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A Classic Utah Dish That’s the Ultimate Comfort Food

March  2, 2018

When someone is hurting—from loss or tragedy—we want to provide comfort, sustenance. It’s a gut reaction. As shock turns into ravenous grief, stuffed containers and pots and pans help fill the void.

In Mormon culture, comfort comes in the form of potatoes mixed with cheese, a cream-based soup, and sour cream, topped with more cheese and crushed cornflakes, then baked. While no one was thinking of sensitivity when naming the dish, “funeral potatoes” are a warm hug in 9 x 13-inch clothing.

"The definition of comfort food." - Grandma Photo by Julia Gartland

I first heard of funeral potatoes, also called cheesy potatoes, from my grandma. An active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, she often volunteers with her local Relief Society to bring trays of food to the dinners that traditionally follow a burial.

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“It runs like clockwork,” she told me. “We ask how many people are coming—50? 200? I’ve only ever been to one or two funerals that have run out of food.”

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“On some menus in SLC, you can even find deep fried funeral potatoes. Little fritters from heaven—which is where you will surely go after your Mormon funeral dinner usually held in the ward gym. ”
— Micq
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Grieving families don’t have to pay for these dinners—each community's Relief Society has a budget, and volunteers sign up to make staples like ham, Jell-Os, and casseroles, each with a personal touch.

I couldn’t pinpoint a specific date when funeral potatoes began populating Mormon gatherings, although a similarly named but unaffiliated casserole also appears in parts of the American South. Both my grandma and my aunt, who makes the dish regularly for her church community, described discovering the warm, cheesy bites at funerals in the '70s.

My aunt makes her funeral potatoes by simply mixing together the seasonings, hash browns, condensed chicken soup, sour cream, and cheese in a large bowl. She then spreads the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan, tops with more cheese, and bakes at 350° F until golden and bubbly (about an hour).

Funeral potatoes lovingly accept a range of changes and substitutions, and recipes differ from family to family: They can include fresh potatoes or preshredded hash browns, sour cream or yogurt or full-fat cream, all sorts of creamed soups like mushroom or chicken or even more potato, and it doesn’t matter if it’s butter-drenched cornflakes or bread crumbs that get golden and crispy on top.

Neither my aunt nor my grandma can remember how many times they’ve made funeral potatoes over the past couple of decades. They all bleed into a gigantic batch. But one thing is clear, as they describe stories of bringing tin-foil-wrapped casserole dishes to gatherings large and small: Funeral potatoes are just the thing to heal the hurting.

Have you ever had funeral potatoes? What’s a recipe that brings you comfort in tough times?

21 Comments

Ran July 11, 2018
I grew up eating these and make them now as an adult for my family. I like to use Frosted Flakes instead of Corn Flakes- gives the dish a sweet and salty taste that is delicious!
 
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Katie M. July 12, 2018
Aw, thank you for sharing!
 
Micq April 15, 2018
Being a Utahn (not always an easy thing to admit), I’ve grown up with these potatoes and a few other Mormon faves: green jello salad, Spanish rice, tuna casserole, magic cookie bars, scones (deep fried batter like beignets) and so many more. On some menus in SLC, you can even find deep fried funeral potatoes. Little fritters from heaven—which is where you will surely go after your Mormon funeral dinner usually held in the ward gym.
 
Author Comment
Katie M. April 16, 2018
Thanks for sharing your memory! My aunt mentioned she's heard of it fried... but said something similar to you about heaven haha
 
Ren March 25, 2018
When I first tried these, in the early 1970s, they were called California Potatoes. I've been making and enjoying these ever since. If there are leftovers, the following morning I scoop some onto a tortilla with some bacon, and enjoy this as a breakfast taco.
 
Debbie March 8, 2018
In our family these are known as sour cream potatoes! The recipe is almost exactly the same except we add some chopped red bell pepper to the mix. They are ALWAYS well liked whenever they are served. We've been making them for about 40 years! They are the best! 💖
 
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Katie M. March 11, 2018
So cool to hear this is a part of your family's recipes as well!
 
Karolyn S. March 8, 2018
Of course I've had these! And sometimes the dish is topped with crushed potato chips or crispy fired onion (like what goes on green bean casserole). The biggest 20th c change is the use of Campbell's Cream of Onion soup, which might be the greatest traditional casserole binder of all time.
 
Jaye B. March 11, 2018
Cream of Onion soup?? How in the world have I not heard of this?? Thank you for your post! This is now on my shopping list and I will roam the Internet for ways to use it!
 
Karolyn S. March 11, 2018
It was a new Campbell's offering some time in the 2000's I think. Beats Cream of Mushroom for most purposes - tuna noodle for one.
 
Jaye B. March 12, 2018
Yes, I usually try to sub something else for Cream of Mushroom like cream of celery or potato, etc. Onion would be much more universal and I love onions. I'm still flabbergasted that I know about the odder Cream of Shrimp, but not the onion after years of collecting recipes. Again, I'm so glad you posted!
 
Molly F. March 8, 2018
This is a great comfort food, but I have to admit we sometimes have called this party potatoes because they truly do bring the party. When else are we allowed to eat all these things we love, but deny ourselves? <br />Is preparing funeral food a mid-west thing? I'm from Michigan and when someone dies, we start cooking. I didn't fully realize how much this was instilled in our culture until my own Dad passed away. By the time I returned home, about two hours after his death, my kids had already gone to the grocery store and were cooking. We had lots of family coming in and we were going to be ready.
 
Pam March 8, 2018
I made this for any large gathering, which is how I think they got the name funeral potatoes. My recipe makes a huge 9x13 pan. This potato recipe along with a Calico Baked Bean recipe, which also makes a 9x13 panful, will feed a lot of people. I lived in South Central Idaho.
 
Molly F. March 8, 2018
I may have to make Calico Baked Beans now.
 
Boomdog02 March 8, 2018
gosh eat enough of these and someone else will be making them remembering you!
 
Hilary March 2, 2018
I could eat a whole pan of these. I have taken to calling them "religious potatoes" as I have found recipes in all sorts of church cook books as far back as the 1960's. But, I did grow up in southern Idaho. I will say I prefer the southern style cubed potato over the shredded. But I will eat them any way they come.
 
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Katie M. March 11, 2018
Interesting, hadn't heard of the cubed version—but sounds tasty!
 
Beth March 2, 2018
Yesss love seeing funeral potatoes mentioned a favourite site. Truly the ultimate comfort food. The buttered cornflakes are to die for (another reason for the name?)
 
CHeeb March 2, 2018
Beth, my family is Mormon so I feel comfortable repeating the adage that " you will eat and enjoy these casseroles at many of your friend's funerals and shortly thereafter they will eat them at yours."
 
Kirsten M. March 3, 2018
But if you have gone to your friends' funerals, how can they come to yours?
 
CHeeb March 3, 2018
it is a reflection of how sinfully rich these potatoes are in flavor and calories,I think,Kirsten.