When my father died, suddenly, in Atlanta, Georgia, four days after a hemorrhagic stroke and twenty years before his family’s history would have suggested, I told my mother’s friends I was most worried that my mother would stop eating.

A fudge cake

A fudge cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They swung into action.

Mom told me later that, though she had lived in the South for more than fifty years, and generously participated in the ritual of bringing food to the home of the bereaved, she had never understood the tradition.

Now, she did.

She was unable to lift a finger to feed the dozens of family who came for the end and the funeral or the friends who stopped by to offer their condolences.

And, she didn’t need to.

A steady stream of food came to her door.

Though focusing on the traditions of the Mississippi Delta, authors Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays explain what goes on behind the scenes in preparing for the reception after a funeral in their hilarious book, Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral.

They explain their decision to write an entire book on funeral food.

“Nobody in the world eats better than the bereaved Southerner.”

Because my husband comes from a large, Southern family, I’ve been to a lot of  funerals over the 45 years of our marriage.

I understand them a lot better after reading this book, as well as the dinner on the grounds of the Methodist Church in his hometown of Moreland, Georgia, that he remembers fondly.

I’d never understood tomato aspic, but put in the context of something easy to make and serve to a crowd from pantry ingredients, with a side of homemade mayonnaise and pickled shrimp, I almost get it.

As the authors put it,

“We’ve never been to a funeral where homemade aspic wasn’t served.”

Part cookbook, part social commentary, part religious differentiator, Metcalf and Hays will reward you with recipes and a peek into Southern living.

Speaking to religious differences,

“Historically, Methodists are better behaved than Episcopalians…. They don’t call them Whiscopalians for nothing.”

“… the culinary competition between the Episcopalian ladies and the Methodist ladies is cutthroat.”

“Episcopalians are snooty because they spurn cake mixes and canned goods, without which there would be no Methodist cuisine.”

“The casserole is the most characteristically Methodist foodstuff…she has on hand the makings of a fine casserole any time of the day or night.”

Why write about food at Southern funerals? Because it’s good, comforting and plentiful.

“After the solemnity of the church service and finality of the grave, the people of the Mississippi Delta are just dying to get to the house of the bereaved for the reception.”

“This is one of the three times a Southerner gets out all the good china and silver: the other two are christenings and weddings.”

“Polishing silver is the Southern lady’s version of grief therapy.”

The authors talk about the camps supporting savory or sweet stuffed (not deviled) eggs, that is, eggs made with or without pickle juice.

And, they tell you about the food no Southern funeral reception should be without, pimiento cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

There are six recipes: Creamy, Beer-Cheese, Sweet Fluffy, Ann Shackelford’s Savory, Hot with Bacon, and Just One More Pimiento Cheese.

Here’s the closest to the traditional one my husband makes, except his is simply mixed, not blended.

And, he would never add sugar. Must be a Mississippi Delta thing.

Sweet Fluffy Pimiento Cheese

  • 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 jar (2 ounces) diced pimientos, drained
  • 3 tablespooons Hellmann’s mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Grate cheese. Add drained pimientos to cheese and mix lightly.
Add mayonnaise and sugar to mixture.
With the whisk attachment, mix on high speed in the bowl of your mixer.
Stop and scrape the sides, and continue on high speed until you get a very fluffy, light mixture.
You can double this recipe.
Makes two+ cups.

In my husband’s family, Aunt Rowena was known for her slow-cooked Southern green beans, Aunt Lucille for her sweet tea, Aunt Clara for her coconut cake and my mother-in-law, Ruth, for her ambrosia, hand-made with freshly grated coconut and fresh oranges.

Ruth always made a separate bowl for me because I don’t like coconut.

She nearly brought me to tears the first time she did this.

In my family, you ate what was served or not. There were no special orders.

Authors Metcalfe and Hays have included the signature dishes from their family, Virginia’s Butter Beans, Aunt Hebe’s Coconut Cake and Lowery’s Fudge Cake.

“If weddings bring out the worst in people, funerals bring out the best.”

Click on the book title to order your copy from amazon, “Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral,” and imagine yourself at a table filled with good, Southern food.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”



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