Funeral Potatoes - Gastro Obscura

Funeral Potatoes

A casserole of cheesy, corn flake–topped tubers offers comfort to Mormons in mourning.

Every culture embraces food in times of mourning. The Amish bake raisin pie. Ancient Phrygians made beer and lamb stew. Mormons cook up funeral potatoes.

This casserole-like dish hits all the marks of classic comfort food: shredded or cubed potatoes, cream of chicken (or mushroom) soup, sour cream, butter, and grated cheddar cheese, all topped with a crunchy layer of corn flakes. But that’s just the basic recipe; there are many variations, including versions with bacon, jalapeños, potato chips, or gruyère. 

The dish is particularly popular in the United States’ “Mormon corridor” of Utah, western Wyoming, eastern Idaho, and southern California. While no one is sure where exactly funeral potatoes originated, most sources attribute their spread to the Relief Society, a women’s organization within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One responsibility of society members was attending to the needs of the bereaved, including meals. The long-lasting ingredients of funeral potatoes are almost always inside a Mormon’s pantry—a holdover from the Church’s post-Depression push for maintaining a three-month food supply at all times. So they’re ready to be cooked into a dish at a moment’s notice upon hearing of a community member’s passing.

But funeral potatoes aren’t just for those in mourning. Mormons also serve it at church potlucks and alongside ham for Christmas and Easter. Despite their name, funeral potatoes are a source of pride and pleasure for those who grew up eating them. In fact, when Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, it not only honored the world’s greatest athletes; it also honored its treasured dish. Commemorative 2002 Winter Olympics pins proudly feature funeral potatoes.

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Sam OBrien Sam OBrien