I’VE BEEN to two cremations inside the first eight days of the new year and each had a funeral tea. And it’s got me thinking.
A British funeral tea usually has pork pies, sausage rolls and Scotch eggs, at least around these parts. Then there are sandwiches, all food you can eat standing up or sitting down with a glass of something in your hand.
Now most people will probably nibble away without thinking but I have always appreciated that food is more than just the ingredients on a plate. It comes with tradition, ritual, memories and a good deal else.
Even so, I was quite taken aback – and charmed – by the offering at the first, of a 93-year-old woman, who had once been my mother-in-law.
There was bread and dripping (on breadcakes), properly seasoned, and slices of ‘raw’ black pudding as well as the pork pies and sausage rolls. Humble though these foods were, they each represented aspects of her life.
The bread and dripping – bread and scrape we used to call it when I was young – remembered her childhood in a terraced house in backstreets Leicester. She would sit on the steps eating a crust, her reward for helping to clean the house – and the steps.
As a young woman in the West Riding of post war Britain meat was still on the ration but a friend made her own black pudding: blood, fat and oats boiled up in muslin.
When times got better she enjoyed a salmon sandwich, and there were these laid on as well, although the salmon she enjoyed came in a tin while her great grandchildren today snaffle smoked salmon.
The tea – a lunch really – was held at the old people’s home in which she died and the residents were invited. They would have remembered the dripping and black pudding and, perhaps, the fish or meat paste sandwiches once part of a Northern working class funeral tea. Old folk in Barnsley, I am told, still favour sandwiches of polony sausage, which spreads like paste.
I enjoyed what I ate and would have done so even more if I had known why I was eating it at the time. Just as a photograph, a tune or a smell can bring back memories, so can the taste of food.
The second funeral tea was more middle class with spring rolls, mini toad in the hole and, very Sheffield, bowls of chips.
It got me thinking what I would have at my funeral tea: confit of duck, anchovies, olives? But I also love an egg mayonnaise sarnie. Sadly, that will be one meal I won’t be there to eat.
It’s a stock picture above which represents neither tea. After all, you don’t take your camera to a funeral, do you?