by Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd
We had intended that this month’s column would give you ideas for service projects appropriate for the Christmas holidays, but we were derailed by more pressing matters. A recent Meridian poll asked readers to choose their favorite refreshments for ward activities. Brownies came in first, followed by funeral potatoes.
To our great astonishment, we were immediately deluged with letters from readers who had never heard of funeral potatoes, and who wanted the recipe. We have spent the past week sending out recipes to everyone whose request found its way to our humble mailbox. Eventually we realized the issue of funeral potatoes was bigger than all of us, and that drastic measures were needed to avert a culinary crisis. We had to devote at least part of a column to funeral potatoes now, or sending out recipes would become a full-time job.
A Celebration of Funeral Potatoes
Despite what many Meridian readers believe, funeral potatoes are not a Utah phenomenon. In fact, funeral potatoes are not even exclusively Mormon. We had a funeral in our Virginia ward a few years ago for a man who had only recently joined the Church, and one of the man’s nonmember business associates brought a pan of funeral potatoes to the dinner.
Although funeral potatoes may not be an LDS invention, Church members have adopted them so wholeheartedly that they have been immortalized in jewelry. When the Winter Olympics were in Utah, a series of “Mormon soul food” collectible pins was issued. You may have heard of the green Jell-o pins, which were so popular that they sold for hundreds of dollars. Another of the pins was a depiction of a pan of funeral potatoes. Although these pins never got hundreds of dollars, people bid fast and furiously for them on eBay. The Coca-Cola people recognized a good thing when they saw it, and they issued an Olympic pin showing a pan of funeral potatoes and a bottle of Coke. The slogan on the pin was, “So Much Better Together.” You can still find the funeral potatoes pins – with and without Coke – if you make a concerted weekly search on eBay.
There is also a Mormon food cookbook that has funeral potatoes in the title. You can find that book by clicking here. This is The Essential Mormon Cookbook, Green Jell-O Funeral Potatoes, and Other Secret Combinations by Julie Badger Jensen who is the former Around the Table Editor for Meridian Magazine (and Maurine and Scot Proctors’ sister-in-law).
But you don’t need the cookbook for the recipe, because here it is for free. You may want to save the funeral potatoes for special occasions, though. As Meridian Readers David and Denise Burger of the Front Royal Virginia Ward observed, “We assume they are called funeral potatoes because if you consume too much of this very rich and delicious casserole, you will be attending your own funeral.” Truer words were never spoken.
1 24-ounce bag frozen shredded (not diced!) hash brown potatoes, thawed
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups sour cream*
1 cup grated cheddar*
one-half cup plus 2 T. melted butter*
one-third cup chopped onion
2 cups crushed cornflakes
salt to taste
Combine 2 T. melted butter and cornflakes. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Blend well. Pour potato mixture in a large oblong pan. Sprinkle crushed cornflake mixture on top and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve hot.
*Do not use low-fat versions of these ingredients. Low-fat sour cream and cheddar will not melt, and margarine has water in it.
Before we get stuck on funeral potatoes, however, we wanted to tell you about two epiphanies we have had during the past few months. We tried out both ideas last weekend, and they were a rousing success. We may have stumbled onto something that will help all of you as you plan ward activities.
Stretching the Food at Potluck Dinners
Potluck dinners in the Church are customarily handled in such a way that some people get a lot of food, and others have to go home to eat after the dinner is over. A big factor in this is the children, whose parents traditionally look the other way while the kiddies get in line first, load their plates with food, and then throw most of the food away uneaten. We have spent many years being furious with the children, and even more furious with the parents who have allowed this behavior. As we approached our first ward potluck dinner after Kathy was recently called again as ward activities chairman, we realized we couldn’t change the behavior of the parents without sparking a whole lot of ill feelings. We understood that if any changes were going to be made we had to change the behavior of the children, but at the same time we knew that we didn’t have the authority to discipline children who were not ours to discipline.
Finally we had an epiphany that was so simple that it amazed us that we’d never thought of it before. Children like foods that are familiar to them, and are often quite fussy about only eating foods that taste like the foods they get at home. As children go through the line they load their plates with things that look familiar, but when they taste those things they realize the foods aren’t the same as what mom or dad makes. They don’t throw away the food out of any malice on their part, but because the food isn’t what they thought it was when they put it on their plates. Thus the children go away hungry, and the adults aren’t left with food to eat.
The secret, then, is to provide mass quantities of food that children will eat, making sure they load up on familiar foods and leaving the more unusual dishes for the adults. We accomplished this by purchasing a package of 36 good quality hot dogs, getting an equivalent amount of buns, and serving the hot dogs and buns (along with squeeze containers of ketchup and mustard) at the beginning of the food line so that it was the first thing the children saw. One of the women in the ward brought macaroni and cheese, and a couple of the other women brought chicken nuggets. All of those foods were put at the beginning of the buffet line. The children were delighted to fill up on these familiar foods, leaving the rest of the food for the adults. A few children ate casseroles instead of hot dogs, while some of the adults were seen eating hot dogs instead of casseroles. That was fine. What mattered was that everyone was fed, and that everyone was happy. We ignored the temptation to provide more exotic toppings for the hot dogs, such as onions and pickle relish. Once again, that would be geared to the appetite of an adult rather than a child. The kids were just fine with ketchup and mustard.
In the future, every potluck dinner we host will feature hot dogs or hamburgers and mass quantities of macaroni and cheese. We may also serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with the crusts cut off, to further tempt the children. Healthy alternatives are carrot sticks and small clusters of seedless grapes. When the budget allows, we may also have chicken nuggets. We may even have a shorter table so the children can serve themselves, but it worked so well this time that we might just stick with the traditional table setup and give parents the opportunity of supervising their children, as well as giving everyone the opportunity of eating the food they want to eat.
There was a smaller food-related incident we wanted to point out. Not as many people signed up to bring dessert as we had hoped, and by the time the whole ward was congregated we realized there wasn’t enough dessert to go around. We didn’t say anything about dessert after dinner. After the activities were over we quietly put the dessert out on the table, where it was there for people who wanted it. The children were otherwise engaged at the time, and most of them didn’t see the dessert. The children who didn’t see it, never missed it. Some of the parents thanked us for not having desserts in the buffet line where their children could grab brownies to the exclusion of the food, but this wasn’t something we planned. It was a happy accident caused because we didn’t have enough dessert for everyone.
Keeping the Kiddies Entertained
The other inspiration we had was also child-related. One of the major reasons we have ward activities is so the adults in the ward can make friends and that the ward can become a more cohesive unit. However, whenever there are ward activities where the children are invited, the adults spend so much time riding herd over their children that nobody can visit. In addition, the children are uninterested in the entertainment and spend their time running around causing trouble so that the adults can’t enjoy the games or cultural programs that have been planned.
Ward activities chairmen generally deal with the children in one of three ways:
Activities that are adult-related are restricted only to adults, in which case everyone has trouble finding babysitters and attendance is low.
Children are invited and ruin the evening for the people who actually want to participate in the activity by causing so much distraction that the adults can’t concentrate on the evening’s entertainment and can’t visit with one another.
The children are sequestered in the nursery, but they never stay there. Thus you end up with frustrated nursery leaders and even more frustrated children, who spend so much time running in and out of the nursery that there might as well not be a nursery at all.
Once again, we only solved the problem when we tried to look at the issue from the perspective of the children. Children are members of the ward just as the adults are, and as such they should be invited to most ward activities. If children cause trouble at the activities, it is because they are bored. Our solution was to have the whole ward eat dinner together. After dinner, the Primary-age children were excused to the Primary room where a junior activity was held for them. We made every effort to make sure that the children’s entertainment was every bit as relevant for children as the adult entertainment was for the adults. We got a terrific ward member to organize games that were related to the theme of the adult party (we had a chicken theme, so all the children’s activities were barnyard related). Prizes were given to the children when the games were over. The goal of the children’s activity coordinator was to have games that were so exciting that the children would talk about the chicken activity for weeks. She was so successful that once the children left we never saw them again. The parents were happy, the children were happy, and the chicken event (including a spectacular rubber chicken launch) was a great success for ward members of all ages.
Needless to say, it’s more expensive to have a dual activity than it is to have an activity where everyone participates in the same entertainment. We were able to defray the cost by enlisting the help of our Primary president. Youth organizations were recently given a whole lot extra money in the ward budget. Our Primary president gave us $25 from the Primary budget to help with our junior chicken launch activity.
As far as prizes are concerned, we bought one of those bags of assorted toys at Oriental Trading). Depending on quality of the prizes you get, the prizes can be a good bargain or a terrific bargain. BE SURE TO GET PRIZES THAT YOUNG CHILDREN CAN’T SWALLOW! Although we spent about twenty dollars on children’s prizes, there were so many prizes in the bag that we’ll probably be using the same bag of prizes for a year. Everyone gets to choose a prize to take home, and everyone is happy.
Next month, unless another crisis among Meridian readers causes another lineup change, we will give you some ideas for Christmas service activities. Until then, enjoy your funeral potatoes!
Clark and Kathryn Kidd live in Northern Virginia, about 25 miles from the Washington D.C. Temple. They are the authors of several books, including A Parent’s Survival Guide to the Internet, Food Storage for the Clueless and A Convert’s Guide to Mormon Life. Their latest book, Ward Activities for the Clueless was published in the fall of 2001. In this book, the Kidds (along with co-authors Kent and Shannon Pugmire) reveal the secrets for planning and presenting entertaining and memorable activities. There are hundreds of activity ideas presented, targeted not only towards the entire ward, but also towards specific groups such as adults, youth, and children. There is even a calendar that gives you an excuse to hold a party on any day of the year. Did you realize that January 13th is National Peach Melba Day?