Funeral potatoes, that warming casserole that comforts the grieving, are such an entrenched part of Southern culture that Walmart has started selling their own version of the traditional dish. In Pennsylvania Dutch families, though, when a tragedy strikes in their community, they opt for sweet instead of savory, specifically a sweet raisin pie. The idea makes sense, too, since a sugary treat can remind anyone who eats it that even in sorrow there is still some sweetness in the world.
According to Atlas Obscura, a lattice-topped raisin pie is a common site at Pennsylvania Dutch funerals. Raisin pie—or rosine pie, in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect—became a funeral staple, because the Amish typically had raisins in their pantries. Unlike apples or plums, raisins don’t need to be peeled or pitted before cooking, making them a quick and easy alternative to a fresh fruit pie. While peaches and pears are only available for short seasons, raisins are designed to last for months.
It’s that same trait that makes raisins an appealing option for Amish families. Raisins are shelf stable and don’t need refrigeration to store, which is important for Amish communities that eschew electricity. If a member of their community passes away suddenly, raisins were always in the pantry and ready to use in a pie. The raisin pies showed up so regularly at wakes over the years that eventually they earned the name “funeral pie.”
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Like most recipes, the specifics of funeral pies vary from community to community and family to family and even baker to baker. Some pie-makers treat the raisins like mincemeat, while others fold it into a milk-based custard before baking into a crust and weaving a lattice on top. There is one common characteristic of all funeral pies, though—they tend to be quite sweet. That’s entirely by design. According to Atlas Obscura, some people say the pie’s overwhelming sweetness makes it difficult to think, which temporarily relieves grieving families who bite into it. While the South’s funeral potatoes are good, they can’t make that claim.