Dyin’ in the South…

 

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The late great Pat Conroy, wrote a cookbook that is one of my all time favorites- he has one chapter called ‘Why Dying Down South is More Fun’. In my collection of local, state and regional cookbooks- they don’t come right out and have chapters devoted to funeral food– but if you’re from the South- well…let’s just say we know that the cooks who offer the submissions have gotten a whole lot of compliments on the dishes they took to comfort those who mourn. We also know which ones don’t comfort- they afflict. You don’t take hot spicy foods like Pit Barbeque- which might conjure up the image of ‘hellfire and damnation’-though the grieving family will graciously accept any and all offerings in the spirit in which they are given. Pat Conroy makes note that when anyone dies in the South, ‘the pigs get nervous’– I would add – ‘the chickens get nervous and stop layin’. Fried chicken shows how much you care, stuffed eggs are always welcome and a baked ham feeds a crowd. Stuffed Eggs are the appropriate term for funeral food– no one in his right mind would dare called them ‘Devilled Eggs’. We prize stuffed eggs so much we have plates with little egg shaped indentions passed down from one generation to the next, I have my grandmother’s white egg plate. 2016-03-23 11.07.00Women have Pyrex dishes with their names inked on masking tape for Dinner on the Ground, Memorial Day and holidays but mostly for funeral food. These glass dishes might be ensconced in a silver holder with little legs or just plain glass- but all are filled with concoctions to die for- they’re so divine. You can count on hearing- ‘Has anyone seen my 9×12 Pyrex dish?’ in the days and weeks to follow a funeral.

In the South, when you don’t know what to say- taking comfort food is the very best thing to do. We hope after the funeral, folks will eat as good or better than at Thanksgiving or Christmas- we don’t want anyone to worry about what to eat, when they are struggling.casseroles-campbells

I try to keep a Bereavement Pound Cake in the freezer- my pound cakes freeze very well due to the high fat content and being wrapped tightly. I’ve never kept one frozen for very long-to have a Pound Cake on hand has truly been a lifesaver…well, a life might have been lost but a ham, a casserole or a pound cake- is comforting, goes a long way and can feed the multitudes.2015-12-21 11.08.39

Mostly teetotalers-we don’t talk about it very much, but we do value the medicinal numbing qualities of strong drink– we might nurse it, we just don’t advertise it. The South has produced the finest beverages in the world- Sweet Tea, Co-Cola, Bourbon, Jack Daniels, Muscadine Wine; even Rum, all of which do bring a nip of comfort to afflicted mourners.

We once attended a memorial service for a local Historian whose specialty was the War between the States. This man wanted his service to be authentic-held in a historic home he knew was being restored. The Committee decided unanimously not to restore the bullet-riddled transom over the door from a little skirmish during the war-ah. The house was opened to honor this man. The Honor Guard was in full regalia worn for ‘re-enactments’which to be honest, are exercises in futility since we’re never gonna pull this thing out, but the men seem to enjoy it. The revered Historian wanted to be cremated and his ashes strewn on the closest battlefield- which caused a bit of an rippit from some of the older set, who still think six feet under Alabama Marble is the most dignified way to go.old tombstone- aol images  The Historian’s service was planned down to a tee, the house was spruced up and the wide foyer was set with folding chairs facing a flag draped altar with the urn on top– all ready for the next day. One of the men brought in the big punch bowl to sit on the sideboard- he had obtained the old recipe from 1786 for Chatham Artillery Punch. It has to preserve for two days!  The night before, he offered some of it as solace for the men who had to get things ready for the Historian. The ladies had bought ginger ale to substitute for that whole case of champagne.  It was hot and humid- some of the men thought they would have a toast to their fallen. No one thought the bugle playin’ brother was in such bad shape- he got punch drunk. The day of the service, the ladies like to have died when they found out Brother wasn’t able to playTaps’– some even fumed  they were going to kill the whole regiment! vintage silver punch bowl

One of the revelers brought in a boom box instead of the bugle; the Honor Guard decided that despite the events of the night before- the Historian rightly deserved the whole case of champagne instead of the ginger ale-and unapologetically handed the widow an icy cup of punch to settle her nerves. During the service the widow slowly slid off the horsehair sofa onto the oriental rug. The Chaplin finished up his rather long eulogy. The Honor Guard stood at attention as the static-y ‘Taps’ blared; they filed somberly out of the foyer onto the grounds, while someone discreetly re-seated the grieving widow. Outside, instead of a synchronized 21 gun salute- it sounded like a bunch of firecrackers going off as the antique guns fired away. The mourners were glad they stayed inside and actually lived to die another day.

Now, like all good Southern stories, this one is part myth, part truth and part outright lies– however, to show good faith…If you will be careful when and how you use it- here is the recipe for Chatham Artillery Punch, from the Savannah River House which will no doubt resurface again.ChathamArtilleryPunchRecipe.jpg

However, I would like to make this perfectly clear- Southern Ladies are taught it is coarse and common to drink, chug or slurp. A true lady sips. Coffee, water, tea or something to numb the pain…a lady always holds cups, glasses or plates in a delicate hand with the elbow at  the waistline; and honestly sliding off a sofa is just not done under normal circumstances.

Oh Law, I hope you don’t die laughing, but if you do? Please come South, we’ll take care of you.

Love y’all, Camellia

Find Pat Conroy’s Cookbook on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other major booksellers!

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Casket photo is from http://www.bjwinslow.com Other images are either mine or from AOL images, please advise if any copyright applies.

 

37 thoughts on “Dyin’ in the South…

  1. One of my favorite uncles passed away a few days ago and there was not a single dish of food brought to the wake/viewing. Only one sad and lonely pot of coffee–furnished by the funeral home.
    My uncle would not have appreciated that. All deaths in our family were made more bearable with the aid of food dishes. This uncle was known for his humor and he always had a laugh and made others laugh, even at his own parents’ wakes.
    The tradition of comfort food in times of sorrow has officially died in my family. It is sad to see that go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so sorry that your uncle died. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. One of the reasons I write this blog is to put folks in remembrance of the graciousness, of the goodness that can exist in communities even in times of great sadness- a record of sorts…with all we have or are- we must not lose our sense of showing respect- and food is one of the best ways I know of to show support – most of us say that vapid phrase- ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do’ well, there is…just take some food, right? Let it start with you…bake a pan of brownies- or a casserole…don’t let the un-kindness of others break a beautiful tradition. I know your uncle would be proud. Blessings to you sweet girl.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much. I still enjoy cooking the way my Grandmother did. I don’t have even a decent kitchen to work in but I still do what I can.
        It has been a rough few days. After he passed, his brother who was also in the hospital–one room down from him–took a bad turn and was admitted to ICU. He is finally home and recovering. I picked up a bug somewhere along the line and have been down and sick pretty bad for a week. I think it relapsed on me and is stuck in my head more than ever. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
        It’s strange that I have such an association with food and certain situations, like death, but it must just be in my blood. It is a true Southern “thing” and I am proud to have it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. yes, you should be proud of the tradition to show love with food- I have a friend who rarely cooks- she takes her pyrex dish to our local grocery deli and has them fill it with food- another gets a friend to bake cookies or something simple- I think your grief has focused on the tragedies- and at the same time- you may be getting a prompt to make sure that what happened at your Uncle’s wake never happen again…it is a physical thing to do when there are no words….take care of yourself- with love and concern

        Liked by 1 person

      3. There’s a reason we call it ‘comfort’ food! I meant to add that folks will generally chip in and offer to go get a tray of cookies or something…I truly believe this- we can’t go back and make things different, however if something just stays with us- we should always take it as a life prompt to be the one going forward to make sure things like this do not happen again- some traditions are worth keeping…I think you’ve been ‘picked’ by your Uncle Aaron to carry it forward! again much love…

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I will keep it up. It makes me feel good. I didn’t take anything because I was at the hospital with his brother, but I will try to instill it in my neice and nephew. Maybe they will carry the baton for the ones that want to forget and forgo tradition.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. I know that was the saddest part. That side of the family is known for their humor and it was always centered around Uncle Aaron.
        When my father/Aaron’s brother passed away we were able to stand around in the refreshments area and eat, drink and laugh and feel so comfortable laughing with Uncle Aaron and his kids. Just a couple weeks later one of Aaron’s sons died and we were all able to do the same thing-laugh, eat and enjoy life. Just days later another son of Aaron’s was killed in a trucking accident and yes, we were STILL able to find things to laugh about and enjoyed the memories of his son from when he was alive.
        That’s why I feel bad for Uncle Aaron now, the only people that were able to laugh at Uncle Aaron’s viewing were myself, my sister and my mother…as we drank hours-old coffee and not a morsel to eat.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I haven’t written anything since the first of the month. I did get sick from the hospital visitations and been down for a while.
        Today is my birthday and all I have done is tidy the house and read through other people’s posts. I am hoping to get back in the groove of writing by tomorrow. It does make me feel better to write things.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I am so sorry this post has brought up so many difficulties for you! it was meant to be a sweet and even slightly humorous take on how southern people respond- should I take it down? I would hate to think I’ve caused anyone any additional pain.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. What! Lord no, talking about is helps. It brings to mind the memories of us all laughing. Yes, I have had bad times with losses, but that is a part of life. Don’t ever take down anything on my account. Remember, I will ALWAYS have the option of not reading your posts and unfollowing you.
        As you see I enjoy talking to you and reading your writings a lot 🙂 Don’t worry.
        Have a beautiful and safe day!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Well you are very eloquent and sweet- I have several posts in mind on this subject and I found myself thinking that perhaps I should re-think those. i’m pretty tenderhearted and it would break my heart to think I have added pain…you are a sweetheart

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I read your post and enjoyed every word. Our family has it’s roots in the south. When someone “passed” there was suddenly a food explosion that arrived hand carried by the loving hands that made the food. How is it that there are suddenly 8 pies, three chocolate cakes, stuffed biscuits, and it goes on. Lovely…and enjoyed by all. Losing someone is tough…food said so much without the utterance of one word. Your writing is heartfelt and I enjoyed every word.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, I think most of us do not know what to say when a loss occurs- food says ‘I love you’ like nothing else. I hope this tradition of bringing food when someone dies, when a new neighbor arrives, when a baby is born or when there is sickness- will continue. Again, thank you so much for your sweet comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s amazing how much being a country Yankee is like being a Southerner! Around here you’d never be forgiven for not making food for a grieving family! And being sure that it “freezes beautifully” is required. After all, a family shouldn’t have to cook for several weeks after the death of a loved one.
    The egg tray tickled me because someone brought stuffed eggs to a birthday party about a week ago on a *gasp* plastic egg tray! We’ll be gossiping about her for months! Of course she’s a city girl transplanted through marriage. He actually blushed when we pulled out her plastic plate!

    Liked by 1 person

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