Today I attended a funeral. I was reminded that sometimes the best thing to wipe away tears is not a tissue, but a creamy, cheesy casserole dish of goodness.
There are moments when food becomes more than just something to eat. Food can be something that speaks volumes about a people and a moment and feelings. The term “comfort food” is thrown around a lot to describe dishes that are hearty and warm and reminiscent of home. For me, the ultimate “comfort food” is designed to be eaten at the very moment when comfort is needed most. My favorite dish in this category is reserved for funerals.
The fame of funeral potatoes is not lost on anyone who has attended a luncheon following a Mormon funeral. The dish is simple, yet significant. It consists of potatoes, cheese, cream, and is topped with… wait for it butter-tossed crunchy corn flakes. When baked together, these ingredients are transformed into a delicious dish that helps comfort the mourners, and those who mourn with them. The ingredients are significant because they are simple, warm, and include something quintessentially. When I asked my mother-in-law why funeral potatoes were so often the dish of choice for Mormon gatherings, she replied, “It is a recipe that everyone knows, and something that can feed many or just a few.” She was right. Inside that magical casserole dish is the chance to feed scores of people. It is a dish that stands as a single side or that can accompany multiple dishes.
So why are these potatoes so beloved? This is where history and culture collide inside that casserole dish. Seeing the funeral potatoes on a serving table or at a church pot-luck means that you are somewhere you feel at home. It is comfort food not only in the ingredients, but because it is the dish that accompanied you during dozens of funerals from years past. It reminds you of the times you were asked to make a few pyrex-pans of potatoes, or the time when someone brought them to your house when you had lost a loved one.
The dish is also poetic in its simplicity. Rather than a filet mignon or a complicated soufflé, the funeral potatoes are something that a regular person like you or me can pull together. It relies on the basics- ingredients you likely have lying around your kitchen. Much like what happens during a funeral, it reminds you that some of the best parts of life are the basics: family, friendship, faith, freedom. No need for a cilantro foam or molecular gastronomy here. This is all about the most simple of pleasures.
My task at today’s funeral was to conduct the services. I therefore tried my best to contain my emotions so that others could talk, sing, and even weep. My job was to keep things moving. And I did. But the moment that I walked into the luncheon that followed the funeral, and saw one of our friends bring in a pan of funeral potatoes, I lost it. I had to excuse myself for a moment while I thought about the loved one who died, the beauty of life, and the comfort of knowing that we would see each other again.
After a few minutes I returned to the gathering, received a knowing smile from my wife, and dug my fork into a heaping helping of cheesy, gooey, baked love in funeral potato format.
For more information and recipes about the culinary and cultural phenomenon that is Funeral Potatoes, see this article: https://www.ldsliving.com/10-Funeral-Potatoes-Recipes-to-Die-For/s/75517