Cheese wafers and other funeral food

There are certain foods — cheese straws or wafers chief among them — that are always on the reception table after a funeral in the South.

At least on an Episcopal church’s reception table. I think the Presbyterians and Baptists favor punch and cookies. We go for heavy hors d’oeuvres and wine. Whether you’re sending someone on their way upstairs — as we did yesterday — or celebrating a happy occasion, by God, we eat well.

Bob Headly Funeral Reception 1

So here’s what’s always on the table at a St. Paul’s Episcopal Church reception:

  • Ham biscuits or ham yeast rolls. Either are acceptable and highly desired.
  • Boiled shrimp and cocktail sauce. Always the first to go.
  • Tea sandwiches of various kinds — pimento cheese, chicken salad and egg salad are standard.
  • Meatballs. Cocktail meatballs. Yummy sauce. Toothpicks required.
  • Vegetable and fruit platters. As a rule, no one ever eats a single celery stick or pineapple chunk from either one. But we feel the effort portrays a sincere regard for health, which obviously has no place at a reception.
  • Meat and cheese platters with rolls and condiments. After all, we might starve.
  • Various bite-sized desserts. If Barb Roth’s Texas Sheet Cake isn’t there we openly weep.
  • Wine: One case red and one case white. Or more.

Nothing succeeds like excess.

Benne seed wafers

I cannot lay claim to inventing any of the hundreds of cheese wafer recipes out there. Southern women have been baking them for generations. They consist of four main ingredients: Cheddar cheese, butter, salt and flour. The recipe I’ve been using for decades comes from the Charleston Receipts Repeats cookbook and it uses benne (sesame) seeds for crunch. But finely chopped pecans are also a fine idea.

Benne Cheese Wafers
  • ½ pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • ¼ pound butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • ½ cup benne (sesame) seeds, toasted
  1. Cream together the cheese, butter, salt and pepper. Add the flour and kneed. Add the benne seeds and knead.
  2. Form into four or five long thin rolls. Chill in wax paper several hours or freeze.
  3. Slice rolls into “thin dimes.” Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until slightly browned.



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