Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hatch chile potato casserole: funeral food



“Pass the chicken, pass the pie. We sure eat good when someone dies. Funeral food, it's so good for the soul. Funeral food, fills you up down to your toes.” —Kate Campbell

Funeral food was much on my mind last week as I returned to Texas to attend my grandma Ashner’s funeral.

She had been riddled with pancreatic cancer and when she was diagnosed last fall she was given five months to live. That she made it through 11 months was a gift and while I miss her, I know that she’s no longer feeling any pain.

Grandma Ashner, aka Grandma Fain or Grandma Texas, was my dad’s mother. She was a traditional Southern woman that despite her gentle, belle-like nature also had the strength to raise six children pretty much by herself in not the best of circumstances, with little complaint and much love. She was a passionate Aggie in a family of Longhorns and a staunch Democrat in a family where Republicans are the majority. She also had good Texan taste—adoring both the Dallas Cowboys and George Strait. And she made exceptional giblet gravy, which makes any other holiday condiment taste tepid and weak and wonderful chicken-fried steak, which of course makes all Texans smile.


Grandma Ashner holding me on my first birthday, with my aunts Julie and Jill joining in the fun.


I like to say I get my sweet nature from my mother’s side of the family—where pies are a specialty—and my savory nature from my dad’s side of the family—where chili and Tex-Mex are more on offer. But this is an oversimplification as Grandma Ashner was as sweet as they come. She always had a smile on her face and called everyone either darlin’, sweetheart or precious. And when it was time to bid farewell, you couldn’t leave without her saying, “Sweetheart, give me some sugar!”

My dad’s side of the family is large. He and his five siblings have produced 17 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchilden. I hadn’t seen many of my relatives in far too long, my being all the way up here in New York City and all. And while I wasn’t happy that I was seeing them again under such sad circumstances, it was indeed wonderful to be reunited with such a loving and cool bunch of people.

After the funeral, we went over to my cousin’s house where there was a full spread of casseroles, cold cuts, dips, salads, cookies and cakes provided by friends of the family. We were starving and this was just what we needed—funeral food, easy and comforting.

As we stood talking in the kitchen about how we’re going to put together a family cookbook to honor both Grandma and our family’s love of cooking and good food, we nibbled on a potato casserole that none of us could stop eating. It was rich, thick and creamy, and while you were stuffed after one bite you couldn’t put down your fork. Heck, many of us even went back for seconds and even thirds. There were no complaints, however, as this is what we needed that day—simple food that didn’t require much thought, just pure, fulfilling pleasure.



I have a recipe for potato casserole that may not be exactly what we ate, but it’s very similar. It’s not everyday fare as it’s heavy and not all that healthy. But that’s exactly what makes it perfect funeral food—for those times when you need something easy that can help fill the void caused by a loved one’s passing. And while it will be impossible to fill the void left by Grandma Ashner, for a moment at least, funeral food such as this potato casserole rose to the occasion and did its part.

Hatch chile potato casserole
Ingredients:
1 medium yellow onion diced
2 Hatch chiles, diced (Can use Anaheim chiles if Hatch chiles are unavailable)
4 tablespoons of butter, divided
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
A pinch of Cayenne pepper
2 pounds of Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice
1 cup heavy cream

Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large cast-iron skillet set on medium-low heat, melt two tablespoons of butter and then cook onion and chiles until onions start to brown a bit, about fifteen minutes. Turn off the heat.

Mix together the garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper and Cayenne pepper.

Add the diced potatoes to the skillet and mix with the onions and peppers. Stir in the garlic and spice mixture.

Pour the cream over the potatoes and cover skillet with foil. Bake for one hour.

After an hour, cut up remaining two tablespoons of butter and dot on top of cooked potatoes. Place skillet under the broiler for two minutes or until butter has melted and potatoes are starting to brown on top.

Let casserole cool a bit and serve. Serves six-to-eight.

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76 comments:

Jamie said...

I am sorry for your loss. Pancreatic cancer is a bitch. We loss my grandpa 8 months after diagnosis and a close family friend in just 3 weeks.

I love the quote you shared. When my great grandma -who was a great cook herself- died she had already planned the menu for after the service. It was finger-lickin' good, full of fried chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, cheesy potatoes, and a rich chocolate cake. It was such a wonderful meal, and nice to know that Grandma knew we would all enjoy it.

Midway Records said...

I was saddened to hear of your Grandma's loss. Isn't it nice to have great memories of her though?

Lee Anne said...

I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother. My Granny Gallaway fought pancreatic cancer, too, and lasted a year past her prognosis out of sheer orneriness. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

Our small town Texas church made potluck for us before my granny's funeral. It fortified us on a very difficult day and reminded me that my grandmother had provided many a dish for the families of those who passed before her.

Take care!

the sandwich life said...

God I hate cancer....but I love your post as always AND the Kate Campbell quote!

Rachael said...

I am going to make this- and I'm not waiting for a funeral to do it. It is just about Hatch Chili season now.

Your stories about your grandma warmed my heart. A democrat in repub territory (I'm in Travis Co, the single dem county in a giant repub state); the lone aggie in longhorn country... Gimme some sugar did me in. My mother-in-law used to say that to all us kids, and our kids, and our kids' kids. She passed away a year and a half ago, now.

Thanks.

Barbara said...

Death is all around us today...so sorry for your loss...our Texas grandmothers certainly created a legacy for us. I know you and your family celebrated her life. It really reminds us of the depth and strength of those ties when we "go home" for family finerals. We derive such comfort from seeing those faces and sharing those unspoken bonds.

Melissa said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I've had three friends lose their parents to cancer this year and have just learned my grandfathers lung cancer has returned.

Food related-I just bought two hatch chiles today...and now I know what to make with them.

Romaine of www.salad-in-a-jar.com said...

What a timely post with Hatch Chilies just now appearing in the grocery stores here in the Dallas-Ft Worth area! I want to try this recipe.

Megs said...

I am so sorry for your loss. This post comes less than a week after I found out my own grandma - with whom I share a name - has pancreatic cancer. It's awful, isn't it? She's been given three months, although most of think her time will be much shorter.

This recipe looks so comforting and wonderful. I'll tuck it in my back pocket for such a time when I'll need it. Thank you.

Lissa said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Lisa. I know you have a treasure trove full of wonderful memories, and I thank you for sharing some of them with us.

Jennifer said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, darlin'. I lost my Granny many years ago, and this poem appeared in mind shortly thereafter. I hope it brings you a bit of comfort.

Heaven’s Blessing

Death steals your last breath away from you now.
You ascend above us all, peering down.
Entering the gates of Heaven, you bow.
You are now dressed in a white gown.
Sweetest sounding music invades your ears.
Your eyes consume the precious sight.
No longer do you dare shed any sad tears.
Happiness is in the air, clouds, and light.
Others crowd around, expressing welcome.
Along with them you readily move on.
You now feel as a companion to some.
All earthly desires and needs are gone.

Great Heaven greeted you with open arms.
You will no longer feel the threat of harms.

Marjorie said...

Lisa, That is a beautiful picture of your Grandma, you and your Aunts.

Your Grandma is at peace, no more pain, and has left you with beautiful memories.

Look towards heaven everyday, be sure to say "Sweetheart, give me some sugar." That will put a smile on her "Angel Face."

I appreciate you sharing some of your precious memories with us.

Whitney said...

Lisa, I am sorry for you loss. You are lucky that you have such wonderful memories of your Grandmother. She sounded wonderful.

Chefkeifus said...

We lost my Bappaw 2 years ago to pancreatic. He fought it for about a year longer than the doctors in Beaumont thought he could. And, at his funeral in the tiny little town of Call, Texas, we had the best mixed berry (huckle, blue, ???) cobbler anyone had ever tasted.

The Allen's said...

I am glad we got to spend some time together even though it was for a short amount of time. I hope that when you come to McKinney to see your other grandma you give me a ring and we get together for dinner or drinks or something. We miss seeing you.

I am guessing that the biscuits weren't very good since you went with the casserole. I will have to try this one next time!

Take care!

Susan said...

My deepest sympathies are with you. I returned to Texas last month to say goodbye to a fabulous grandmother myself. You're kind to share so much of your wonderful family with us.

deceiverofmen said...

This brought tears to my eyes, but im looking forward to that cookbook. You're an awesome food writer and I know you'll do your grandma proud!

Lauren said...

Yum! It's hatch chilie time at Central Market. I'll have to make this.

Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

Your memories of her are lovely - what a large family she has to pass on her memory and her love of good food :)

We probably would have gotten along - I'm an Aggie, too! :)

Also very excited because I brought back a little can of green chiles so I can finally make some of the recipes you are putting on the blog :)

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear of your grandma's passing.

This poatato fare brought back memories of my childhood. Potatoes and green chiles were always present.

I loved your post. It was, well, comforting.

Many Blessings.
Sis http://reclaimsimplicity.com

Aaron said...

Lisa, I'm sorry for your loss.

And thanks for the sweet reminder of my departed Memaw from McKinney, who always asked for some of my sugar.

Celeste said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Lisa. It sounds like you come from really wonderful people, and that's a blessing you'll always have.

I have never heard of Hatch chiles but this looks really, really good; I am going to remember it next time I need to take a dish of comfort to somebody that's grieving.

HoustonGurly said...

I'm sorry to hear about your Grandma, but you're right... She's no longer in pain. Keep your spirits up.

Anonymous said...

If people in other parts of the country don't bring food to funerals, they should adopt the practice. It's like gathering 'round the campfire, circling the wagons, reassurance that folks are there to hold you up when you're feeling lower than a snake's belly. And thanks for what sounds like a recipe my mama used to make.

smithers said...

Sorry to hear about your Grandma. Sounds like you loved her very much. I was just in Austin three weeks ago for a memorial for my Grandpa who passed on in June. Glad I could hold my Grandma's hand a little while longer. I was lucky to talk to my Grandpa on the phone the day before he died, just as he was about to enjoy what was his last meal: a small cheeseburger and strawberry shake from Dan's Hamburgers, an Austin institution. Good memories. Good food. Good Texans.

lisa said...

Your Grandma sounds wonderful! To have had someone in your life who said "give me some sugar" must have been a treat. This casserole is a great example of comfort food. Perfect for Thanksgiving too.

Tommy said...

Sorry to learn of your loss. I'm sure she was a great woman.

I am glad you can find a "story" during all this. You probably have generated quite few conversations with this post.

Rodney said...

I am sorry for your loss. I have been a faithful, but silent reader of your blog for over a year, but I had to comment on this. I was out of town last week attending my fathers funeral, so this hit really close to home. He did most of the cooking when I was growing up, and was definitely a "meat and taters" man. I will have to cook this up for my mom and sister when I go home in a couple of weeks. Thank you for such wonderful stories and recipes.

Anonymous said...

My deepest condolences, Lisa. Is it Grandma Ashner's hand in one of your pictures, I believe holding peas? I'm so very sorry for your loss, but so very happy that you had such a special grandma to share your life with. I picture her in a glorious place with Molly Ivins and Ann Richards having a heck of a wonderful conversation about Texas politics.

Texann

Muddiah said...

Not much of a cook, but I love reading your recipes as they sound so delicious and your upbringing is the makings for a good read. (hint, hint, a book in your future?)

Sorry about the loss of your grandmother. Yes, her suffering is over, but there is the hole she leaves to contend with.

MidnightAgenda said...

Like Seriously?

I think you need to have your own cookbook. Titled 'The Homesick Texan or a Texan's Adventures Through New York' or something similar with the recipes and the stories.

I found this one cookbook called 'Sweetie Pie' where a lady mixed her family storied with delicious pie recipes... I read the whole thing in two days!

Anyhow, I have lived in Houston for two years now and have not found any recipes like yours, I love it and almost wish someone would start a blog like this for real mexican food from Cali.

Keep Up The Good Work!!!
(you give me something to keep my husband happy and plump!!!)

- MidnightAgenda

MidnightAgenda said...

And I am truly sorry for your loss, I have lost one grandparent so far and am NOT looking forward to the rest of them going. I know it is hard to be away from your whole family like this.

I hope that you take some comfort in your memories of here and keep her alive through recipes and stories.

God Bless.

laura said...

What a beautifully written post. I'm so sorry for you loss. I was just back in Texas visiting my grandparents this past weekend. I hate being so far away.

Funeral food, not unlike reunion food in my family, sounds like just the thing to keep spirits up.

Lisa said...

Chiming in to say how sorry I am about your grandmother. I'm glad you have lots of good memories and recipes to look back on. She sounds like a wonderful lady. Take care of yourself--we're thinking of you.

Kalyn said...

In Utah everyone makes a dish called "funeral potatoes" for funerals, different than this but with the same comforting idea in mind. I'm glad you got to be with your family and that your grandma is at peace now.

Deborah & Blake said...

Love the recipe! I'm making Chicken and Black Bean Stuffed Hatch Chilis for dinner! I guess we Texas gals like our Hatch Chilis!

alexis said...

I'm sorry for your loss. What sweet parting words.

WhiteTrashBBQ said...

So sorry to hear about your Grandmother.

Greg said...

Lisa, I'm sorry to hear about your Grandmother passing.

Brenda S Okie in Colorado said...

Lisa, I am so sorry. My prayers are with you and your family. I recently lost some family members, my Mother and wonderful Aunt , so I know what you feel right now. I make a potato dish kind of like this. Mine have 1/4 inch sliced potatoes, green chiles, onion, sour cream, cheese, bacon all layered. Just put lots of hatch chiles in my freezer for the winter. Blessings to you!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Thanks, y'all, so much for you kind words. It really means a lot to me and my family.

Texann--the grandmother holding peas is Grandma Jernigan (the one with the farm) and she's still here.

TheKitchenWitch said...

My sincere condolences to you. I loved hearing about your grandma. She sounds like quite a lady.

I'd like to think that she's up in heaven, "spreading some sugar around" there as we speak.

ann said...

Awh Lisa, I'm so sorry for your loss! Good that you got to get together with family though. See you soon I hope.
*a

Fredericka said...

How very fortunate you are to have such wonderful memories of your grandmother. I lost my last grandparent when I was a freshman in high school. What I wouldn't give to have had them longer.
As for funeral food - as a young bride the first funeral food I ever made was scalloped potatoes with a recipe straight out of my brand new BH&G New Cookbook. It was a hit & I have done it a million times since. However, today I'm doing your Hatch potatoes with great expectations. By the way, my Midland son said to tell you that funeral food isn't funeral food without ham.

silvia said...

What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. My condolences on your loss.

rooth said...

Sorry for your loss Lisa. I'm glad you got to see your family and spend time with them, despite the circumstances.

Lulu said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing your beautiful family with us.

L

Phoebe and Cara, The Quarter-Life Cooks said...

So sorry for your loss. This post was a wonderful tribute. And it's nice to know that the Texans are as enthusiastic about filling the funeral plates as the Jews. Stuffing my face has managed to lift my spirits at the few shivas I've been too, and, as you say, sometimes it's reuniting with family from far and wide that can warm you down to yours toes as well.

Alice Q. Foodie said...

So sorry to hear about your grandmother Lisa! I can just hear the accent in those quotes - I have family from OK - and gimme some sugar was definitely part of the lexicon. Also saw your tweet about your kitty. Sounds like it was a rough week. Here's to good memories and better times ahead!

Heidi said...

So sorry about your grandma. I also was just thinking about funeral food. I made baked ziti for a coworker's mother's funeral and was so struck by all the food and all the love that was poured out that day that I wrote a post about it. Are you going to do a cookbook in honor of your grandmother?

bluejeangourmet said...

Funeral food is such a civilized tradition; there's something so right & comforting about people showing up with a dish of this or a crock-pot of that. Because there's really nothing ever very good to say, we make things with our hands and bring them and they say "I love you and I'm so sorry."

Laura said...

I lost my grandma last winter--although in reality months earlier as she spent the end of her life with Alztheimer's-- and your post made me cry. It was beautiful.

The casserole is going on my to try list.

tbsamsel said...

My wife (with an M.Div.) has thought about collecting recipes of these "death dishes" since bringing the casserole or other dish for the family of the bereaved is near folk custom.

And we're sad to hear about you loss.

Lisa W said...

Great post. Lovely in sentiment and delicious. I promptly made those potatoes last night. I can't get Hatch chiles in Michigan, but I happened to have a bunch of already-roasted Anaheims and poblanos in the fridge. The Southern tradition of bringing a dish to the grieving isn't as prevalent up here and I miss that mark of civility and consideration.

Mom Jeans said...

i'm very sorry to hear about your loss - your post was very sweet. thank you for sharing it with us.

John in AZ said...

Lisa;

Sorry to hear of your loss. I made this casserole last night and it was just great. I ended up with a happy wife and son. Even sent the recipe to some friends in Texas. Wish we were still there!

Ulla said...

what a fantastic tribute!

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of knowing your grandmother. My heart broke for the family when I found out she passed. Definatly going to try the recipe tomarrow for dinner...Buddy Kinney

pennydelossantos said...

great post and a wonderful way to honor your family and Grandma Texas!
The Sweetheart give me some sugar quote warmed my heart and puts a smile on my face.
your friend,
Clara

seventh sister said...

Sorry for your loss. Love the KC quote.

Evy from Texas said...

Sorry to hear about your grandma's passing. I am sure she is so very proud of you and what you have done with this blog-preserving and honoring the diverse Texan cookin' tradition that's really all about loving life and family!

WebVixn said...

I can't say that I'm sorry for your loss. That's terrible, right? But selfishly I know that if you hadn't suffered such a loss, you wouldn't have written such a touching article, and my friend's friend wouldn't have shared the blog link with him, and I wouldn't have had the chance to read your blog... Twisted, but:

I'm a HOMESICK TEXAN, too!

We are, in fact, considering petitioning the Texas State Legislature to "register" our daughter as a Texan (both parents were Texans, so the child should be able to be a Texan no matter where they are. You know the old saying - you can take the girl out of Texas.... I say that if you can't remove it, then it's GOTTA be genetic or inheritable, right?) Though she was born in California, she's being raised by Texans and will always be a Texan. Maybe we could suggest "Texan Tryouts" for people who want to become "registered Texans"?

;-)

I jest, but seriously, I've loved reading your blog. Thank you for writing. I'm subscribing now !

Hugs,

Cyndi
(Hook'em)
Living in Silicon Valley, CA - gads!
http://www.WebVixn.com

Beth said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. But what timing: I was just at my grandfather's funeral in South Texas this week. On top of every other emotion, I felt a little guilty for all the barbecued chicken and potato salad and cobbler I stuffed into my mouth. Plus slice after slice of the five different Bundt cakes brought over by family friends. So thank you for this perspective; the shared comfort food did what it was meant to do. It was certainly social eating, and despite the circumstances it was so nice to catch up with family that I'd love to see more often.

TX Blue Eyed Bandit said...

I share your pain for your family's loss, but I must tell you that I can see your Grandma smiling down on you from Heaven right now!! (even if you are in "yankee" land!ha!) She has to have been one of the reasons that your roots stand SOOOO firm about being a Texan!! I'm glad that she was such a woman!! It also makes me realize that I am a lucky gal to have such a strong family background as well!! And, as the commercial says,"...priceless!!" Take care! You & yours are in our prayers!!

Matilda said...

My condolences for your loss--my own very sweet grandmother died of pancreatic cancer 15 years ago.

Lori Lynn said...

So sorry for your loss. Such a darling photo.
LL

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I too lost my grandmother this past week. Although I live in Texas, I don't think I have ever had hatch chile potato casserole but some wonderful women brought this dish over for us to enjoy. It was quite the comfort food for us as well. Thanks for the recipe!

Barbara said...

Just curious-in going back over this post-I want to make the casserole, but I plan to order chilis. I know Hatch is the town, but what type of Hatch chilis should I order? Thanks.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Barbara--Order the green Hatch chiles. Or you can substitute Anaheim chiles.

Melissa said...

I just want to say that I made this and it is amazing!!! Thank you!

Melissa said...

I just want to say that I made this and it is amazing!!! Thank you!

Paige said...

Lisa, I want to join the rest of your readers in telling you that I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this recipe that helped you and your family through such a difficult time. I recently tried the recipe for dinner with some close friends (after surprisingly and somewhat unbelievably finding Hatch chiles in a Boston grocery store), and it was absolutely incredible. Everyone loved it. Thank you again for sharing!

Karla May said...

From one Texas gal to another, Thank you for this post and for sharing this recipe. I made it last night and OH MY GOODNESS, it was decadent and insanely good, with just the perfect amount of heat.

blake said...

Made these potatos on Saturday night - 8 of us polished them off then licked the pan. I'm a homesick Texan exiled in Georgia and I love your blog. Thanks for all the great recipes.

Lynn Leslie said...

My favorite recipe from my Texas grandmother is her Coke Cake. The last few times I had seen her before she died, she'd send me home with frozen slabs of it. I found her old handwritten recipe as we were cleaning out the house...I need to make some soon!

Anonymous said...

My son and I prepared a double batch to serve alongside a BBQ'd rib roast, asparagus salad and spicy, stir fried green beans.
3 of our guests requested a copy of your recipe - a sure fire sign of success

Allen in El Lago

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