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The recipes live on

An elderly man was at home, dying in bed. He smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookies baking. He wanted one last cookie before he died.

He fell out of bed, crawled to the landing, rolled down the stairs and dragged himself into the kitchen, where his wife was baking. With his strength waning, he made it to the table and was barely able to lift his arm to the cookie rack.

As he grasped a warm cookie, his wife whacked his hand with a spatula.

"Why?" he whispered. "Why did you do that?"

"They're for the funeral!"

And so Lisa Rogak sets the tone for Death Warmed Over (Ten Speed Press, $19.95), a collection of funeral recipes from around the world and the stories that go with them.

Funeral food, she says, is about closure, sharing a loss and saying you care. "It also proves that you are more alive than the body in the box."

That message comes through loud and clear in her story about the Amish who bake a Funeral Pie _ a.k.a. raisin pie _ to acknowledge the passing of a loved one. Or the chapter on the British, who refer to the post-funeral meal as "being buried with ham." In Mongolia after the burial, mourners return to the home of the deceased to eat a bowl of raisins and rice. In Sweden, post-funeral socializing focuses primarily on the dead, with everyone offering multiple toasts.

Rogak, 41, who lives in New Hampshire and drives a blue 1985 Cadillac hearse, has sold pet sympathy cards and written 34 books, including a biography of Colin Powell, a self-help book on 100 best businesses to start and a novel titled Pretzel Logic.

You lead quite an interesting life. How did you come up with the idea of a book about funeral food?

I've been writing for over two decades. Every so often, I get fried and take a break. The last time was in 1999. I went to a local flea market and found a pair of funeral candles. I bought them and put them on eBay. A funeral director in Seattle bought them and asked me what else I had. So I started buying and selling old funeral items: caskets, makeup kits, old embalming machines. I sold a glass-and-brass embalming table to a guy in Brooklyn who wanted to use it for a buffet table. One of the weirdest things was a funeral supply company catalog from the '60s that operated on Green Stamps. The more bottles of embalming fluid a guy bought, the more Green Stamps he got. Someone said, "You'll get a book out of this some day," and I said, "No, no." Eventually, I started to research the book.

When I Googled you, I noticed your book got a nice mention in the Funeral Service Newsletter.

I didn't even know the funeral professionals had a newsletter! There are all these strange publications. The strangest is Mortuary Management. It's on glossy heavy stock, and they always have pictures of flowers and waterfalls on the cover, and it's filled with short stories about who's getting sued because they dropped the casket. I'm collecting those for the future _ you never know where they'll end.

Which funeral food was the hardest to research?

The one I had to go digging for the most was the Protestant, mainly because they're so boring. Even Mormons are more exciting with all their sugar and casseroles. What I had to do was ask some of my Protestant friends what kinds of food they remembered being served at funerals. Hands down it was bologna and cheese.

Which funerals were the longest?

The ancient Etruscans would set up a dining table and chairs inside the tomb, then on every special occasion they would . . . bring dinner in for both the deceased and to serve as offerings to the gods.

What's better for funerals, turkey or ham?

Ham. It's commonly featured as the main dish at funerals. Turkey gets dried out.

What's next?

Right now I'm working on a bio of Dr. Robert Atkins, so I'm still following the same subject of death in food. He's interesting but not what I'm used to doing.

Are you on the low-carb diet?

No, I don't diet. I'm an outdoors girl. There's nothing more boring than listening to people say what they can and cannot eat. What the research has done has made me a baking fiend.

Last question. Have you started planning your funeral?

Are you kidding? I have enough trouble with my 12 cats.

Funeral Pie

1 (9-inch) prepared pie crust, baked and cooled

Filling:

4 egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

1{ cups raisins

Meringue:

3 egg whites

6 tablespoons sugar

\ teaspoon cream of tartar

To make the filling: Beat egg yolks for about 2 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar, flour and salt. Slowly add the mixture to the yolks. Beat until it falls in ribbons from the beater blade or spoon.

Scald the milk, then add it slowly to the egg mixture while beating. Pour batter into a saucepan. Add the butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens; this will take 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let it boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and raisins.

Cover immediately with plastic wrap, being careful not to touch the surface.

To make the meringue: Beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Slowly beat in the 6 tablespoons of sugar and the cream of tartar.

While the filling is still hot, pour it into the crust. Top immediately with the meringue and spread to the edges. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until browned. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 10.

Source: "Death Warmed Over" by Lisa Rogak (Ten Speed Press, $19.95).

Irish Wake Cake

} cup (1{ sticks) butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 large eggs

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature

1} cups cake flour; sifted

1\ teaspoons baking powder

\ teaspoon salt

1 cup dried currants

cup buttermilk

Glaze:

{ cup powdered sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. With an electric mixer or by hand, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until fluffy. Add cream cheese and blend until well-combined.

In another bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt. Place currants in a small bowl. Add \ cup of the flour mixture to the currants and stir until currants are well-coated.

Alternately add of remaining flour mixture and of buttermilk to the batter, mixing well after each addition. Blend until smooth. Add currants and stir until distributed.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 325 degrees until tester comes out clean, about 1 hour, 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cake rest in pan for 10 minutes. Carefully remove cake from pan to the rack.

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar with lemon juice and drizzle over warm cake. Let cake cool completely before serving.

Serves 10.

Source: "Death Warmed Over" by Lisa Rogak (Ten Speed Press, $19.95).

Funeral Jambalaya

2 cups boiled ham, diced

2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

1 green pepper, seeded and diced

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes

\ cup tomato paste

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon minced parsley

{ teaspoon dried thyme

2 whole cloves

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup long-grain converted rice, uncooked

1 pound fresh or frozen shrimp, uncooked, shelled and deveined

Place ham, onions, celery, green pepper, tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, parsley, thyme, cloves, olive oil and rice in a large slow-cooker. Mix well. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Fifteen minutes before serving, increase temperature to high. Add shrimp and stir. Cover and cook until shrimp are pink and tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Serves 6.

Source: "Death Warmed Over" by Lisa Rogak (Ten Speed Press, $19.95).

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