Funeral Baked Meats

No comfort food in the world can compete with macaroni and cheese!

My friend Alice from Dallas and I talk from time to time about writing a book called “Food to Die For.” Like most Americans, Alice and I grew up in communities in which cooking was the natural thing to do when a friend, relative, or neighbor died.

Sometimes there isn’t much one can do for the bereaved other than feed them. Food represents all the love we feel, all the caring remarks we’d like to make, and all the memories we cherish.

And let’s face it: cooking is a heck of a lot more constructive than crying.

Alice grew up in Louisiana so her family brought gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines to the bereaved. I grew up in the northeast so my family tended toward more standard New England-y comfort food—ham, macaroni and cheese, and brownies.

I know people who bring bagels and lox to houses of mourning, as well as stews, soups, cookies, and lasagna. The trick is to identify comfort foods that can be prepared in advance and don’t take much effort to reheat.

My mother Jan often billed herself as a “specialist in funeral baked meats.” When a neighbor died she quickly and efficiently helped relatives, friends, and neighbors organize the feast after the funeral or memorial service. Sometimes this included the favorite dishes of the deceased. Sometimes the menu consisted of any foods that could be prepared in a hurry.

My mother’s funereal feasts were always well received. People liked (and still like) to munch while sharing memories and condolences.

It seems appropriate then, that my mother’s own memorial service on January 7 was followed by copious and delectable food.

Right after the speeches and hymns at the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts, the church’s pastoral care committee put on a lavish spread of both savory and sweet finger food. It lived up to my memories of the events catered by the now defunct Charlemont Ladies Aid Society.

Later in the day relatives (some by blood, some in spirit) gathered at our house to chat about Jan and life … and of course to eat and drink some more.

Not being my mother, who liked to be thorough and was highly organized, I didn’t make both a turkey and a ham. I made only a ham. (Actually, I didn’t even make it myself since when my neighbors Will and Lisa offered to do something I handed the ham to them for baking!) There was plenty of food, however.

My friend Peter, who considered himself Jan’s third child, brought a huge dish of herbed chicken meatballs. Our neighbors Stu and Cathy prepared the world’s largest bowl of salad. My mother’s honorary goddaughter, Anna, brought fabulous artisan bread. My cousin’s daughter Kyra made yummy cupcakes decorated with snowflakes. And Jan’s aide Pam contributed her dense, delicious applesauce cake.

I had very little to make: a quick appetizer, the salad dressing, my grandmother’s key-lime angel pudding, and a large portion of macaroni and cheese. If I have to be honest, I must say that I didn’t make all of those either since Pam helped A LOT! But I organized them.

Macaroni and cheese was among my mother’s funereal standbys. It is easy to prepare in advance, and it pretty much defines comfort food. So I decided to make it for her.

My standard mac and cheese recipe isn’t elegant and it isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty darn tasty, however. And it comforted me not only to eat it but to prepare it in memory of my mother. She would have enjoyed her party.

The recipe below may be expanded pretty much as much as you like. I hope it graces the table at your next memorial service—or even your next cozy supper party.

Macaroni and Cheese


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons flour
1-1/4 cups milk, plus more milk as needed
paprika to taste
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
1 cup grated cheese (sharp Cheddar or Swiss or a combination; a little Parmesan is nice in here, too), divided
1/2 pound cooked and drained macaroni (I like seashells or wagon wheels, but elbows are fine, too)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan melt the butter, and stir in the mustard. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for a minute or two. You want the mixture (the roux) to cook and merge but not to get brown.

Add the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly. Bring the sauce to a boil. Add paprika to give it a pink tint plus salt and pepper to taste. I love salt, but remember that the cheese you are about to stir in is salty; I’d start with 1/2 teaspoon and add more later as needed.

Reduce the heat and cook, whisking, for 2 more minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and use a spoon to stir in at least half of the cheese. (If you continue to whisk with the cheese, your whisk will get gummy!)

In a 1-1/2 to 2-quart casserole dish combine the macaroni and the sauce. Your casserole should be nice and moist. If for some reason it looks a little dry (this can happen if your cheese is very absorbent), stir in a little more milk. It will evaporate in the oven. Take a tiny taste of your sauce and add more salt if you need to.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the macaroni mixture, and top with a little more paprika. Cover the dish and place it in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes; then uncover your macaroni and cheese and continue to cook until it is nice and bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes more. Serves 4 to 6.

Jan with the faithful Truffle

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14 Responses to “Funeral Baked Meats”

  1. Carol says:

    I’m so sad to hear of your mother’s passing. Your message is a lovely one. The picture of your mom with Truffle is so endearing. These dogs are like comfort food. I’ve been asked to make mac and cheese by a dear friend and I never seem to get around to it….probably because it’s one of the few dishes I have not made and I am always worried it won’t turn out right… simple though it would seem to be.

    Now I will print off your recipe and give it a try!

    Again, sorry for your loss and give Truffle a big hug from me.

  2. Wendy says:

    We went into NYC last night to visit a friend who had moved from Short Hills to a beautiful apartment on the upper west side of NYC. We went to Sarabeths for dinner and I had their delicious mac and cheese- it was a cold night and the three cheeses they used made it take like a decadent dessert.
    I had to share that with you.

  3. Deb Parker says:

    Yum! I am so sorry I missed the service and feast. We’ll feast and talk next time I head West…

  4. Amateur Cook says:

    · I tried to think of a few words of wisdom to impart, but nothing came to mind.
    So I’m just saying thanks for providing a delicious comforting recipe. ·

  5. Margie Orr says:

    When we lived in Slaton, Texas, I had a good friend named Alice Kitten, who was a wonderful cook. I think I have her recipe called, “Alice’s Funeral Salad” in a cookbook that was published by the ladies of the Slaton Museum Guild. If I can find it, will post it.
    One of the most popular dishes in the South (and Southerners do make a lot of funeral food) is fried chicken. It will be always be among the food taken to the home of the deceased or at a get-together at the church following the memorial service.
    Glad you made your Mom’s mac and cheese. What a comfort dish it is!

  6. Ellen says:

    Enjoyed this!

    Do you know the Southern tradition of stashing casseroles in your freezer so one is always ready to be taken to a house of mourning or sickness? It’s a great feature in Margaret Maron’s mystery novel Up Jumps the Devil where the main character grabs a casserole from the freezer (and delivers it to the murderers).

  7. Kathy Jo says:

    Just love the blogs….saw “funeral baked meats” and had a laugh. When me Mother was alive, the church would always call for food for funeral dinners, I would make a salad for her to take and it became known as the “funeral salad.” 10 years have passed since she went to be with the Lord and people still refer to me for a quick salad. For dinners or luncheons…the phone will ring….”Can you make your funeral salad”….thought I’d share that with you…..Thanks for bringing a smile to me face….

    Kathy Jo, Moundsville, WV

  8. Margie Orr says:

    For all the Alices of the world who take food for funeral dinners:

    Alice’s Funeral Salad


    Large carton cottage cheese
    1 large (24 oz.) can fruit cocktail
    3 oz. box orange Jello (dry)
    1 large carton Cool Whip

    Sprinkle Jello over cottage cheese and mix thoroughly. Add 1 large carton Cool Whip and 1 large can fruit cocktail. Stir to mix. May be refrigerated or served at once.

  9. commonweeder says:

    We continue to keep all of you in our thoughts, and hope that comfort food of all sorts will be on your menu for some time to come.

  10. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thanks, Carol, and I hope you enjoy the recipe.

    Wendy, now I HAVE to go to Sarabeth’s next time I’m in Manhattan.

    Deb, you’ll be there in the summer, I’m sure.

    Amateur Cook, any words in this situation work, as you know. Thanks.

    Margie, I love having multiple Texas Alices cooking for funerals–and the recipe sounds fun! I have asked Kathy Jo to post hers as well since it’s similar. Thank you both.

    Ellen it’s an excellent idea–and thanks for the reading suggestion.

    Commonweeder, you are a dear. Of course, one CAN overdo the comfort food at this time of year, but I’m trying to strike a balance. And sometimes comfort food is metaphorical.

  11. Kathy Jo says:

    “Funeral Salad”

    16 oz Cool Whip ( I use french vanilla cool whip, when available)
    2 sm boxes orange jello
    2 sm boxes instant french vanilla pudding
    1 16 oz can pineapple tidbits
    1 8 oz can mandarin oranges
    1 cup mini marshmallows or tiny marshmallows ( I get in Amish Country)

    In mixing bowl – mix jello and pudding together, then add pineapple tidbits with juice – mix well. slice oranges in half, mix in with the rest, add marshmallows, then fold in Cool Whip. Let chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

    And that’s the salad that became known as —Funeral Salad,

    Kathy Jo

  12. tinkyweisblat says:

    I have a feeling there is a “funeral salad” post in my future. Thanks to you, Kathy Jo, and again to Margie……

  13. Scott Boggs says:

    Really, in time maybe you and Miz Kathi from Cotillion Cafe of Wildwood, FL might swap some home run recipes…she’s got a little cook book out that I bought at the cafe last night! I looked up the macaroni and cheese and (no surprise) no mustard/no paprika down at her Sumpter County, FL business!She uses Dixie Dust inside with the cheese and as a topping, but she won’t tell you what her Dixie Dust is! Also, Southern Pecan Praline Cheesecake, Bread and Butter Pickles, Corn-federate Corn Bread…you get the idea! (Morris Press Cook Books, Kearney, NE)

  14. tinkyweisblat says:

    I saw on her website that she SELLS the Dixie Dust, Scott. I may just have to order some….