Monday, August 27, 2018

Southern History Book of the Month: The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist

by Mary Anne Ellis, Southern History Department, Central Library

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist
Perre Coleman Magness

Here in the South we believe wholeheartedly that “Food is Love” and there is no occasion more likely to spur an outpouring of love—and food—than a funeral. At times of loss our neighbors who have been brought up in the tradition of funeral food will knock at our doors with cakes and casseroles and platters and sheet pans; as a friend told me right after I lost my mother, “I brought you a lasagna, because this is the South and that’s what we do.” The Southern Sympathy Cookbook pays tribute to this tradition with a wonderful collection of recipes that will have readers nodding and smiling in recognition, along with a few others that may raise eyebrows. This is where the “with a twist” part comes in. Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Hummus? Really? But Magness includes some entertaining explanations of why dishes like this are included:
George Washington Carver was born a slave but become the head of the agriculture department at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. He was most known for his work on important Southern crops, including peanuts and sweet potatoes. I like to think he’d be pleased with this recipe. On the table with the cakes and casseroles, there needs to be something vegetable-related and healthy.
Bear in mind that this is the South and macaroni and cheese qualifies as a vegetable. And you’ll find Macaroni and Cheese (with Buttermilk, no less) in this book, along with Fried Chicken—hailed as “The Gospel Bird” because it is such a cornerstone of Southern cooking—Funeral Baked Beans, and the pineapple casserole standby so common that it is simply referred to as “That Pineapple Thing.” If you’ve seen or eaten it, you’ll recognize it.

The cookbook is arranged according to the stages of the death/funeral process. Breakfast items can be found under “The Great Awakening” whereas desserts are in “The Sweet Hereafter.” Fruit and vegetable food is “The Eternal Garden.” There are also humorous selections from obituaries sprinkled through the pages, such as this extract from a Hot Springs, Arkansas listing: "She is survived by her loving husband and sons, her sister . . . her brother . . . her bossy daughter-in-law and three as yet unspoiled granddaughters . . . and numerous relatives who were all loved but not mentioned in the will."

Deep South Funeral Food is so rich a tradition and covers so many cultures and ethnicities that there could be a lot of arguments over what to select for a book like this. Magness does a good job of covering the basics while still throwing a few curves and opening up the possibilities of what to offer the next time you need to express your love in food. The Southern Sympathy Cookbook may be brief compared to some specimens of the genre but it is highly browsable and may inspire you to try some of these recipes before the necessity of a funeral. If you see something that looks wonderfully delicious, then don’t wait—start cooking!

For further information:

Perre Coleman Magness
Perre Coleman Magness on Facebook
“Classic Comfort Dishes You’ll See On Every Southern Funeral Spread”
“7 Distinctly Southern Funeral Traditions”
“Southern Funeral Etiquette”

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