The Star-Herald

A spud by any other name

An interesting product advertisement came across the desk. A friend sent a note wanting to know if I was familiar with the item and had any advice. After the shock and upon further study with reputable sources, it would appear that there may be a new product name and line for Aroostook County spuds.

Traveling around the world allows a person to sample a whole lot of things that might stretch the eyebrows a bit. One can sample crocodile slices, tempura encrusted gonads and whole fish eyes. Some of these foods are for weddings, others for birthdays, New Year’s, Christmas, and many other holidays. Have an event and there is sure to be someone who will create a special dish just for that day. Fork, chopsticks, spoons and fingers are itching to go to work.

In China, a typical restaurant menu will list the foods of the restaurant. There is an order to the listing. Fish are in one place, chicken dishes in another and still another section for pork and one for beef. These are excellent sources for new vocabulary, since instead of fancy names for the dishes to be made, there is a listing of the items in the dish. Thus, a “sunshine burger on a bun” in the US would be a “beef burger with egg” in China. The product delivered would be a hamburger with a sunny-side-up egg on top.

Even in the US, the names for dishes vary. One family might call a hot dog wrapped in a pastry a “pig in a blanket.” Another might call it pastry sausage. Same thing, but different name. Nothing wrong with that.

Casseroles are notorious for this provincialism. Ask for a green bean casserole and 15 different dishes will show up, all having green beans, and yet very differently made. (This writer does not like green beans in casseroles or most other recipes.) Feuds have unfolded as Aunt Mildred’s and Grandma Vivian recipes have waged war on family members’ taste buds. Is it better to use Velveeta or Cheez-Whiz? Marshmallow Fluff, salad dressing, or cottage cheese on toast? All three perhaps? Yep, and wash it down with a glass of ketchup and Tabasco sauce.

But back to the spuds. It came as a bit of a rude surprise when a friend sent word of a dish available at some Walmarts and on Amazon. Described as the perfect dish for church suppers, potlucks, and other venues for the experience of experimental foods: funeral potatoes.

What in the world is this? Does one die after eating the noble spud? It this the perfect break-up food? Should Aroostook County seriously rethink its investment in the humble tuber of the nightshade family?

Take a deep breath and back away from the panic button.

In the areas of Utah and Idaho, “funeral potatoes” describes a potato casserole made with spuds, bacon, cheese, onions and other delicacies. In that area, a wake needs lots of food. Once completed, sit down to a dinner with all sorts of casseroles — including funeral spuds.

What a great name. It fills the requirement that it be descriptive and clear on the main ingredient, spuds. You eat them at a funeral. Oh, the social faux pas if you were to bring them to the wedding feast or your mother-in-law’s birthday. The name seems popular in Utah and Idaho and recipes for the dish abound.

It is not known why Ore-ida does not offer kits to make this dish. It is, however, available on certain websites, and if one were to ask at Walmart, it would be possible for them to order a case or two. Just ask.

What this means is that there is a new menu item that the great folks at Pineland Farms could produce. With our sense of humor, the marketing campaign for such a dish could brighten the airwaves. Let the imagination run. The next time Great Aunt Mavis serves her potato surprise, just ask if she uses “Funeral Spuds.”

Orpheus Allison is a photojournalist living in The County who graduated from UMPI and earned a master of liberal arts degree from the University of North Carolina. He began his journalism career at WAGM television later working in many different areas of the US. After 20 years of television he changed careers and taught in China and Korea.

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.