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Bailey Tries… Funeral Cookies

I have always been fascinated by how different cultures and time periods handle death because it is a universal situation. If, like me, your curiosity is piqued by this topic, I suggest reading “From Here to Eternity” by Caitlin Doughty. Now, as a good southerner, I understand that food is a crucial part of any big life event. We believe in feeding you from birth to death and most major moments in between so funeral food isn’t completely unheard of in my neck of the woods. I mean, who hasn’t had a heaping helping of Funeral Potatoes or gone back to the Fellowship Hall for a memorial potluck? However, what I find interesting is when food moves beyond providing sustenance for a grieving family. You can find cultures that practice memorial foods, symbolic foods and even mortuary cannibalism but what I wanted to try out was something that I might just have to add into my death plan...funeral cookies. Literally, little goodie bags that you give guests to take home when they leave your funeral. How cute is that? (Also, if you’ve ever wondered if I’m truly a Enneagram 2, I think the fact that I want to give parting gifts to MY funeral attendees clears up any questions. Ha!)

These cookies were popular in the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras with each group putting their own spin to the tradition but they all followed a similar pattern. Cookies, sometimes death themed, packaged to be sent home with guests as a favor. Often these packages would have something akin to an obituary printed on them or a religious text appropriate for the occasion. Just a little something to send as a memento for loved ones and we know how much people of the past loved death memorabilia.

With this idea in mind, I decided to start hunting for a recipe, preferably a historic one, that would be easily accessible and translatable. Some old recipes appear to be written in code! I found several, including the one I used dating from 1828 through the Victorian age and truthfully they all seemed to have a similar ingredient list and method. For all intents and purposes, they are sugar cookies or tea cakes but with one strange and confusing addition. Caraway seeds. Why are Caraway seeds such a strange addition? Well, for me, I 100% relate them to Italian cooking, sausage and specifically, sausage pizza. I thought when I saw the recipe that I was mistaken but when I opened up the container...BAM! Pizza! So, as of writing this introduction, I can only assume these cookies will taste like sugar cookies made at a Pizza Hut. Let’s find out…

As I said, most of these recipes were similar but I did choose to add butter to the recipe I chose to hopefully add a bit of flavor since vanilla wasn’t included in any of the recipes. Recipes are such a picture of the times and the economic conditions of the people making them so it is understandable why something as fancy as vanilla wasn’t included but something as basic as butter was included.

The recipe I chose required toasting the Caraway seeds first which, of course, smelled like sausage or maybe Pumpernickel bread. I thought that one tablespoon of seeds wasn’t very much for the amount of dough I had but I was wrong. It was more than enough.

I decided to cream the butter and sugar instead of following the original recipe and then added my flour and eggs in alternating as I went. This is the method my great grandmother used in her pound cake recipe and I figured that’s worked for the last 100 years so it’d probably be okay. The issue I knew I was going to face concerns consistency. I knew with the addition of butter, over two sticks, was going to require extra flour. However, it required a TON more flour than I expected. I really wanted to be able to use a cookie cutter on these but I also didn’t want it to taste like nothing but flour.

I ended up doing a few with the coffin cookie cutter but lost my desire to be themed really quickly and eventually switched to the “peanut butter smashed cookies” method which worked just as well.

So, how was this nearly two hundred year-old recipe? Not bad! Actually, they really did taste like old fashioned southern tea cakes. Not terribly sweet and quite hard but pretty good. The strange bit is what you would expect… the Caraway seeds. The eating experience was kind of “sugar cookie, sugar cookie, sugar cookie, sausage…” The taste wasn’t as bad as the texture. Those little things get all kinds of stuck in your teeth.

Overall, I think funeral cookies are a brilliant idea and personally, I’d rather spend money on that than flowers that die but hey, that’s just me!


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