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Funeral Food: A Tradition That Doesn’t Die


Nothing motivates someone to get into the kitchen more than a funeral.

That’s how Perre Coleman Magness opens her latest cookbook on funeral food and Southern hospitality.

Funerals in the South are synonymous with classic comfort food, and Magness’ Southern Sympathy Cookbook includes nearly 80 go-to recipes.

Although the topic is timeless, it’s also “trending,” according to the author. “At its heart, it’s really comfort food, and that’s something people really love and are looking for more and more these days,” she told Life Matters Media.

The idea for this cookbook originated with her publisher, Countryman Press.

Though 47 year-old Magness has studied culinary arts in London, Thailand, France and Morocco, she chose to highlight the recipes of the region around where she keeps her kitchen: Memphis, Tenn.

“I could do Southern funerals because that’s what I know,” Magness said.

When she began working on the book, she asked everyone about the first thing they think of when they think of “funeral food.” Everyone’s first answer, across race and region, was fried chicken.

Casseroles are also carried along on the funeral circuit by many hoping to comfort the grieving. Magness modernized some classic recipes by moving away from canned soups and packaged mixes.

“They still have that really comforting flavor,” she said. “I would rather someone brought me macaroni and cheese than a kale salad.”

The book is charming — and at times, grave and irreverent. Between recipes for Sweet Tea Bread, Buttermilk Bacon Stuffed Eggs and Jack and Coke Sheet Cake are obituaries and stories she stumbled upon while doing her research.

One small-town obituary from Galveston, Tex. reads:

She had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.

Advice for cooks

No matter one’s region or heritage, funeral food should be a recipe that the cook knows how to make well and delivered in a manner that is helpful to those in mourning.

Cooks should avoid stressing out friends, family members and co-workers with their offerings. No one wants to be responsible for cleaning and returning expensive pots and pans — especially in the weeks following a funeral.

“I would rather someone brought me macaroni and cheese than a kale salad.”

“Do not create more work for people,” Magness warned. “Bring them food in a dish you don’t care about. There are so many good options available now in disposable cookware.”

Cheap foil pans are a good option, partly because reheating instructions can be written on the bottom in marker.

And by all means: don’t make your offering a ”big production.” A cook can put their casserole in a cooler, for example, and leave it on the back porch.

“Just let someone know it’s coming,” Magness said. “Make it as easy as possible for the recipient.”

She also recommends sticking a note on foods that can be frozen and packaging items in individual portions.

And don’t forget about dessert!

“Everybody loves a good cake or pecan pie.”