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Memorable Food & Funerals?

No connection with Halloween. I know that at a traditional Irish wake, the food is liquid. But the fondest memories of my grandfathers' and father's funerals was the great Russian food and, of course, copious amounts of vodka. Blini, stuffed cabbages, kolbasi, kapusta (saurkraut), rye bread to soak up the alcohol, and even caviar. What a way to go.

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  1. Sloppy Joe's are a staple at Jewish funerals in Northern NJ. Please remember to stick one into my coffin!

    8 Replies
    1. re: michele cindy

      That's a new one for me. On the west you have to have hard boiled eggs, and then either a dairy spread lox, whitefish, bagels etc, or deli meats with salads etc. A lot of sweets, as it is the custom to bring something sweet to the house of mourning.

      1. re: michele cindy

        Jewish funerals ain't what they used to be! Traditionally, round foods are served--like eggs, bagels, lentils. Fish is okay, but usually not meat or chicken.

        When my Grandpa passed away, a neighbor brought over a homemade chocolate cake. That's when the negotiations began. I asked my mom for a piece before she took it to my aunt's house for the Shiva. She said she couldn't cut into it and then bring it. I asked her to take me, she said no because I had school the next day. I asked her to bring a piece home for me. She said she couldn't take food out of the Shiva house. (I like to think Grandpa would have wanted me to have a piece of cake.)

        Many years later, I was at the Shiva of my 3rd cousin's FIL, a very beloved Orthodox rabbi. As I was leaving, she insisted that I take as much food as I could carry!

        1. re: Kate is always hungry

          I forgot about the fish and bagels, we do that too here. There's a version of the sloppy joe called a smoky joe which is made with white fish, carp, salmon etc. Really good stuff.

          1. re: michele cindy

            If you have a recipe I would like to try it out on my husband, I think he would like it. TIA

            1. re: paprkutr

              It's really not a recipe, but more of an assembly. It's from my memory, so it may not be that accurate... both use a specially cut rye bread, it's a rye cut down the length rather then the typical round slice. To do this with regular rye you would take 3 slices of pretty thin rye bread.
              choose any 1 or combo of the follwing
              turkey, pastrami, cornedbeef, tongue
              layer on bread, top with coleslaw
              top with bread, spread on russian dressing
              add next layer of meat, top with coleslaw
              serve with pickles and pickeled tomatoes. Never use cheese on them.
              Smoky same layered concept
              choose any smoked fish, (no bones) you like
              ie, lox, white fish, sable, carp,
              spread bread with cream cheese, or scallion cream cheese
              top with fish
              apply next layer of bread top cc and another fish
              top with rye. I think you can also use whitefish salad, baked salmon salad to on these.

          2. re: Kate is always hungry

            Round foods like bagels to symbolize the continuity of the circle of life. Eggs (I think) are also a symbol of rebirth and life (like Easter eggs and the hb eggs at the end of the first part of the Seder just before the meal, which are odd when you think about it because there's nothing about them in the Haggadah.

            1. re: Judith

              I was curious about this too, I searched and read that the egg and shank were both used together on the plate to symbolize the slaughtering of the paschal lamb, the 1st passover sacrifice.

          3. re: michele cindy

            For me, I want the empty bottle of the Taylor-Fladgate '48, that my family and friends have used to toast my demise. If St. Peter can't find the joke in that, then I am destined to an eternal hell. OK, if I have not withheld my carnal temptations, and have consumed that, let's go with the '70 Latour. Still, the empty bottle, not a full one, as my family and friends deserve the best for tolerating me for all these years.

            To the OP, even with an English/Irish, and a German/Jewish background, I don't recall a single food item, at any of the funerals. Even with regards to my wife's French/Italian New Orleans roots, nothing stands out. Wow, even my mom's funeral was a blurr. Seems that neighbors brought over food, but I haven't a clue as to what it was. Guess I am not the "good son."


          4. The auxillary ladies from three churches my sister,sister in law and step mom attend have some specialities to die for ,no pun intended.Various "meat" salad sandwiches on homemade crustless white bread,fruit salads no labor spared,meat balls from all over the world.GIN PUNCH.Things we don't have at home,but I sure do approve the "social"
            celebration of "LIFE".

            1. No alcohol at funerals/wakes in Eastern NC, but plenty of food. Casseroles, cakes, and a ham are the standards, but for me the most memorable was the box of paper plates/cups, plastic flatware, and soft drinks that the owner of the local grocery store gave when my grandfather died. That man never, ever gave anything away, so his generosity was a truly touching expression of how much he cared for my grandfather.

              1. It is going to be hard to beat the unexpected funeral luncheon for a young Filipina Chicagoan held at, of all places, Czerwone Jabluszko Polish Buffet. The older Lolos wrinkled their noses when they couldn't find soy sauce for the potstickers and then puckered their mouths when they found that they were filled with sauerkraut.

                1. At Italian funerals in my neck of the woods during the days preceding the funeral neighbors, relatives and friends visit the house of the grieving family and bring food for sustenance. These gifts of food usually continue for a time after the funeral as well.

                  During the breaks in the wake the family usually retires to their home with relatives and good friends where the meal is provided by the same family and friends..

                  After the burial all those attending at the cemetery are invited back to the home of the deceased where there is a buffet table loaded with antipasti, various pasta dishes, platters of Italian "cold cuts" and cheeses, baskets of breads and rolls, tossed salads, composed salads and dozens of platters of pastries and various Italian cookies. Wine, liquor and other beverages are available. Most of this is provided by those people who are close to the family.

                  It is indeed a Celebration of Life and very comforting.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Gio

                    You described the luncheon after my grandmother's funeral to a "T". Fresh provolone, sopressata, mortadella, prosciutto, ham, roast beef, olives ....and I could go on and on. I know my grandmother would have loved that spread :)

                    1. re: krisrishere

                      Your Grandmother would have loved that spread, Kris, because that's what "they" were used to. If you cook it.... they will come. That's the Italian way. And, the way of may others as well....

                  2. Midwestern funerals meant going back to the church where the auxiliary had baked ham, scallped potatos, green beans and the most heavenly homemade dinner rolls and pies. At least that's what we do in my family, and it is indeed, a celebration of life.

                    1. When my mother passed, one of the neighbors made the most delicious sour cream coffee cake I have ever had, and I'm not a sweets eater! I brought most of it to share at work, and they were still asking for it years later. Another neighbor made a lasagna that had pine nuts in the bechamel, and the tomato sauce was very light. I didn't share that with anyone ;-). This was 18 years ago, almost 19, and I still remember their kindness and scrumptious food.

                      1. In my Eastern European experience the food has often been the favorites of the deceased. When my mother died I made all her baked specialties (at least the ones she taught me). It makes for alot of conversational memories. For her that was Linzer torte, lots of buttery walnut cookies - some rolled and sandwiched with jam, some semi-puff pastry ones with nutty filllings, her honey nut drop cookies, pumpkin bread, and baklava. I was surprised the other day when I mentioned a popular restaurant in the next town and all the locals of the town said their main memory of the place was the manicotti served at funerals. Because of the association they tended not to eat there on other occasions even though the food was god.

                        1. Someone had a pot luck on Memorial Day one year; everyone was to bring the favorite dish of a deceased friend or relative. My daughter brought cherry pie.

                          Another time an associate at work died and his ex-wife and kids threw a barbeque party of remembrance; I did not go but others complained to me that the food was cheap, lousy. Right then and there I told my daughter that when I die I want her to get the meat for the barbeque from the best butcher in town and serve the very best at my send off.

                          18 Replies
                          1. re: walker

                            I may be the only one really shocked here. But somebody died and people were complaining about was how lousy and cheap the food was!!!!! That's really sad.

                            For my mom's memorial service, I worked my ass off the night before making all of her favorites -- kim bap (Korean sushi rolls), baklava, katafi, dumplings. I purchased mochi the day of as that was her favorite thing to eat. I really wasn't into cooking anything. But I knew my mom would have been upset if these people went away hungry as she always used to bring a whole bunch of food to share and sent people away from our house with a goody bag. I know there was more stuff I made. But honestly, I don't remember because the food was the last thing I had in my mind. I know a lot of people go to foods in times of distress -- but I guess that wasn't me.

                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              For some reason when I think back to 14 years ago, my moms funeral, all I can remember was sitting alone at home in my apt., eating smoked white fish and feeling really alone. I must have taken it from my aunts home, but I don't even remember doing that. & you know I am a food person!

                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                "I may be the only one really shocked here. But somebody died and people were complaining about was how lousy and cheap the food was!!!!! That's really sad."

                                I'm definitely with you on this one. This is even worse than people complaining about food at a wedding. A wedding, you plan for months. A funeral, well, I hope not. Sorry if we couldn't secure the hot caterer in town...

                                I love good food as much as the next person. It would never even occur to me to complain about food I ate at a memorial service or funeral.

                                Frankly, if the food is terrible, then the finger should be pointed at the guests attending who did not bother to contribute anything. If it is the type of event where food is served, then isn't it supposed to be tradition to bring something? Some kind of gesture to show the family you care? Wow. Complaining about food at a funeral... Wow.

                                Miss Needle, my heart went out to you, thinking about you cooking for your mom's funeral. But I think you are right about it being what your mum would want. And although you may not have wanted food, I hope it was somewhat therapeutic to be cooking your mom's favorites. Sometimes it is good to have your mind occupied by the task of cooking and creating. I am fortunate, mum and dad are still with me, yet when I cook their food, I can still see and hear them giving instructions. I think I will find that very comforting when they pass, which I am hoping is a long way off.

                                1. re: moh


                                  Were I the deceased, I'd come back to haunt someone, if the food and wine were not good!

                                  Now, as I stated down the thread, I cannot recall any food at any funeral. Still, for my departing, I want people to look back and remember. Call it greedy, self-centered, or whatever, but the food MUST be good, as must the wine. I want people toasting my life. I want a celebration of my life, just as I have celebrated it each day.

                                  Last thing I would want is people on CH talking about how bad the food, or the wine was, at my funeral. Let 'em enjoy and have fun. Heck, maybe I'll even add a clause to my "living will," just to be sure. Put me in a cardboard box, but make sure that Chef Vincent does the catering and that the wines are the best from my cellar - in case I do not drink all but that one bottle.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    "Put me in a cardboard box, but make sure that Chef Vincent does the catering and that the wines are the best from my cellar - in case I do not drink all but that one bottle."

                                    Bill, I am definitely with you on this one! I do not want my family and friends to waste money on an expensive casket and flowers and funeral. It's not like I'm going to enjoy it! I would definitely prefer it get spent on feeding people and comforting them. As you put it, I would prefer a celebration of my life. But I also would be worried about putting too much pressure on people I care about, at a time when they might not be up to it. If it helps them to celebrate my life, and to focus on something to help them get through a difficult time, then fine, but I would not want it to turn into a burden.

                                    But your idea of letting all my close friends and family go to town on the wine fridge! I am all in favour of a rocking wake with good wine - it doesn't take a lot to uncork a bottle of wine! And putting money towards a good caterer instead of a costly funeral is also an appealing idea to me.

                                    I think many Chowhounders would want good food at their own funerals. We are all obsessed with good food, and so this is a natural desire. But I do believe in giving people a break. If someone else has bad food at their funeral, well, I'll chalk it up to this being a bad time, and food not being a priority at a difficult time. It would never occur to me to complain about lousy food at someone else's funeral. It just seems like such a petty thing to complain about when someone's loved one has just died.

                                    1. re: moh

                                      In my "culture," wakes are less common, though the Irish side of the family might be an exception. In my wife's culture, they are a big thing and seem to go on for days. I'd hate to think that the last "real" memory of me, that some might have would be of mediocre food and cheap wine.

                                      I'd rather they all gather around and say, "hey, he left us some of the 'good stuff.' Now we can drink!" If it goes on "for days," and the wines hold up, that's good with me. Heck, I plan on drinking all, but one bottle, though looking in the cellar, I cannot image that happening. Maybe there'll still be a couple of cases of wonderful wines, and my wife can dispense these, as she sees fit. [Note] no one, who is likely to mix a Bdx. with soda will be allowed free reign!


                                      1. re: moh

                                        Just put me in a tasteful linen shroud and a pine box. Then let the noshing begin ! I'd like to have a nice deli spread with a lot of pastries. I'll have the
                                        details worked out ahead of time. If nothing else, I'm known for great food at my parties. So, why should this day be different?

                                        1. re: Kate is always hungry


                                          It will be with great sorrow, but I will toast your style, upon your passing.

                                          Yeah, I agree completely, though I might change the menu a tad, but that's just me.


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            Wait a second Bill - how do you know you will be around to toast when kate isn't around anymore?! Here's a morbid point - for those being cremated, you can have one heavenly bbq!

                                            1. re: michele cindy

                                              You are correct. Who will get to toast my demise, with my lovely wife? I've had a few who wish to be included on that "guest list." Most don't realize that I intend on only leaving one bottle though!

                                              Well, if I go the cremation route, I'll definitely leave a Biale Black Chicken Zin, 'cause it goes well with BBQ...


                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                Thank you Bill for your kind words. Include me on your guest list for a toast--just in case I'm still around. Otherwise, consider yourself toasted.

                                                Is it too morbid to suggest a Chowhound Obituary board?

                                    2. re: moh

                                      Thanks, moh. Actually, I was also thinking about that wedding thread when I read that. Yes, it was a comforting to know that my mom would have been happy to see people eating well. And it was definitely good to keep busy. And I knew my mom would have been so upset if I just threw out some chips and dip. I could totally see her wagging her finger in front of me and saying, "Shame, shame, shame." So she was in my mind as I brushed butter on the filo dough, rolled out the kim-baps, etc.

                                      Yeah, I think I would really have been mortified (pun not intended) if I heard somebody complain about the food that day. I probably wouldn't have said anything (although I REALLY would have wanted to) because I know that my mom would have been so pissed at me for talking back to one of her friends/family members.

                                  2. re: walker

                                    Actually, this has a lot to do with Hallow'een - or all Souls' Day, or whatever day commemorates the ancestors in religious or secular traditions. (We don't have Memorial Day - Remembrance Day, the 11th of November, commemorates both war dead and war veterans). We are getting into that spooky part of year.

                                    Walker, I had a friend who died at only 37 (he was not only a professor but a departmental head at such a young age) and he wanted his family to do the same, but the send-off in the church basement was crummy sandwiches, watery coffee, bad tea and no wine or beer! He'd have been aghast.

                                    1. re: lagatta

                                      Yes, I guess we should set aside some money and instructions in our wills about how we want our last party. (I guess this is how I and other control freaks want to manage this.)

                                      1. re: walker

                                        It just frustrates me that I won't be able to really eat it - at least I don't think I will??!

                                        1. re: michele cindy

                                          Kinda' like me and my wine cellar. My hope is to drink all but one bottle, and then my wife, and my roudy friends will have that last bottle to toast MY demise. Don't know which bottle that will be...


                                        2. re: walker

                                          My grandfather did leave money in his will so that everyone in attendance at the funeral (all 20 of us) could go out to eat. Upon hearing that the lunch was paid for, a few of my cousins immediately ordered a second lunch, of steak and lobster - to go.

                                          When I remember the day of the funeral, I don't have sad memories - I have happy memories of giggling with my mom at my cousins. I'm sure that Grampie would have prefered it that way.

                                          1. re: KtMeyers

                                            "Upon hearing that the lunch was paid for, a few of my cousins immediately ordered a second lunch, of steak and lobster - to go."

                                            wow. talk about kicking someone when they're (really) down. maybe gramps had a sense of humor and he wouldnt of cared. but from a removed point of view, that just seems very tacky.

                                    2. I grew up in the south and as Paula Deen says in her book, funerals are the time when people bring out their best dishes. I remember fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs (can't remember a funeral dinner without those), macaroni and cheese, casseroles, green beans, black eyed peas, butter beans, snap peas, and tons and tons of desserts......cakes, pudding type desserts, fruit pies, meringue pies, you name it. Upon word of a death in the community, women head to the kitchen and prepare their dishes and then take them to the home of the deceased or if the deceased lived in another area to the closest blood relative. Like when my great-aunt passed away, the neighbors brought food to my grandmother's home because it was her sister and the funeral dinner would be held there as well as nieces and nephews from out of town staying with her.

                                      Last year, we smoked over 60 lbs of boston butts for a funeral dinner to serve 150-200 people. A couple of area churches was providing food and we knew there would be a huge turnout because the husband is a much loved minister in the area and there was lots of family and friends from out of state. Good thing we made the bbq because there would not have been enough food otherwise.

                                      A friend/neighbor was killed last year in an auto accident and I can not make wontons without thinking of her. Even making a different recipe using the wonton wrappers makes me sad because she's the one who taught me to use them.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: alliedawn_98

                                        I'm with Allie Dawn...food after Southern funerals...chicken and dumplings (light and fluffy as air), creamed corn, biscuits, butter beans, ham, and lots and lots of homemade cakes...

                                        1. re: alliedawn_98

                                          Several years ago in Gourmet, Pat Conroy wrote an article about southern funerals and particularly about the food, as I recall. He mentioned a casserole that had among other things shreds or chunks of chuck, macaroni and lots of cheese. It sounded like great comfort food - think I'll have to try to find the recipe, wherever I stuck it!

                                          1. re: Susan627

                                            I can see a "hearty" casserole as being good. Consider that there are usually visitor coming and going, and maybe even family from elsewhere. One does not feel like being a good host/hostess at these times. Something that can be re-heated and served is probably very good, given how the food will be handled, warmed and served.


                                        2. I live in California. When I think of funerals, or the food I have prepared for funerals, I think of chicken salad, meatload, sandwiches, that sort of thing.

                                          I remember the people next door asked for snack type foods for the people staying in the home when I asked what I could bring.

                                          1. My dad had style, in a Russian Paul Newman sot of way. He was a smooth dancer too. I talked w/ my uncles and we a had a polka band and an open bar. No sorrows, but miss him every day.

                                            1. There was the one funeral where my grandma gave the entire bereaved family food poisoning with bad fried chicken.

                                              1. Wow, I must have been sleeping, but I cannot recall any food at a funeral. Even given the New Orleans wakes and "jazz funerals," I cannot recall a single dish. Some of these wakes went on for days and had alters to various Saints. Still, no recollection.

                                                Heck, I have trouble recalling any food at a wedding.


                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                  I'm with you -- I can't remember much about the food either. Sandwichy stuff? I think at one, but I really can't remember. I do remember that after my father passed we were sent rotisserie chickens ... lots of rotisserie chickens ... from various people. Quite likely there was other food, but I just remember trying to fit all the chicken in the fridge, lol.

                                                2. I just helped to bury my beloved Grandomther in August. She was a fantastic cook, and instilled her love of cooking to me (that part missed my Mother, totally) and she would allways tell me that her cooking for people was one of the best ways to show how much she loved and cared for them.

                                                  My Mother was at a loss for food ideas for the wake, since she dislikes cooking. Since I was down there for a 2-week time, I took it upon myself to do all the food. Yes, there -was- some food, bought in bulk at Costco, but it was all food my Grandmother loved. She loved shrimp cocktail, to had to have that. I knew she loved deviled eggs, and they were something the whole family loved at holiday-time. I made 2 dozen deviled eggs, crying into the mix, as I worked. It was so hard, but she loved them so much..I wish she could have tasted them..I hope I did her justice with them.

                                                  EVERY funeral i've been to, there seems to be a meat and cheese platter. Why? I think ease of use for the grieving family, but there's not much more cathertic than cooking, for a sad, worried soul. It calms me.

                                                  1. Up here the funeral dinners are generally sandwiches or casseroles, with a variety of salads and cake or bars, at the church. But when my great-aunt died down in southeastern Kansas a year and a half ago, the ladies at her church brought lunch to the house where we were all gathered. Just brought it in, and left. It wasn't anything different than we have up here--sandwich fixings, salads, desserts--except our family friends who are Korean, and belong to that church, brought this absolutely enormous batch of their wonderful little egg rolls, which we've had at just about every family gathering since I was a little kid. Without them it wouldn't have been right.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: revsharkie

                                                      Revsharkie, my mum makes those little Korean eggrolls, and as you say, family gatherings aren't the same without them. They are a pain to make in small batches, so you really have to make them in batches of 100 or more. So you really only get them when there are going to be a lot of people around. Making 100 or 200 apparently isn't much different, so when she makes them, we give a lot away. Food really does create community. The eggrolls are special because they aren't just eggrolls, they are a sign that someone cares about you and thinks about you. That is why they are often seen at funerals, at least when mum is around.

                                                      1. re: moh

                                                        ...when there are going to be a lot of other people around...

                                                        ...or if you're going to a gathering of the Hulseys. There may not be very many of us, but we can make quick work of however many of those little egg rolls Mrs. Han brings over.

                                                        One of these days I'm gonna get her to show me how to make jap chae. I love her jap chae, but I haven't found a recipe yet that's anything like hers.

                                                    2. The first Jewish funeral we attended, we had never met the widow (the deceased had been a colleague of my husband). And the poor lady was terribly distraught; at the cemetery she started screaming and tried to throw herself into the grave. We had been told ahead of time that we were invited to her home after the funeral but we felt awkward about going, given how upset she was. (A friend had prepared us, "You MUST go to the house afterwards and eat. It is a sign of life continuing." ) So we did go, tippytoeing in the door tentatively. There was the widow, scarfing down a big plate of food from the spectacular buffet her sisters had set out. Everyone arrived and ate and ate and ate and visited and chatted and told funny stories about the one who had left us---and it was the delicious, plentiful food that made all this possible. I come from a somewhat rigid Protestant tradition where anyone who can't control him/herself is expected to retire to a private room until he/she can, and after a funeral there might be coffee or sherry but not much else. So I took such a huge lesson from this experience and decided that any time I am ever the one to plan a funereal event, food will definitely be served. Lots of it.

                                                      1. Thanks for all you posts. Mum just died and will have the luncheon at her favorite Italian restaurant.
                                                        Ciao bella mama

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                          I'm sorry about your mother. The luncheon sounds like a nice idea. :)

                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                            Passadumkeg, you and your family are in my thoughts. I shall raise a glass in her memory. It will be a fine Italian wine. May the pain in your heart be eased by food and fellowship.

                                                            1. re: moh

                                                              She loved korean cod fish stew too. And will have a korean newborn great grand son to begin the circle again.
                                                              It is a celebration of life, she would have been 93 next month.

                                                          2. I was wrong, we did not go to Covello's (family did later), The entire funeral party went directly from the funeral, last Wed. at 10:30 am directly to Ria Mar Restaurant, a local Portuguese place we've been visiting for almost 20 years and had the choice of roughly 15 entries (I had the Portuguese seafood and rice, my better half the garlic shrimp, my bro the fried seafood, my uncles, steaks etc.) with unlimited red and white sangria, wine and beer. I over did it, naturally, but she was very fondly remembered, with even 2 priests! Her last words in the hospital, were, "Would you boys please bring me a BLT and a bottle of Mondavi". What a coal miner's daughter!!! She took me to my first French Restaurant in NYC in the 50's and was a devoted Julia Child fan. Bye ma.