Skip to content

Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Funeral Genes

November 1, 2010

The old adage states there are two things that are certain in life, death and taxes. In the South, the certainty goes a step further. If there is a death, there will be food, and lots of it.

Southern ladies band together when there is a casualty among the ranks. The casserole committee goes on full alert and food is delivered to the home of the bereaved within minutes.

The first wave of funeral food is not organized. It comes from a spontaneous response and subconscious call to arms that is buried deep within the Southern woman’s DNA. It is a single strand of genetic code that, when isolated and deciphered, uncovers a lengthy and complicated mathematic equation— the recipe for green bean casserole.

In stage two, the process becomes more organized. The house is already filled with casseroles and entrees from the first wave, so the Southern woman begins to coordinate and delegate. It is the Alpha Funeral Female who takes on this duty. The Alpha Funeral Female is the woman who is the closest friend of the bereaved in the pecking order of non-relatives. She organizes out of instinct, like her mother before her, and her mother before that.

With military-like precision, the Alpha Funeral Female mans the telephone and makes sure that the sweets-to-casserole ratio is always 2:1. The casserole to entrée quotient must be maintained at a ratio of 3:1, unless someone brought store-bought chicken instead of home-cooked, fried-in-a-skillet chicken, at which time the casserole to entrée ratio is then modified to 3.5:1.

The Alpha Funeral Female may also designate a subordinate to coordinate secondary provisional functions. Such functions shall be delegated by food item or category. Example: A subordinate may be assigned to starch duty, making sure that there are no more than two types of potato salad available at any given time— one with onions and one without.

Stage three involves beverages and is coordinated by a designate of the Alpha Funeral Female. If the deceased is Baptist, the beverage coordinator is usually the elderly mother of the Alpha Funeral Female, and non-alcoholic punch is in full supply. If the deceased is Presbyterian, the beverage coordinator was predetermined years ago. If the deceased is Episcopalian, everyone brings their own beverages— mostly scotch and gin— and the deceased’s liquor cabinet is raided when supplies begin to run low. If the deceased is Catholic, no beverage coordinator is nominated, and the priest brings the wine.

Men know nothing of funeral food and bereavement pecking orders. I have a friend who happens to be an excellent journalist and political columnist. He’s a guy who has the resolve to ask the toughest politician a hardball question without flinching. But when it comes to funerals, wakes, and dealing with the bereaved, he has no clue. Several years ago, when a co-worker’s spouse died, he and another guy purchased a sympathy card at the drug store, and then enclosed a gift certificate for a free Italian BMT at a local participating Subway Sandwich Shop.

He’s a man. He doesn’t have the funeral chromosome. He doesn’t know the rules. He knew someone had died. He knew that food was somehow supposed to be part of the process. So he went for the thing he would have wanted— Genoa salami, ham, and pepperoni.

It’s all in the genes.

Potato Salad

6 cups Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into a large dice
3 quarts Water
2 tsp. Salt

Place potatoes and salt in water and simmer on low heat until potatoes are tender. Drain and allow to cool.

2 cups Mayonnaise
1 /2 cup Yellow mustard
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
2 Tbl Cider vinegar
1 tsp White pepper
1 1 /2 tsp Black pepper, fresh ground
2 tsp Salt

1 cup Green onion, chopped
1 cup Red bell pepper, small dice
1 cup Celery, small dice
4 Eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
1 /4 cup Sweet pickle relish

Combine the first 7 ingredients to form a dressing. Add potatoes and all other ingredients to the dressing and mix well. Yield: two quarts

Recent Posts

My Kind Of Town

CHICAGO— No one would ever accuse me of being a creature of habit. Other than my morning breakfast routine, I…

Read more

My Top 25 Cookbooks

The view from my desk is inspirational. I’ve been in the same office for 27 years. There are no windows,…

Read more

Travel Connections

QUEENS, NEW YORK— After 62 years, and millions of miles logged, I have learned that travel is about one thing—…

Read more