Exploring funeral food, customs


Book has odd facts and easy recipes

October 27, 2004|By Harry Merritt | Harry Merritt,SUN STAFF

Death can come at any time, in any place. Whenever, and wherever, it occurs, there's an excellent chance the dead person's loved ones will mark the passing with food.

Lots of food.

"You can ask any caterer," says Lisa Rogak, author of Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs From Around the World (Ten Speed Press, $19.95). "Most people eat a lot more food at funerals than at weddings. And that cuts across all cultures."

Rogak's book is fascinating and sometimes funny - and packed with lore about funeral traditions, such as the practice in 17th-century Scotland of discarding all of the milk, onions and butter in the home of a dead person. ("The belief was that the soul of the deceased would defile these foods in some way.") There are odd facts, such as frontiersman Kit Carson's last words ("Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili").

There are also 75 easy-to-follow recipes from around the world. From Mexico, for example, there is Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead); from Ghana, lamb stew; from Poland, stypa lazanki, a cracked-wheat dish with honey and poppy seeds.

Closer to home, there is jambalaya for a New Orleans jazz funeral; Frog Eye Salad for the Mormons (the salad's name comes from "the small pasta bits mixed in"); and Funeral Hot Dish for the Lutherans. Then there's the Protestant Funeral Sandwich. Ingredients: American cheese slices, bologna, eggs, sweet relish, mayonnaise or Miracle Whip and white bread.

Most of the recipes call for ingredients that you'll find in almost any well-stocked supermarket. (An exception might be the 18 large ti leaves and 18 luau (taro) leaves needed for the Hawaiian Lau Lau.)

With so many dishes to choose from, I wanted to go far afield in cooking one. I tried the Iranian Barley Soup, an easy-to-make and mildly flavored dish just right for an autumn dinner.

Iranian Barley Soup

Serves 6

1 cup barley

1/2 cup lentils

6 cups water

2 yellow onions, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon dried mint

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large stockpot, combine the barley, lentils, water, onions, olive oil, mint, turmeric and pepper, and bring to a boil. Decrease heat and cover.

Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender.

Per serving: 224 calories; 9 grams protein; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 37 grams carbohydrate; 10 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 8 milligrams sodium

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