Cheese. Potatoes. Cornflakes. Or potato chips? It depends. Either way, when Latter-day Saints think about cheesy potato goodness, they are thinking about funeral potatoes. And rightly so, funeral potatoes can be considered “an essential fast food for hard times” like one NPR article said.
There seems to be no right way to make them except the way that your family does. Every Utahn is a self-proclaimed funeral potatoes connoisseur, but what’s the history of this delectable dish?
You have questions. We have answers.
Who invented funeral potatoes?
Conventional wisdom holds that nobody really knows who created this dish. The Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is given credit for serving funeral potatoes at luncheons, and the dish turned into a phenomenon. Early Relief Society cookbooks include funeral potatoes recipes, leading people to conclude that the Relief Society might have created the dish. While the New York Post calls these potatoes “disturbing,” food journalist Jenn Rice has proclaimed them “one of the most oddly satisfying dishes in America.”
In Salt Lake Magazine, Tammy Hanchett, a third-generation Utahn, recalled her grandmother making funeral potatoes for Sunday dinner. “My grandmother used to make her own white sauce, and she never had an exact recipe,” Hanchett said. “She’d add a dollop of this and a dollop of that. I’ll never taste potatoes like that again.”
The precise origins of this dish remain obscure. Some have pointed out that the American South has a similar dish. Others have readily accepted the idea that Latter-day Saint women originated the dish with their thrifty and productive skills. Or these potatoes might be a budget mix of the French potatoes au gratin.
Where did funeral potatoes come from?
If conventional wisdom holds true and the Relief Society invented funeral potatoes, this dish was invented in Utah. It’s also possible that funeral potatoes were invented in the Midwest. Until March 2023, funeral potatoes are part of a museum exhibit in Iowa per the Deseret News.
What are funeral potatoes?
Funeral potato purists often stick with the classic cubed potato, cheese, sour cream and cream soup recipe topped with cornflakes, but this dish is often the subject of fierce debate. Some have pushed the boundaries by rejecting cornflakes and instead turning to Panko breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers. Others have taken this classic casserole in even more wild directions, adding bacon or mushrooms or frozen peas.
For the sake of convenience (after all, who likes chopping up potatoes?), recipes now often call for a bag of frozen hash browns. Other recipes throw convenience out the window and add potato soup mix, gourmet salsa and crushed tortilla chips for a Southwestern flair, just like the 2012 winner of the Utah funeral potatoes contest did.
Best funeral potatoes recipe
Previously, the Deseret News published a recipe of what one author considers the best way to make funeral potatoes.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. If we were more dedicated to making the most authentic funeral potatoes (and not worried about fire safety!), we would use an outdoor oven. But live the “Utah way” and respect the environment.
- Select 8 delectable russet spuds freshly grown in Idaho, rinse them and parboil them in a pot of water seasoned with coarse salt and a touch of garlic powder for immaculate flavor. After parboiling them, use a box grater to shred them. Set your hash browns aside in a large mixing bowl.
- Finely chop 1 yellow onion. I follow Bon Appetit’s guide to chopping onions without crying — it’ll help you cook more. Mince 3 cloves of garlic.
- Shake a Mason jar full of heavy cream until you have butter. No seriously, it tastes so much better. But I guess you may use store bought butter. Drop 21⁄2 heaping tablespoons of butter into a cast-iron skillet on medium heat. Saute the onions with the butter until fragrant and then add the minced garlic.
- Add potatoes into the skillet for 3 to 5 minutes and then remove from heat.
- Take a large mixing bowl. Put your hash brown and onion potato mixture into the bowl. Using a spatula, begin to add in 1 can of condensed cream of chicken soup (of course, if you would like to make the very best funeral potatoes ever, make your own condensed soup). Add in 1 cup of sour cream. Fold in 2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese. Season with pepper and salt. Mix gently until well combined.
- Scrap the contents of this large mixing bowl into your favorite casserole dish. Then, take 2 cups of cornflake cereal and crush it into fine pieces. Shred another 1⁄2 cup of sharp cheddar cheese. Spread evenly on top of potato mixture.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes. Serve with other delicacies like Lion House rolls.
Funeral potatoes in Utah and Latter-day Saint culture
Made with inexpensive ingredients, funeral potatoes have persisted both because of their low cost and their iconic taste. While we may never uncover their true origins, this dish has a strong association with Utah.
During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, funeral potatoes had their own commemorative pin. For several years at the Utah State Fair, people would enter their version of funeral potatoes into a contest where the best potato would win. In fact, this dish is so popular among Latter-day Saints, who also usually have some form of food storage, that the Utah company Augason Farms made a food storage version of funeral potatoes, according to NPR.
The cheesy spuds have even made their way into the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles fondly recalled in a 2010 general conference talk, “We smile sometimes about our sisters’ stories — you know, green Jell-O, quilts and funeral potatoes. But my family has been the grateful recipient of each of those items at one time or another — and in one case, the quilt and the funeral potatoes on the same day.”
Even a novel has been written with the title “Funeral Potatoes.” Joni Hilton wrote about Sydney OllerVanKeefer or “Syd,” as Hilton affectionately calls her. Syd despises funerals but loves the potatoes at the luncheons afterward. Just like in the novel when hardships occur, Latter-day Saints might just show up to your door with funeral potatoes.
These potatoes have become so popular that even Walmart sold Augason Farm’s frozen version of them, leaving many bewildered about what funeral potato were. HelloGiggles was brave enough to ask what exactly funeral potatoes were and attempted to answer the question. Even FuneralWire has a favorite funeral potatoes recipe.
There are many variations out there of this dish, and while we may never know how funeral potatoes started in the first place, it seems as though they’re here to stay.