March 29, 2006

Casserole Comfort

Nothing evokes personal memories of death more precisely than a chilling processional of "comfort food" casserole dishes piling up on the kitchen countertops of my childhood home in Cedartown, Georgia.

Sweet potato prayers, mummified macaroni and cheese, tuna helper tears, deathly chicken & dumplings, sorrowful sphaghetti, bereaved banana puddin, even sympathy spam casserole. As soon as anyone bit the dust (with the exception of drunk cousin Lavar who drowned in his fiancĂ©e’s daughter’s kiddie pool), countless, ceramic dishes and Tupperware bowls began their death-dirge down the linoleum hallway into our family’s lime green kitchen, seemingly on their own to settle, shellacked in a Saran wrap sarcophagi, for a grueling, month long consumption by my brother and I.

And I’m talking countless, endless casseroles! Everyone sends a casserole when there’s a death in the South. And the food keeps coming long after the deceased is well pumped through with chemicals, gussied up in a slit-down-the-back tux and buried as deep as ricotta in a bubbling, gooey lasagna.

The ”better” families (better meaning the ones of prestige … or those who want to appear prestigious, it’s a very fine point of distinction) send actual cookware with serving spoons. Most, however, offer their sludge of sorrow in simple aluminum foil dishes. No clean up and, most importantly, the sympathetic sender has absolutely no need to retrieve a piece of cookware from the bereaved, and thus be cajoled into offering additional assistance.

Because in the South, face-to-face with the survivors of tragedy, you absolutely must offer “is there anything else I can help you with?” And 9 out of 10 times it’s merely decorum. As a survivor of death you’re expected to accept the generous thirty or forty casseroles, however that’s the limit! Any assistance beyond that and you’re pushing into the accepted boundaries of public sympathy. You’re expected to bury your sorrow and needs until the public is out of sight.

Be thankful God's children gave you those casseroles and cry in private.


bryce said...

Casseroles are hilarious.
Casseroles are funny.
I hope someone dies soon.
Cuz casseroles are yummy.

Foxy said...

I make casserole like once a month. I live a sad life.

Aaron said...

The best casserole recipes come from The Joy of Cooking. I love how they require you to add exactly one can of Cream of Mushroom soup and then, at the end, you are asked to crumble some potato chips over the top (optional). Genius!

circleinasquare said...

The canned string bean one!

With the fried onion things on top!

We only had dour Indian puddings and mince pies at our post internment Yankee suppers, 'till Uncle Walter married a Seventh Day Adventist woman from West Virginia. They built a large house where the cow barn used to be, and family events moved over there from Grandpa's next door. She was all casserole, all the time, heavily influenced by the pages of Good Houskeeping and Mc Calls.

Ruth didn't allow spirits in her home, so I made Mom's Manhattans down the hill at Grandpa's, then brought them up to the solemn gatherings, each one secreted in a "tea" cup, and further camouflaged with a Lipton's tag dangling from the rim.