Mark Ballard

Homemade funeral food now rare

“I guess I will fry up a chicken or bake a cake,” my grandmother would sometimes say on mornings when I was visiting her. “A lady in our church is sick and they are not expecting her to live,” she sadly continued. The second I heard those words come from her mouth, I would practically fall on my knees in prayer for a miracle. Even though I didn’t even know the sick lady, I wanted her to be magically healed.

“Why?” you ask. The answer is simple. I selfishly wanted to keep the homemade food my grandmother had made for us to eat. I realize that must sound totally uncaring but, from a child’s perspective, fried chicken and homemade cake sounded a lot better than a plain old peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In fact, to be completely honest, even as an adult, it still does.

Time has certainly changed many things, including the way we show our love and support for a grieving family, at least in the form of sharing our special homemade recipes. Funeral food and Southerners go hand-in-hand much like that peanut butter and jelly I mentioned earlier. The duo just feels right. In fact, when I close my eyes and think of visiting the home of any bereaved family over the years, one of the first things that comes to mind is a kitchen and dining room filled to the brim with homemade concoctions of all kinds. Food seems to add comfort when mere words are not enough.

Shiny tin foil and plastic wrap strained with all its might to contain the food on large platters as they lined the countertops, forming magnificent buffets. Multiple “from scratch” cakes of all flavors and sizes sat regally beside other desserts waiting to be cut by friendly church ladies and served up to significantly raise blood sugar levels. Tupperware containers holding everything from deviled eggs to potato salad were opened and displayed being especially careful not to lose the attached masking tape on which the owner’s name had been written.

Opening the door of the home where a family member had died offered the smell of love and comfort before even crossing the threshold.

It was almost unheard of back then to offer comfort food in the form of anything other than something prepared with love by hand in your kitchen. I guess that is where the old saying “From my kitchen to yours” may have come from. But these days, things are quite different. A lot of people used to bake up their favorite “from-scratch” pound cake and take it over to those in need. Sometimes it would even be warm from the oven. Then there were those who took the easy way out and purchased a “store-bought” cake.

Not wanting the bereaved to feel unimportant, they would cleverly slide the cake off its plastic container and onto one of their personal china plates. A couple of pieces of tin foil later and their “comfort cake” was ready to be delivered — from their kitchen to yours. Well, sort of.

Today, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone to just stop by their local market, purchase a cake or deli item, leave it in the same container complete with the price and deliver it.

My grandmother, if still living, would be completely and utterly appalled!

To her, to be offered as “comfort” it had to be made “from scratch.”

Funeral food has always helped me in a time of need. When my dear mother died, a friend brought by a homemade, still-warm caramel cake.

As my sister, wife and I opened the front door to greet our friend, it didn’t take but one lift of the foil to realize that we were not sharing that heavenly confection with anyone else. It was safely hidden away in my childhood bedroom, only to be eaten by us in our weakest moments.

Then when my daddy passed away, I couldn’t wait to see what sweet, homemade treats would arrive. I kept checking the kitchen at every opportunity, only to find grocery bags filled with all sorts of baking ingredients.

Finally, I mustered up the courage to ask a sweet lady volunteering in the kitchen what all the bags of ingredients were for.

She first smiled and then, trying to talk through a chuckle, said, “We are not about to bake anything and bring it over to your house!”

Funeral food seems to have lost some of the luster it once had all those years ago when my grandmother’s frying pan was hot and her oven was preheating.

Busy schedules and time constraints have replaced “homemade” with “store-bought.”

When everything is said and done, I guess it really is the thought that counts. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I miss “from scratch” funeral food so much! And that’s whether it is me who is in bereavement or not.

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