Monday, December 11, 2017

Funeral Potatoes, Green Jell-O and Hoodoos

It’s Monday. It’s December. I believe that calls for recipes. I saw a couple of teases in the comments over the weekend, such as 3XLady’s pictures of Potato Candy – candy? With potatoes? We need a recipe! And MichellenotTHATone was bragging about making white chocolate popcorn – White. Chocolate. Popcorn.!! Recipe please!

For my part I want to harken back to our discussion on the November 21 ham and cheese sliders recipe post. Somebody commented that they are called “funeral sandwiches” in the South and I responded that in Utah the ubiquitous cheesy potato casserole was known as “funeral potatoes.” Behold, the very next day the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on just that delicacy: Utah’s Funeral Potatoes: A Classic Cheesy Casserole to Enjoy While You’re Still Alive. Due to their paywall I’ll post the pertinent parts:

I HAD NEVER heard of funeral potatoes before a chilly evening last year, when I sat down to dinner on the patio of Hell’s Backbone Grill. This idyllic farm-restaurant sits at the threshold of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in the tiny town of Boulder, Utah. No one had died. But as Jennifer Castle, the restaurant’s co-owner and chef, served up tender half-moons of potato napped in cream and melted cheese, tears sprang to my eyes nevertheless.

hell's backbone grillThe patio at Hell’s Backbone Grill

In the cold, clear night, under a starry sky, we talked about the ways communities come together to observe rites of passage in this part of the country. Inevitably, there is a buffet….

In Boulder they do things a little differently. Only 250 people live in this town sewn like a cross-stitch into the billowing rock formations of south-central Utah. There’s Hell’s Backbone Grill; a gas station and store called Hills & Hollows Market; a motel; a gift shop; and not much else. When someone there dies, the whole town hears about it. When someone is born or gets married or moves away or sneezes, Boulderites know. And more often than not—when the moment is deemed sufficiently momentous—someone makes a hot casserole dish of funeral potatoes…

There are so many things one can do with potatoes, but in conjunction with cheese, cream and heat, the comfort factor goes through the roof. Little wonder, then, that funeral potatoes are considered crucial consolation and hold pride of place among Utah’s most iconic dishes, rivaled only by green Jell-O salad.

As an aside, green Jell-O is such an icon in Utah that the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics issued a highly prized Green Jell-O Pin. I managed to snag one.

olympic jello pin

Meanwhile, back at Hell’s Backbone:

Boulder’s town clerk, post office keeper and purveyor of fishing and hunting licenses, 72-year-old Judi Davis, told me the roots of the dish can be traced in the pages of Mormon Relief Society Cookbooks. Some of the greatest available repositories of American folk recipes, these self-published books have appeared regularly since the early 20th century, throughout the so-called Mormon Corridor running from Utah into Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and California. Collections of family recipes, they’re put together by members of the Relief Society, the all-female auxiliary of the Church of Latter Day Saints founded 175 years ago. Among the group’s many duties—in addition to teaching food preservation and essential crafts such as quilting—providing sustenance at funerals ranks high.

There’s more, but those are the most important parts, along with recipes for the traditional style made with frozen hash browns:

Keri Venuti’s Funeral Potatoes

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour SERVES: 6-8

  • 1 (30-ounce) package frozen shredded hash-brown potatoes
  • 9 tablespoons butter
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 3 cups cornflakes, lightly crushed
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 2 (10½-ounce) cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set out hash browns until thawed slightly.

2. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter. (Alternatively, melt remaining butter in a heatproof bowl in microwave). In a medium bowl, combine melted butter with cornflakes.

4. In a large bowl, combine sour cream, remaining butter and cream of chicken soup. Add salt, onions, grated cheese and hash browns, and stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

5. Top casserole with corn flake mixture. Bake until crisp on top, 45-55 minutes.

—Adapted from Keri Venuti, Boulder, Utah

Along with an indigenous Southern Utah version for all you Hatch chile heads:

Hell’s Backbone Grill Green Chile Funeral Potatoes

Active Time: 15 minutes Total Time: 1 ½ hours Serves: 6-8

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, cut into half moons ¼-inch thick
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into half moons ¼-inch thick
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup canned diced roasted green chiles
  • 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with butter and garlic clove.

2. In a small saucepan, gently warm cream over medium heat. Remove from heat. Shingle a third of the potatoes, alternating between Yukon Gold and russet pieces, on the bottom of the prepared pan. Top with ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, ⅓ cup chiles and ⅔ cup warmed cream. Repeat with another third of the potatoes, salt, pepper, chiles and cream. Shingle remaining potatoes, remaining chiles and top with remaining cream. Top layer of potatoes should be poking through the cream so they can crisp in oven. Sprinkle remaining salt and ground black pepper over top.

3. Cover baking dish with foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes. Carefully remove foil and sprinkle cheese evenly over casserole. Continue baking until cheese is melted and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

—Adapted from “This Immeasurable Place: Food and Farming From the Edge of Wilderness” (December 2017) by Jennifer Castle and Blake Spalding, Hell’s Backbone Grill, Boulder, Utah

Unrelated to funeral potatoes of any sort: the Grand Staircase Escalante that the author refers to is one of Southern Utah’s many National Parks. It’s not the easiest to navigate but contains some of the most memorable rock formations you will find anywhere, like “the wave,”


and these toadstool hoodoos.512495588Rock on! Only 2 weeks before Christmas!

UPDATE: Raj just found this link to the NAUVOO MERCANTILE where he purchased, downloaded and pre-Christmas gifted to moi, the Mormon Relief Society Cookbook-1930. Raj used Paypal and got an instant pdf download and completed his Christmas shopping for only one buck ($1.00)!

relief society cook book mormon lds pioneer deseret lion house

The site reports it is a 72 hour sale. I don’t know when it started, but Raj scored this morning.

Linked By: Larwyn’s Linx on Doug Ross@Journal, and BlogsLucianneLoves, and Free Republic, Thanks!