Monday, July 31, 2006


Several years ago I wrote a column about funeral food and how people in the South band together to feed the family of the bereaved when a loved one has passed away.

I never expected to be so close, so soon, to the phenomenon.

A few days ago my wife’s 37-year old sister lost a long and hard-fought battle with her heart. It was a battle that she fought with guts and grace, always positive, always resilient, and— even in her most weakened state— a battle in which she spent most of her time caring more about the well-being of others than her own.

Within hours the food began arriving. Fried chicken, potato salad, cakes, cookies, and fruit were the first to show up. The refrigerator filled to capacity in the first hour.

One friend, whose wife was out of town, and had no idea how this drill worked, dropped by the grocery store and came over with a mixed-bag smorgasbord of groceries and paper products in various sacks, no rhyme, reason, or theme to the gift, just supplies for people in need from someone who truly cared.

Family and friends were all over the house. Some hadn’t eaten in days and were ravenous; others had lost their appetite weeks ago. Three of my wife’s friends cooked an entire dinner and brought it to the house. One of those same friends came over and washed clothes and cleaned the children’s rooms.

It was a beautiful thing to see. At times, it felt as if the entire community had mobilized in honor of this one cause. The chefs at my restaurant were ready to load us up with even more food but I had to tell them that we had no more refrigerator space.

Four years ago, when writing the original column on funeral food, I stated: “Down here, communities band together during times of tragedy. Food is the common vein that runs through it all. However, my generation doesn’t seem to come together like the generations before us. Are we so busy that we have forgotten the importance of community, friends, and family?”

I was wrong. Very wrong. Community, friends, and family are alive and well and living in and around Hattiesburg, Mississippi. My generation stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park in this time of need. It does my heart good.

With dozens of out-of-town family and friends traveling in, all of the food will surely be consumed— homemade bread, pies, crudité, sweet rolls, sandwich platters, chips, dips, and more fried chicken— everything but sausage balls. My wife’s sister always cooked sausage balls. They were my daughter’s favorite. The two of them could eat dozens in one sitting. Every Christmas, Easter, and Fourth of July our kitchen was filled with sausage balls. Whenever my sister-in-law asked my daughter what she would like for her birthday, the answer was always, “Sausage balls.”

The sausage-ball recipe wasn’t a passed-down family secret, or a much-sought-after prize-winning formula, just a simple recipe off of the side of the Bisquick box. What made the recipe special was the love that went into the preparation of the dish. It was the same main ingredient in the food that recently kept our refrigerator bulging.

We lament the loss of a sister, a daughter, a wife, and an aunt— a woman of exceptional strength and courage. We thank our friends who kept us in their thoughts and prayers. We thank those who kept us fed, and we try to move on with a large, empty, and seemingly endless void in our lives, a space where a courageous young woman used to be.

Bisquick® Sausage-Cheese Balls

3 cups Original Bisquick® mix
1 pound bulk pork sausage
4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (16 ounces)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes

1 . Heat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease bottom and sides of jelly roll pan, 15 1/2x10 1/2x2x1 inch.
2 . Stir together all ingredients, using hands or spoon. Shape mixture into 1-inch balls. Place in pan.
3 . Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until brown. Immediately remove from pan. Serve warm.

Memorials can be made to The Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency in memory of Jennifer Pender

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