Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mormon Funeral Potatoes Go National

Cook’s Country magazine features Funeral Potatoes in its May issue and credits Mormon for coming up with the dish’s name, although the dishes goes by other names in other parts of the country.   
“Mormons call it ‘Funeral’ or ‘Ward Party’ potatoes. In the South, it’s ‘hash brown casserole, but I’ve heard it called ‘neighborhood potatoes in Massachusetts and ‘cheesy potatoes’ in Washington,” writes the Cook’s Country author, Sarah Gabriel. 
When I did a story on Funeral Potatoes a few years ago, I asked food editor friends across the country if they were familiar with the recipe, and what they called it.  It seemed that Utah was the only place that called them Funeral Potatoes. In Wisconsin, they're known as Heart-Stopper Hash Browns, for all their artery-clogging sour cream, butter and cheese. In New Jersey, they're Party Potatoes. In Detroit, they're Cheesy Potato Casserole. Folks in Pennsylvania call them Pittsburgh Potatoes. In a Virginia cookbook, they're a Church Social Potato Casserole, and in Florida, they're Churchlady Potatoes.
In fact, most Utahns didn't start calling them Funeral Potatoes until the past 15 years or so. By that time, they were a staple at  dinners given for bereaved friends and family after an LDS funeral. Relief Society presidents heading up the after-funeral dinners say these potatoes go well with ham, and are easy for other ward members to make and bring. The unofficial name stuck.
When they got their own 2002 Winter Olympics pin, they were firmly entrenched , as part of Utah food culture, along with fry sauce and green Jell-O. 
The recipe has appeared by other names in community cookbooks and on packages of frozen hash browns. The hash browns are swimming in sour cream, grated cheese, and cream-of-something soup (mushroom, chicken, celery or potato, depending on your recipe and what's in your pantry). Crushed, buttery cornflakes are the usual topping.
The Cook’s Country article revises the recipe by ditching the “gloppy” cream of chicken soup and making a from-scratch cheese sauce instead. Sour-cream-and-onion potato chips are swapped for the buttered cornflake crumbs. 
The result? Still potatoes “to die for.”  But I wonder if busy cooks would take the time to make the cheese sauce, or whether they are just content to open up a can, gloppy or not. Here's a comparison of the Cook's County version with the recipe from "The Essential Mormon Cookbook." 
Which is best? You decide..

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped fine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
9 cups (1 30-ounce bag) frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream
4 cups sour-cream-and-onion potato chips, crushed
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a Dutch oven (or pot) over medium-high heat. Cook onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth, half-and-half, salt, thyme, and pepper and bring to a boil. 
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 3-5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheddar until smooth. 
Stir potatoes into sauce, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat until thawed, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in sour cream until combined.
Scrape mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and top with potato chips. Bake until golden brown, 45-50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Serves 8-10.
Make ahead: potato mixture can be refrigerated in baking dish, covered with aluminum foil, for up to 2 days. To finish, bake potatoes 20 minutes, then uncover and top with potato chips. Bake an additional 45-50 minutes.
— Cook’s Country 
1 32-ounce bag frozen shredded hash browns
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups sour cream
1 cup grated cheese
 1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup chopped onion
2 cups crushed cornflakes
2 tablespoons butter, melted 
Peel potatoes and boil 30 minutes, until just tender. Cool and grate into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or put hash browns into the baking dish). Combine soup, sour cream, cheese, the 1/2 cup melted butter, and onions. Gently blend into potatoes. Combine crushed cornflakes and the 2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Makes 12 servings.
-- “The Essential Mormon Cookbook,” by Julie Badger Jensen

As for my opinion, I never use the butter that the recipe calls for, and I use reduced-fat sour cream and low-fat cream of chicken soup. But, I'm afraid, those calorie-cutting attempts barely mitigate the diet damage. 


Amanda Marie said...

Hi Val! I just saw your blog link on Facebook and love it. Growing up in the midwest we called them cheesy potatoes, so when I moved back to Utah and heard people talking about funeral potatoes I was terrified to them. I learned the truth though, and matter what they are called they are so delicious!

Valerie Phillips said...

Hmmm, thought if you ate them you might end up at your own funeral? Thanks for commenting and we're glad you're alive to enjoy funeral potatoes!