Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Redneck Tupperware and Church Basement Potatoes

Funeral food is a curious tradition; one that is steeped in Southern history. It's a tradition that has evolved beyond those roots, as I've seen this occur in other parts of the country as well. When a person dies, friends, neighbors and fellow church folk bring food and sometimes it may seem overwhelming or downright strange. My mother railed against all of the food being brought in when my sister died. Her Alzheimer's exacerbated her confusion as to why so much food would arrive....and indeed, we did end up donating a fair portion of it. Funeral food is a way for people to offer condolences when they can't find the words to say them. It's difficult to know just what to say to a person experiencing loss and bringing food is a comforting way of saying,"I understand. I care. I'm sorry." The tradition also serves a very real purpose: you may not be feeling hungry at the time, but you will. What better food to turn to at that time then a serving of true comfort food that is quite often made with a genuine love that many can't convey with conversation? There will also be many people passing through to pay respects including many who have traveled long distances. The tradition of funeral food is a culinary way of showing real love and it takes the burden off the family needing to feed loved ones.

The food for Dad's funeral days started pouring in before my flight had even arrived. There were deli trays and fruit trays from neighbors. Friends brought cookies, pepperoni rolls, cakes and pies. I stayed at Kaki's, and food would find its way there as well. She and JB hosted the two nights when friends would join me after the viewing and funeral. Kaki herself ensured that many of the house favorites made an appearance that week. There were steak bites....tender bits of filet on toasty bread with a flavorful Parmesan spread. Savory sauteed mushrooms made their debut. They would also grill steaks for a dinner later that week and serve them with grilled bread, cheesy potatoes and terrific grilled lettuce with an amazing vinaigrette. I would be so enamored of that lettuce that my attempts to photograph it resulted in my Powershot camera being dropped into the lettuce and skidding through said vinaigrette and capers. I suppose this was least it didn't get dunked into some large pot of chili or such. I would be also surprised by the return of the famous pate last week; the one I wrote about in the post The Pate of Our Lives. It was a full-circle moment....that pate would originate from the Levee House Cafe and become a favorite of Jim Reckard's(Kaki's dad). It would be served at Jim's funeral several years later. More than a decade later, the pate would re-appear to my surprise at the Greenhouse and now finally be served during the days of my father's passing. The pate becomes tradition.

Kristy would cook up a storm herself last week. She brought me a wonderful cherry crisp and the crisp part was especially delicious. She tells me the secret is the buttah. We spoke of the cherry crisp so much and in such rapid succession, that its pronunciation took on a certain Elmer Fuddian quality. Something along the lines of chewwy kwispth. Silliness, as it inevitably does in my world, would ensue and the name remained. Her recipe for the cherry crisp will be at the end of this post. Kristy would also bring in a heaping pot of hearty homemade noodles as well and their mode of transport was,well, a sight to behold. The bowl was wrapped tightly in duct tape presumably to keep the lid from flying off and the noodles from flying out. There was clearly no danger of that and frankly, it looked like we would need a blowtorch to break in. Break in we did and the chicken and noodles were more than worth the safe-cracking methods. Kristy terms this duct-tape delivery container Redneck Tupperware. Classic.

The lunch hosted by the First Baptist Church for family and friends after the burial would provide its own moments. Church get-togethers involving food have always taken place in the basement and I have many a fond memory of those dinners, including several that I have written about in this blog. Walking back into that basement was truly a flashback....the place was virtually unchanged. The food was the thing, though, and in a strangely comforting way, even that seemed unchanged. Ham, baked beans, macaroni salad and steamy hot rolls were scattered about the table, but for me, as it always has been, the highlight was the scalloped potatoes. Two kinds, both delicious, were featured. From a very young age, I have made a beeline for those homemade helpings of thinly sliced potatoes smothered in various types of melted cheese. I now have a multi-decade association of homemade scalloped potatoes and that church basement.....and so I will dub them Church Basement Potatoes.

These days would not have been complete without at least a sampling of heritage foods. No one appreciated the homemade family foods more than Dad did. My uncle Andy strolled about the tables offering his homemade biscotti. Aunt Nadine brought me homemade peanut butter fudge. Mom used to make this fudge every holiday and it's been too long since I've had it. Like most heritage foods, one bite of the fudge was an instant childhood flashback.

Funeral food may be a curious tradition, but for me it's one of the most loving and heartwarming traditions of all.

Kwisty's Chewwy Kwispth Recipe

1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/3 cup melted margarine

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C.) Lightly grease a 2 quart baking dish. Pour pie filling into the dish, and spread evenly.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix in melted margarine. Spread over pie filling, and sprinkle with chopped pecans.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until topping is golden brown. Allow to cool 15 minutes before serving .

I double this recipe and use

3 cans of pie filling
1 cup of flour
1 cup of oats (quick cook kind)
1 and 1/3 cup of brown sugar
1 and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
LOTS of chopped walnuts (optional)
2 sticks of melted butter

Follow the same basic mixing and baking instructions only I use two square tin foil pans or you can use one 9 X13 baking dish. You may not need all the butter. I melt two full sticks but don't use quite that much. I just use enough that the mixture will hold together firmly and then I pat it all over the cherry pie filling so that none of the filling is showing. It is wise to put your dish or pans on a cookie sheet when baking so that if the pie filling bubbles over it won't burn onto the bottom on your stove - ICK!

You can use any flavor of canned fruit pie filling you want OR you can make your own filling.


Anonymous said...

It's amazing to me how you can find something so wonderful from such a sad moment in your life. It's a credit to your character. Thanks for sharing the food AND the stories! Matt

Anonymous said...

Greg- thanks for the kwispy fruwity recipe (or I suppose I should say Thanks to Kwisty) as this is the type of cobbler/crisp/brown betty type of dish I'm constantly trying to master. You are gonna be so sorry you taught me how to comment :) Miss you and LOVE the blog!


Lisa Mandina said...

Greg, this sounds amazing. I have to say in all my life, there is only about one time I really remember something like this at a funeral. In fact, the 2 most recent I've been to, my grandpa and one of my uncles on my dad's side, we had catered food. I think this outpouring of caring like you had seems just wonderful.

Brad Ballard said...

my brother had his wedding reception in that church basement. it certainly marks important moments in our lives, happy and sad. I agree with Matt that you have a good way of finding nice moments in sad times, it is so valuable to be able to count on people that love you, and that you have....I enjoy your blog.

Kristy said...

Kwisty's Chewwy Kwispth. I like it. If it weren't Veteran's Day I'd head straight to the courthouse to officially change the spelling of my first name. I too remember fondly sooo many dinners in that church basement. And like you Greg, I was astounded at this southern tradtion of "funeral food" after the death of my mother. But I get it. At times such as those often people don't know what to SAY to you but want you to know that they care about you so they COOK for you. Food conveys the love, emotion, compassion and care that many cannot verbalize. And that makes the food taste even better. Thanks for the "thumbs up" on the sweets my sweet. Keep posting. We love it!

P.S. You forgot the part where I stepped on a noodle in my bare feet LOL!

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