish traditions are strongest and their choice of food is Funeral Pie. Funeral pie is a dessert that combines a sweet, custard-like filling with raisins and a flaky, double crust. It’s popularity might be because it can be made in advance and requires no refrigeration. Fancy plates of dried fruits, jams, and jellies are also common because they can sit out for a long time and not spoil.
Hawaiians also chow down on starchy foods during a time of mourning. However, they choose to go a different route. They prefer to eat chow mein noodles, and a traditional take on finger sandwiches: laulau. Laulau feature chicken or pork wrapped in taro leaves and then steamed on a stove.
The South has some of the most elaborate post-funeral dining rituals, which often include enough food to feed a small army. Served potluck style, food staples include ham, deviled eggs, jello molds, tons of casseroles, sheet cakes, and locally appropriate one-pot dishes. (ie. jambalaya in New Orleans). They also have tons of mayonnaise based salads like egg salad, potato salad, tuna salad, etc.
A gathering of family and friends for a sit down meal following a burial in the South is known as a funeral repast (pronounced repass) taking place at the church or at the house of a family member. The repast is a semi-formal dinner, featuring multiple courses of local specialities with sides like collard greens and creamed corn paired with simple desserts such as rice pudding.
What are some of the comfort foods you’ve tried during funeral times?