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Music – “Funeral Food” from Sing Me Out by Kate Campbell. Released: 2009
Food. It is omnipresent for growth and life, for nurturing the body and the soul. We feast at the occasion of births, christenings, birthdays, graduations, job promotions, marriages (and sometimes, divorces!), anniversaries, and finally, death.
If you’ve lived long enough (as I have), you will inevitably attend at least one funeral, or more. Funeral customs vary greatly from culture to culture and from country to country, but they all seem to have at least one thing in common (other than the obvious): food!
The ancient Egyptians were in the habit of leaving food and wine for the deceased, to ease the transition into the afterlife. In the Annex of King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, there were numerous food offerings including bread, meats, wine, grains and more.
However, it seems that Tut wasn’t very hungry on his journey, as the food was left behind (as was Tut’s embalmed body). Numerous ancient burial sites around the world have been located and many food items have been found alongside the remains of the deceased. It seems that food is ubiquitous with death.
There are plenty of recipes out there for “Funeral Potatoes”, “Funeral Casseroles” (the standby), and “Funeral Pie”. I have a number of Amish, Pennsylvania Dutch and Mennonite cookbooks and all have a recipe for “Funeral Pie”. The traditional “Funeral Pie” is a raisin pie, or “Rosina Boi”, according to “Cooking Dutch with Caloric”, published in 1975.
But, what is “appropriate” funeral food? We usually think of kindly neighbours and friends inundating the grieving family with a myriad of Tupperware containers stuffed with casseroles, stews and soups and their arms weighed down with pies and cookies. When was the last time you attended a wake or a post-funeral reception and were served hot dogs, mac and cheese, or pizza? Well, that might depend on a) the budget, or b) the last wishes of the deceased. After all, the “taken out” can no longer enjoy the “take out”, but the relatives can!
Do we indulge in food around death ceremonies to sooth our souls or do we keep our mouths full so we are distracted and won’t have to deal with death? After all, it’s hard to cry and swallow at the same time.
Alcoholic beverages are frequently found at post-funeral meals and why not: alcohol numbs the senses somewhat. On the other hand, it is considered bad taste to imbibe excessively at a funeral wake.
Alcohol also tends to loosen one’s inhibitions and the last thing the grieving family needs is Cousin Joe blabbering about some unsavoury and sordid escapade he and the recently deceased engaged in during their wild and crazy youth.
Funeral receptions and wakes are big business now with caterers. From the simple to the lavish, the grieving family can customize their food selections to satisfy even the jaded funeral-goer.
A word of advice: it is considered ill-mannered and gauche to take a doggy bag home from such a feast!
Some funeral directors have a great sense of humour. Here, a young man must be trying to choose between the chile or the banana! (Photo Credit: http://www.irishexaminer.com)