The thing about funerals is that, unlike holiday meals where the hostess is expected to do it all, it's suddenly ok to pitch in and bring something. Funeral potatoes are a perennial favourite, and Three-bean salad smacks of tradition and family.
We can learn a lot from funerals.
Many a host or hostess bemoans the necessity to cook up a storm when holidays are nigh, or friend come to town, or something needs to be celebrated. Somehow it’s a sign of weakness to accept any offer of help. Sure we want to “make the magic happen” for friends and family. And sure they lavish praise upon the heads of the exhausted “magic makers” but let’s face it. This is institutionalized passive aggression. Oh everyone will deny it, of course. That’s part of the fun. But it might be time call it out for what it is and stop it in its tracks.
A festive occasion looms on the horizon. The dance begins.
Mrs. Perfect volunteers her services as hostess. “I love to entertain! I’m just a people pleaser! I love to pamper my friends! No, of course it’s not a bit of trouble! No, no. Just bring yourselves!”. Mrs. Perfect isn’t a liar exactly, but a bit of honest self reflection might be in order.
“I love to entertain”. (It gives me a chance to outshine my mother-in-law, or my high school nemesis).
“I’m just a people pleaser”. (It’s easier just to do it myself than to ask my feckless friends and family to lift a finger. They’d probably do it wrong anyway).
“I love to pamper my friends”. (I can’t serve that again. I did that last time. No, that’s what Betty served last July. Julia is a vegetarian and Bob doesn’t like seafood. Give me strength!)
“No, of course, it’s not a bit of trouble”. (‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows the sorrow’).
“Just bring yourselves”. (I’d rather eat bees than let her steal my thunder with one of her glorious salads).
Oh it’s not entirely her fault. We are all enablers.
“Mrs. P will be hosting, of course. She always does.”. “Do let me help!”. “Nobody is a better hostess than you, Mrs. P!”. “Where do you get your innovative ideas?”. “What can I bring?”.
“Mrs. P will be hosting, of course. She always does.”. (She likes to be a martyr).
“Do let me help!”. (Or would you rather enjoy moaning?).
“Nobody is a better hostess than you, Mrs. P!”. (Don’t think I don’t hear those thinly veiled complaints).
“Where do you get your innovative ideas?”. (Oh goodie! She’s picked up the latest copy of Food and Drink!).
“What can I bring?” (Though she never lets anyone bring a thing for fear of disrupting her precious menu plan).
All that being said, everyone enjoys funerals. Why? Not just because there is a theme, or because you get a chance to get together with family and friends you haven’t seen in ages. But because everyone brings food for the ‘after events’! Comfort food! Casseroles and hams! Three bean salad! Various dishes laden with cheese! It’s hard to ignore the festive mood unencumbered by the usual passive aggression of social events. Everyone pitches in. Drinks are served, dishes are washed, kids old enough to drive are given the keys to fetch bags of ice and all the little’uns pile in to help him out. There’s an ease to funerals that we would do well to learn from.
Funeral Potatoes from make-it-do.com
2 pounds hash-brown potatoes (unbrowned)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 pint sour cream
1 can Cream of Chicken Soup (Cream of Mushroom soup can be substituted for a vegetarian option)
1/2 cup grated yellow onion (or minced very fine)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1-1/2 cup crumbled corn flakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl combine cornflakes and butter. In a separate bowl combine other ingredients. Press into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Top with cornflake mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.
Or for another taste of tradition,
1 (15 ounce) can green beans1 pound wax beans
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
3/4 cup white sugar
2/3 cup distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed.
Mix together green beans, wax beans, kidney beans, onion, sugar, vinegar, vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Let set in refrigerator for at least 12 hours.
But if there is no funeral on the horizon, and that’s a good thing, at least we can take away a lesson or two from those events.
It’s not so much about the food, although that’s definitely a part of it. It’s more about the people, the camaraderie, the chat and the sharing, not only of food, but also of labour.
That’s not to say that hosting a dinner party to delight friends should be thrown out with the bath water, but for the big shows, lighten up. Let people pitch in. Lower those standards. The secret to a successful gathering is not the presence of perfection, but the absence of the resentful host or hostess wishing the guests would clear out so they can begin the arduous task of clean up!