by The Foodist
Unfortunately over my holiday break from school a family member passed, a well-loved man who was devoted to his wife (They just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year), his children, and his town. I've been to a few funerals in my day so I have seen plenty of funeral food. But I can say without doubt that I have never seen anything like what I saw last week.
But before I tell about what I saw I need to fill you in a bit about my late uncle.
My uncle spent the majority of his life in service to his town as a police officer, and later, police chief. So as you can imagine he was a regimented man with very strong ties to the community. On the days of his viewing, there must have been 250 people a day who came to pay their respect. The line to get into the viewing was out the door and around the corner. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.
Back at my aunt's house, you couldn't go two inches without bumping into a fruit basket. I'm not sure if its the new fad in funeral food or what, but I wouldn't think to send a fruit basket. The town car wash, a multitude of local businesses, offices and departments my uncle was involved with all sent them. It got to the point where my cousins were fire-bucketing fruit baskets from the upstairs into the garage. If I were a thief breaking into her garage I would swear the lady was either insane or ran a fruit basket business by the time we were done stacking them up.
Then came the real food. The chicken, the pizza, the chips, sandwiches, the drinks... you name it. My aunt and uncle were always huge on family gatherings, they had played host (bless them for it) to our family reunions for years. Laying out spreads of tin foil covered, sterno-lit, steaming piles of food for us to enjoy and it was both heartwarming and amusing to see the same spreads at the time of mourning.
Immediately after the funeral was a brunch at the same catering hall that had played host to numerous of the families events, including my uncle and aunt's 50th wedding anniversary. The owner and his son have run the location for years and know my cousin Danny very well. The doors were opened to the family the second they got word they needed a place for brunch, and they did not fail to impress.
Now truth be told, I've never been totally keen on catering. There are some great places out there that do really good food. But I don't usually get much pleasure from catering or eating a catered event. I feel like a cog in a wheel on both ends. When I eat catered food I feel as though I'm doing so because its both required of me and if I don't I wont eat again for awhile. When I work a catered event I feel like the food is very impersonal. There's not the same love put in when you start a single dish from scratch and finish it on one plate.
But with the attention and love that was put into that brunch I'm not so sure I had that same feeling of being ill-used this time around. With the food, and booze flowing and bellies full I saw smiling faces, heard laughter, and watched grief get closed out for a short period of time. Maybe that's the real point of Funeral Food.
We talk about people turning to food to cope with troubled times and personal issues and we see the post-funeral buffets laid out in movies and on TV. But I don't think we give it much thought. We chalk it up to part of the grieving process, but its so much more then that. Food has the beautiful ability to bring us closer together in good times and bad, and when our bellies are full our hearts get lifted.
My cousin Danny gave me a quick run through of the catering hall's kitchen before I got back on the road. I met the owner's son, who had come in at 5 that morning to knock the meal out. After giving my thanks and turning to leave he looked at my cousin and said, "Come back soon Danny, and on a happier occasion..please."
It kind of stuck with me a little bit. It wasn't that the owner and his son had only opened their door to a customer. They had cooked a meal for a friend in need, and doing so, paid their respects to a friend.
There's kinship in that for me. I have, on more then one occasion, been in the kitchen cooking for funeral guests. There's something warming and welcoming about a kitchen in hard times. In your heart you know its a dark time, but in the kitchen you're creating, and in doing so smoothing out the rough edges.
So next time tragedy strikes at your friends or family, pick up a knife, a saute pan, a whisk. Create something. Fill someone's stomach and lift their heart. Because at the core, that's really what cooking is about.