Walmart has been advertising to my friend Terry in his Facebook feed. He showed me screenshots of the ads. They were all strange (octopus, anyone?) but the first one was particularly odd, one neither one of us had ever heard of before: funeral potatoes.
The name made me curious, of course. I needed to learn more.
The first thing I discovered is that they're are a Utah thing, usually served after Mormon funerals (hence the name).
But what are they exactly? Well, Food & Wine describes them as "one of the greatest American triumphs" and offers this description of their ingredients:
…the cheesy potato casserole is made with hash browns, cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup, lots of cheese, lots of butter, lots of sour cream and … cornflakes
(Or crushed potato chips instead of cornflakes, I also learned.)
That's some serious comfort food. Good job, Utahns.
If you think you'd like to make some, there are no shortages of recipes on the internet for them. Of course, you could just buy a bag of them from Augason Farms. But, as one commenter points out, "No Amazon. Just no, no, no. These need to be homemade by church ladies and served in the church basement with a sliced ham, garden canned green beans, rolls, 7 layer pea salad, and an assortment of pies, cakes, and Jello salad with shredded carrots."
Good point, though the bagged version has a shelf-life of 18 months.
As far as this regional foods' history, Deseret News reports:
The true origin of funeral potatoes has been lost to time, but one can speculate about how the dish became such a Utah staple. Most recipes for potato casserole require only a few easily purchased ingredients, and they feed a large group of people fairly cheaply. Given the casserole's frequent presence at both family and church events, one could easily imagine that it gained popularity for being easy to prepare. The recipe likely spread throughout the culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the help of Relief Society cookbooks, which made many traditional "Mormon foods" ubiquitous.
Fun fact: Funeral potatoes so popular in Utah that an official trading pin featuring funeral potatoes was made for the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 (which you can now find for $20 on ebay).