Fine Southern funerals need fine food

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 27, 2010

My husband is frequently quoting to me from an NPR “This I believe” program which he heard a couple years ago: “Always go to the funeral.” As I get older I think we should go, so we can remember who died!

We extended our trip to Wilmington recently to attend the service of a good friend of 32 years. Actually he was the first person we met in Wilmington when looking for a house. As it turned out we lived on the same block for 32 years.

He was the perfect Southern gentleman! He really disliked Yankees!! He thought they had ruined our nice little Southern town. In many ways he was probably right. He was sarcastic, even caustic at times, but he was very much a force to be reckoned with, so one could say he was a great Wilmington character.

The service was at St. James Episcopal Church, a great old Wilmington church. The service was short, had great hymns such as “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” “In The Garden” (which I love even though not an Episcopal hymn), “For All the Saints,” and “DIXIE!”

Yes, the final song struck up by the St. James organist was “Dixie.” I had never heard Dixie played at a funeral, but as soon as the song began, a big bright streak of sunlight came down into the church. I knew my friend Bob was making the comment, Very good, very good indeed!

What does this funeral have to do with food? Everything! We had a wonderful reception at Bob’s house after the service and I got to thinking about the great little book entitled, Being Dead Is No Excuse— The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. This is a book about funerals in the Mississippi Delta, but hey, we are Southern too, and some things remain the same. All the women in Bob’s Wilmington neighborhood got together as a committee and decided on the food. These were all Southern women, no doubt. And the food was excellent, shrimp in a cocktail sauce, potatoes stuffed with caviar, finger sandwiches (of course with the crusts removed), crab, cheese straws, salmon mousse, deviled eggs, salted pecans and all kinds of small pick-up desserts, which were delicious. Of course there was much to drink. There were a lot of Episcopalians there!

In the book, the authors, Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays, tell us “Southern women begin shining silver as soon as someone dies.” My neighbors spent two days shining the silver in Bob’s house.

“Polishing silver (may be) the Southern lady’s version of grief therapy.” No one knows why the Southern woman goes to the silver chest when the sad news arrives, but maybe it is in memory of saving their silver from the Yankees. Bob would probably agree. The silver was beautiful at the reception, so ladies, you did a good job.

According to the book, fried chicken is the most favored funeral food. Also, “Amazing Grace” is the most used funeral song. Well, we did not get any of those at Bob’s funeral.

Nor did we get those casseroles, which are at most Methodist funerals (according to the book). So we do have something to be grateful for. Get the book, it will make your day! (I just saw a new release for the Baptists — Baptist Dishes Worth Blessing. It’s done by New Orleans’ Baptists though.)

Some really good recipes from the book follow, and some others served at Bob’s funeral.

Sweet Stuffed Eggs

1 dozen hard-boiled eggs

sweet pickles or sweet pickle relish

(start at 2 teaspoons and continue to taste)

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

2 teaspoons French’s yellow mustard

1 teaspoon onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Durkee Famous Sauce

salt and pepper to taste

paprika for garnish

Mix all ingredients with egg yolks and stuff into egg whites.

Makes two dozen servings.

Ladies of St. James’ Cheese Straws

This St. James is in Greenville, Miss. Makes about 10 dozen.

4 cups all-purpose flour, measure before sifting

2 scant teaspoons salt

1 ½ tablespoons cayenne pepper

Approximately 4 sticks salted butter, melted

4 (10-ounce) packages of extra-sharp cheese, finely shredded

5 dashes Tabasco

5 dashes Worcestershire (Lea and Perrins)

Sift the flour, salt, and cayenne together. Work the melted butter into the shredded cheese (with your hands).

*Note, the recipe reads 4 sticks of butter, approximately. Use the amount of melted butter to produce a consistency appropriate to your cookie press.

Incorporate the flour mixture a little at a time (using your hands). Add the Tabasco and Worcestershire to taste. Fill the tube of the cookie press. Using the ribbon disk produces a real bite, while the smaller disc produces the familiar squiggle.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 12 minutes, or until firm to the touch and slightly brown around the edges. Squiggles take only about 10 minutes.

Bland’s Crabmeat

1 pound fresh jumbo lump crabmeat

Juice of 1 lemon

½ cup homemade mayonnaise

1 (3 ½ ounce) jar capers, drained and rinsed

Squeeze the lemon over the crabmeat (be sure all shell, etc. has been removed).

Toss enough mayonnaise into the crabmeat to loosely bind. Gently fold in the capers. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve with toast points or crackers.

Another little gourmet treat at the funeral reception were little potatoes which had been cooked, then cut in half. Each half received a dollop of sour cream and then a little caviar. Some chives can be added to decorate. This seemed a little too fancy for the other southern delicacies, but I’m sure there was a little northern influence in there somewhere.

When my husband saw a friend of his after the preacher had fallen into the grave at her mother’s funeral, the friend asked him in greeting, “Been to any good funerals lately?”

I might add, “Had any good funeral food lately?”