‘Mormon Funeral Potatoes’: Versatile, Comforting and Delicious
By Victoria Stewart / For The Chronicle
Yep, you read it right: “Mormon funeral potatoes” are a popular dish, served originally by the Latter-day Saints Relief Societies in Utah to grieving families after a loved one’s funeral.
Now, this dish that was born among the families of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made its way on to tables everywhere.
This tasty comfort food is so versatile, the meal can be enjoyed anywhere and anytime – for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
In fact, so popular is the dish, each year in Utah a “Funeral Potato” competition is held, with the tastiest dish winning recognition. During the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, visitors could purchase a souvenir funeral potatoes pin, shaped like a casserole dish.
For Malynda and Stephen Wilson of Chehalis and their three children (daughters Chelsie, 14, Rose, 11, and son Lochlan, 5), the dish has fast become a classic family favorite.
Malynda Wilson came across the recipe one day as part of her research related to the Wilson family occupation: husband Stephen is a funeral director for Sticklin/Brown Mortuary, and Malynda is working toward the same career as well.
The Wilson family recently relocated into the historic Dr. Lester Glenn Steck home in Chehalis, a 1942 structure built by the local doctor who was the founder of the Steck Medical Clinic in Chehalis.
The home is all original right down to the wallpaper, except for the kitchen, which suffered damage in a fire several years ago and was rebuilt. The home is perfectly suited to the family, Malynda Wilson said, as both she and Stephen are avid collectors of mid-century modern furniture and decor.
The Steck home was built during that time period when materials were scarce, due to World War II shortages.
The home is built much like a maze, with numerous doors leading in and out of rooms, so that each room may be closed or left open. One room has no less than five doors. The entrance doors feature original screen doors and the back door has a bell for the milkman to ring when he left fresh milk on the doorstep.
A repurposed pie safe, still with its original slats, is used today as a pantry, and the bathroom still features pink tiles and the original fixtures.
Malynda Wilson has filled the home with her ‘40s- and ‘50s-era collectibles, including a collection of Formica kitchen tables that come in handy when serving meals to her frequent dinner guests.
The Wilsons also have an unusual collection of antique and vintage funeral and embalming tools, including a vintage embalming machine.
“Both Stephen and I were raised around World War II veterans, and feel a very close association with that era,” Malynda Wilson said. “My father’s business the whole time and I was growing up (and still to this day) was to find soldiers who were missing in action, and to recover them.”
Her father, Bruce Fenstermaker, would go to the South Pacific and find crash sites, and return the soldiers’ remains to their families for proper burial in the United States.
Fenstermaker, who has a profile on Pacific Wreck Database, donates his time as a World War II aviation historian and “missing in action researcher” to help bring resolution to families of lost loved ones.
Growing up as they did, surrounded by families seeking to find long-missing loved ones, it was a natural fit for the Wilsons (who were high school sweethearts and grew up in Apple Valley, Calif.) to step into a mutual career where they could share their empathy and caring compassion, helping grieving families.
A large part of funerals and gatherings are potlucks, and this potato casserole is a popular and easy meal to share at any social gathering – including weddings and reunions.
“It’s real easy to make, my family likes it and it doesn’t cost much. It’s a meal you can have just as a single dish,” she said. “I love making old-fashioned dinners anyway. I have a collection of old cookbooks from the thirties through the fifties.”
“The potatoes are a really big deal and are usually served with lime jello and rolls,” she said. “These are a casserole, a meal in themselves; really neat and very simple to make. Just meat, potatoes and cheese.”
Mormon Funeral Potatoes
- 1 32-ounce package frozen hash browns
- 2 cups cream of chicken soup
- 2 cups shredded Monterey and cheddar cheeses
- 1/2 cup diced onion, sauteed
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- pepper to taste
- 1 cup butter (divided)
- Box of bread crumbs
- 3 cups your choice of cooked meat (ham cubes, sausage, etc.), or prepare without meat
Various leftovers found in your refrigerator may be added to the tasty casserole as well.
Saute onion in butter.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix all ingredients together except for half of the cheese, and the bread crumbs.
Spray the bottom of a casserole dish with cooking spray, and pour mixture into the dish.
Mix the bread crumbs and the remaining half of the butter in a bowl, and spread on top of the casserole. Spread the cheese mixture on top of the bread crumbs.
Garnish with bell peppers and parsley.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover the last seven minutes for a crusty top.
Lime Jello Salad
- 1 3-ounce dry package of lime jello
- 1 12-ounce container of Cool Whip
- 1 16-ounce container cottage cheese
- A half bag of mini marshmellows
- 20 ounces of crushed and drained pineapple
- 11 ounces of drained mandarin oranges
Mix all together and chill