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Mennonite Funeral Food: Tater Tot Casserole

January 30, 2015


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

TaterTotCasseroleEdited2(Spread mushroom soup over layer of hamburger and green beans. Kind of patchy, but it spreads out in cooking.)

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 DinnerWhateverHappenedToDinnerNewCover

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!)

  1. Beverly Silver permalink

    Thanks Melodie, I have filed it awa with my recipe file – sounds delicious! Bev.

  2. This is one of my mother’s old standbys. In the last years of her life, she would have that waiting for us as we arrived “home” from the airport. Once she made it for a neighbor who had had a baby. The story goes she baked the casserole and then called the neighbor’s husband to take it out of the oven and walk it across the street to feed the young family – precious memories!

    • Athanasia permalink

      Mmmm, I can picture the family watching from the front window as Dad goes over to your mom’s and then comes back with the steaming ready to eat casserole. Makes me think of a Norman Rockwell painting.

  3. Awww, I can see how this dish again revives special memories for you. This is making me hungry, again! Right out of the oven–that’s better than having to eat it after it has sat awhile!

  4. Caro-Claire Wiles permalink

    Very interesting to read . These past few years I guess because we are getting older, we have attended many funerals for friends and been at the various lunch receptions.
    Our church ladies put on a beaitiful spread and I have developed a great taste for their “Funeral Sandwiches” Sometimes when I am at home I have a craving for them and when I mentioned this to one of the ladies at a recent service, she met me when I was going home with a plate of the delicious goodies they had made!
    The receipe you have suggested for a meal to give to the family was also interesting and I will keep a copy of this one to try sometime.

    • Caro-Claire your comment made me smile: hungry for the funeral sandwiches! What a wonderful gesture your church friend made.

      Yes, tater tot casserole makes a great meal to give to a family although what I was trying to describe is that when the church serves the meal at the church after a funeral, they have 5 or 6 people all making this same recipe and then serving to extended family after a service (not in a home). Variations on this of course, but that’s the custom I’m remembering. As I did research on this, it appears that Jewish people in particular have food customs surrounding a funeral, including a year after the loved one has died. So many interesting things that others experience! Thanks for your comment.

      • Caro-Claire Wiles permalink

        We do have a set up at our church as well that does look after the bereaved families both before the funeral , the day of and also sends in meals for a period of time after.
        I don’t recall a set up like you have described though although it especially makes sense if there is a large family to cater for.
        It is interesting to hear various ways that different cultures look after their loved ones and friends.

  5. Athanasia permalink

    Oh I love this casserole. It is not a staple at funerals here, but it certainly shows up at every potluck. I think I may request this for the weekend…I know we have all the ingredients in the
    pantry and the freezer. I am temporarily “invalided” , if that is a word. Nothing serious.
    Fell at work and sprained wrist, cut hand and strained shoulder. Unfortunately on the side I have had shoulder joint replacement but they say no damage to joint, fortunately. So I get to type one handed for awhile.

  6. Glad to hear you’re a tater tot fan but not glad that you are currently suffering from your fall. Ouch and oh my–already having had joint replacement. Reminds me of a fall I had once where I escaped serious injury–I was much younger then. Take it easy and type away!

  7. Athanasia permalink

    Thanks Melodie. I still have to answer your question. We have a meals committee. We serve the meal though, not just for the immediate family but all attendees are invited to remain and eat. There are always, depending on whether cold weather or warm, a choice of 2 meats, potatoes ,relishes and fruit and jello salads . The last funeral for example was a nesco each of hot beef and hot ham. (Some folks choose turkey). The meats are ordered through a church family owned catering business. They make the buns too. They will do meat hot or as cold platters with cheese. The ladies will make mashed potatoes and gravy or scalloped potatoes or potato salad per request. Side salads are picked by the family members and made by the committee ladies. Dessert is always bars.

    Bars are assigned by month. Not sure how to explain clearly, but for example, I am assigned February for the main dish for a family that just had a baby or surgery ;, another is assigned the side dishes and another the dessert. I like to do scalloped potatoes and ham so I bought a ham back at the sales last year and froze it. My Aunt Dorina is one who had bars for funerals for January. I like the system…it will be 3 or so years till my name comes around again for something. My Aunt Delfina used to head the committee and she kept track of every one in a note book. She recently retired and it is now chaired by one of her grandsons and his wife and they have it all on computer/smart phone.

  8. Love your longer response, Athanasia. Some great ideas here for others and all. I assume by bars you mean cookie type bars. It is interesting that your name would only come around again in 3 years, owing to your system. Or mabye you have a really big church? I think even my mother could have handled that in her day. :=)

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