Mennonite Funeral Food: Tater Tot Casserole
Every month we have an office potluck lunch at the MennoMedia office where I work. About once a year we take a coffee break to brainstorm the sometimes off beat but interesting themes around foods we’d like to share. (Such as here, and here.) The idea is to spend minimal work time planning, and maximum time fellowshipping/building camaraderie.
So this month was “Funeral Foods” and you’re going … those weird Mennonites. In many Mennonite churches, the Food Committee is in charge of serving a sit down dinner to the family and close friends of deceased loved ones, usually after the actual funeral or memorial service is finished. This is generally more than a finger-foods reception that I’m now more familiar with in the Presbyterian church where we’ve been members for 30 some years. (There are some interesting posts on Funeral Foods if you google that, like here.)
Most times a traditional Mennonite church Food Committee (and believe me, that’s a big assignment for someone who is extremely good organizing people and working a kitchen full of helpers, a job my mother always politely if adamantly turned down—“Just Don’t Make Me Chair of the Food Committee!”—I can hear her saying) sends out the call for a number of volunteers to make a certain recipe—everyone making the same thing for a casserole, a jello or other salad, a yummy dessert. Or, if the bereaved family prefers, perhaps a soup, sandwich and veggie type lunch. The meal is kept simple and focused: not a huge spread or variety.
One of those typical casseroles, at least in the past, has been Tater Tot Casserole. When my father died in 2006, we told the Food Committee we’d love it if they fixed that dish that came into vogue when we were kids, with the roll-out of Ore Ida Tater Tots. I wonder who ever assembled the first combination using, of course, the standard (and sodium filled) can of Cream of Mushroom soup, ground beef, green beans and topped off with crispy tater tots in neat rows?
So when “Funeral Foods” came out on the office potluck list for 2015, I knew what I’d be making, something I had not tasted since 2006 at my Dad’s memorial.
The dish was quite good and satisfying. But maybe over the years my tastes have changed and grown to the place many other foods are much more interesting and palate pleasing. Our assemblage of “funeral foods” included quite an array of stuff I would never have called by that label including pinwheel type roll up sandwiches. I thought—funeral food? And then smacked myself thinking of the Presbyterian receptions at my church where, indeed, pinwheels are often frequently served—picked up I’m sure at a deli or Costco. (Yeah, pinwheels and pimento cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off are my Presbyterian go-to funeral foods!)
But if you want a throwback or cozy comfort food, try this super easy warming and filling traditional Mennonite funeral food from the 60s -70s era.
North Goshen Mennonite Cookbook Tater Tot Casserole
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 lb ground beef
1 medium chopped onion
1 quart or large size can green beans, (drained and chopped slightly on a cutting board)
1 pound or 16 ounces tater tots
Brown ground beef and onion in skillet. Place in bottom of 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add layer of green beans, chopped to about half of normal size. Spread mushroom soup to cover as much as possible. Top with layer of frozen tater tots—can be placed in rows or just jumbled.
Bake at 375 degrees for one hour. Serves 6-8.
Adapted from North Goshen Mennonite Cookbook, provided by RuthAnn Wittrig
Do you have a favorite comfort food served frequently at funerals or memorial dinners? What is the tradition in your church or family?
For many other recipes (both Mennonite, Presbyterian and even no special religion!) check out Whatever Happened to Dinner.
Locals are invited to an upcomingspeaking gig on the theme of this book, with United Methodist Women of the Harrisonburg District, at Bridgewater United Methodist Church, February 19, 7 p.m. Any and all are invited. The United Methodist Women’s Reading Program selected Whatever Happened to Dinner as one of its recommended books for the year. See more here. The complete list for 2015 is also available on Amazon, right here, which has boosted sales for this book significantly! (I love United Methodist Women!)