Grief and Food: 5 Southern Comfort Foods

Funerals in the South have traditionally been a gathering, a sad one, but a time for relatives and friends to come together and share memories. After the eulogy, the tears, and the lowering of the casket comes solace in the form of fried chicken, green bean casseroles and red velvet cake. Food for a family at this time is a gift, a helping hand when it comes to feeding all those who have come to mourn, and a reaffirmation of life as we gather together to tell stories.

These gifts start almost as soon as the morning newspaper carrying the obituary arrives on the doorstep. Nimble church ladies will start calling to ask what they can bring over to the house, or supply for the funeral reception. Casseroles arrive that can be frozen for later or reheated, carefully covered aluminum wrap and the sender’s name taped to the bottom of the dish. Thoughtful friends also know these days that not everyone is a died-in-the-wool Southerner and will offer vegetarian dishes.

Folks know that families in their time of grief are concentrating on the details of last rites and funeral services, and not about how to feed the numbers of people who suddenly appear on their doorstep. Extra relatives come to stay, or friends keep dropping by the house and lingering long after the dinner hour. The extra food means the grieving family doesn’t have to spend time preparing meals in the kitchen.

Usually, the family plans either a large reception after the service for those who have come a long way, or a smaller gathering at their home. No matter which way the family does it, there will be an invitation, from either the officiant at the service or family members will single out special friends and close neighbors and “invite them to drop by the house.”

Together, everyone will have a chance to exchange memories, reconnect, and give a toast to the loved one while sharing the communal offering of deviled eggs, baked ham, fried chicken and the every-present Jello salad.

If you want to give the gift of food here are six food traditions that seem always to be welcome.

1. Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is the ultimate comfort food in the South. You will see it almost everywhere there is a gathering, and the classic question is ‘do you like white meat or dark?’ A chicken is large enough to feed a family of six and home recipes are greatly appreciated. Just check to make sure the family eats meat and dairy before you take it.

2. Casseroles of Nearly Every Type

Casseroles are great dishes for grieving families because they are all-in-one meals that can be frozen, eaten in stages and preserved for the next day — or week depending on how long relatives stay. Casseroles come in many forms, but a popular one in South Carolina is chicken bog, a rice pilaf dish with chicken, often including sausage, onion and spices. The provenance of this dish connects to rice cultivation on the Carolina coast that brought riches to the Lowcountry and provided a great source of starch — a key ingredient in comfort food.

3. Deviled Eggs

In the South, families still own “deviled egg plates” that have been passed down from previous generations. Although the popularity of the dishware has diminished, the food we put on it has remained a staple here, and it seems to be particularly appreciated at funeral receptions. Deviled eggs are easy to make, edible without silverware and small enough to eat without gorging. That makes them a perfect complement to fried chicken and easy to eat in between sharing stories. And talking about how you prepare them is a great icebreaker at the reception.

4. Baked Beans and Brisket

This dish is prevalent at funeral receptions for just exactly the opposite reason that casseroles are — it requires a tremendous amount of time to prepare. Those who want to give the grieving family a gift of a time will smoke a brisket for six hours and smother it in baked beans right from the can. This also has a certain complete-meal quality to it and serves a large crowd.

5. Jell-O® Salad

Whole sections of Southern cookbooks have been dedicated to Jell-O salads, recalling the days when fresh fruit was a luxury. Many funeral wakes have been brightened by purple Jell-O salads jiggling with whole grapes and topped with mayo and whipped cream. They are a favorite of children and grown-ups alike.

Stuhr Funeral Home, a trusted name in funeral service for more than 150 years, cares for families of those whose lives have ended. Stuhr Funeral Home is committed to providing quality arrangements to honor loved ones and family traditions. For more information about funeral services available, visit JHenryStuhr.com or call (843) 723-2524.