Why Funeral Food Matters in the South
A funeral might be a sad occasion, but at least you know you'll be well-fed.
Mismatched platters and dishes of food cover the kitchen counter. All Southern fare is accounted for: casseroles, warm and cold salads, rotisserie roasted chickens and hams, baskets of rolls, and vegetables of all types. And then there are the desserts: angel food cake loaded with strawberries, pull-apart monkey bread, and pie after pie after pie. Upon first glance, this menagerie of homemade dishes might look like a celebratory potluck or special holiday spread, but this bounty of Southern food is for a very different occasion— the wake of a funeral.
Perre Coleman Magness, author of The Southern Sympathy Cookbook, begins her newly published collection of recipes with these words: “Nothing motivates one to get in the kitchen more than a funeral. We all seem to harbor that primordial need to comfort with food.” What follows is a book filled with dishes designed to do just that.
Any Southerner will inform you that we don’t just dish out our finest for holidays and special occasions. We take pride in making food during difficult times, when comfort and friendship are most needed. When the “right words” are hard to come by, we cook.
However, not all funeral food is equal. Magness notes that dishes we make for a funeral should “provide comfort, show kindness and hopefully bring some joy.” Every recipe in her book from Country Sausage Balls to Gooey Butter Cake was created with that in mind. Magness is sure to include the classics (like her recipe for “That Pineapple Thing”, the sweet and savory casserole that none of us have a name for) as well as more creative options like Homemade Salsa Verde Chicken and Rice, Paper Bag Chicken with Homemade Greek Seasoning, and a casserole filled with all of the traditional elements of a jambalaya.
Funerals are a sad fact of life, but they are also an opportunity to provide much-needed comfort through food. The Southern Sympathy Cookbook honors this tradition in all its delicious forms.