I usually peruse the 600 isle of stacks at my local library, but found myself three rows down, pulling this book out from between two volumes dedicated to cemetaries, graves and a reference to funeral planning. Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral, is a mis-categorized volume of gossip and southern funeral food worthy of resurrection.
Not for those suffering a recent loss, this humorous book is arranged in chapters, though I have no idea the logic behind the order of storytelling. Authors Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays lay the ground work early on. Information on dying in the Delta, etiquette of the living, death foods required at a proper southern funeral, flooded graves, cremation, undertakers and more – they throw it all in the first chapter. Much like they do in Little Hebe’s Jerusalem Artichoke Relish, which they’ll tell you how to make later on at the close of Chapter 3, “Who Died? Stuffed Eggs, Etiquette, and Delta Pate”. The allure in making this 15-ingredient condiment is summed up in a footnote: “You should feel like a Christian martyr after making this.” Luckily for us, you don’t have to cook this recipe to wholly appreciate this book.
Each chapter begins with an introduction to characters such as Leota, Baby Doll, Speed and Sue Ellen Potts, also known as “the Handmaiden of the Bereaved.” Through their encounters we learn of small town casket culture. From the food selections that are sourced from an Episcopalian or Methodist, food snob or not, each chapter is laid to rest with recipes appropriate for a range of tastes.
As gossip goes, the final story is a result of what was said and whom it was said to along the way. Our guides slip the same recipe in the book twice, giving it two different names – Methodist Party Potatoes and Liketa Died Potatoes. I couldn’t bring myself to make either one. I’m more of a Hardin’s Hardy Potatoes kind of cook; a mashed potato casserole topped with a cheese crust is an ideal recipe that can be prepared ahead of time, baked and brought to the bereaved. I did make myself try one recipe from Chapter 5, “Comfort Foods”: There Is a Balm in Campbell’s Soup. Instant and cream of anything are generally two adjectives I avoid when cooking, but I approached The Crocheted-Bedpan-Award Chicken with a mind to crossing over. The result was a dish that could have sent me to the grave if I would have gotten the second bite down. Spoonfuls of smoky bacon grease finished with the awful taste of canned asparagus. The chicken was tender, but not quite enough to bring salvation upon this dish. Healing Cheese Grits Gouda are also in line to make your arteries close upon impact, but a small taste will leave you trolling back and forth along the buffet for seconds and thirds. Start with stone ground grits and you will not be disappointed. Lemon rice is a standout as well; homemade chicken broth, lemon zest and dill make this dish easy to pair among heavier foodstuffs that conjure comfort.
It’s probably a written fact somewhere – sugar makes life a little easier to live sometimes. Sadly, Lowry’s Fudge cake was one dimensional and should only be made if you’re trying to send all of the mourners at your reception into a self-induced sugar coma. Make Mrs. Call’s Orange Cake instead – a simple and elegant way to give your loved one the final southern salute.
These stories are sure to reverberate throughout the region for those who can relate to, or argue with, the lives laid bare between these pages. For the non-southerner, these two ladies have shared their humorous insight on how people deal and cope and dish, because don’t you imagine your grief tastes better alongside Christopher Blake’s Return-to-Normalcy Shrimp Mousse?
- Authors: Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Miramax (March 16, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1401359345
- ISBN-13: 978-1401359348