“The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist” by Perre Coleman Magness, The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Co., $22.95, 174 pages, paperback

I’m unsure what this says about me, but of the hundreds of cookbooks I’ve reviewed over the years, two of my favorites are about funeral food. They stand out not only for their recipes, but for their design and wry humor.

The first, “Food to Die For: A Book of Funeral Food, Tips and Tales,” was the 2005 Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards national winner and benefited the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Now, more than a dozen years later, comes “The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist” by event planner and food writer Perre Coleman Magness.

Nothing motivates Southerners “to get in the kitchen more than a funeral,” Magness writes in the “The Southern Sympathy Cookbook’s" introduction. “We all seem to harbor that primordial need to comfort” with sustaining and practical food. “The problem is, what exactly to make.”

Side Dish: Recipe for Collard and Spinach Madeleine

She proceeds to offer “dishes perfect for the funeral gathering, or for a bereaved family at home.” Recipes are divided into six chapters: The Great Awakening Breakfast and Bread; The Pearly Gates Starters and Snacks; The Eternal Garden Fruit and Vegetables; The Gospel Bird Chicken; Crowning Glory Meat; and The Sweet Hereafter Desserts and Sweets.

Among the recipes are Bourbon Pimento Cheese; Sweet Tea Bread; Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Homemade Barbecue Sauce; and a casserole inspired by chicken and rice jambalaya which also includes red beans — definitely not your standard Louisiana jambalaya.

The book is illustrated with full-color photographs of completed dishes and includes stories and notes on Southern funeral traditions. It also shares excerpts of actual obituaries, such as this one from Hot Springs, Arkansas: “She is survived by her loving husband and sons, her sister … her brother … her bossy daughter-in-law and three as yet unspoiled granddaughters … and numerous relatives who were all loved but not mentioned in the will.”

The best thing about “The Southern Sympathy Cookbook” is that you don’t have to wait for a funeral to try the recipes. They’ll be welcome at any celebration or gathering.


Cheramie Sonnier is a food writer and columnist. Contact her at sonnierfood@gmail.com, and follow her on Twitter, @CheramieSonnier.