Thursday, 3 December 2009

Funeral Sandwiches; Otherwise Known as Ham Salad

The first time I ate a ham salad sandwich was at a funeral. The second time I ate ham salad sandwich was at a funeral. So were the third, fourth, fifth and etcetera times. In fact, up to about the fourth or fifth funeral at which I ate a ham salad sandwich, I was mentally referring to them as Anglican sandwiches; but then I branched out and attended a United Church funeral - where I was fed the exact same menu of tuna, egg and ham salad sandwiches on standard white or brown bakery bread, and assortment of squares and bars - and so was obliged to start calling them funeral sandwiches.

Tuna and egg sandwiches are common enough, but until I made my own I had never seen a ham salad sandwich outside of a funeral. In fact, it took me several funerals before I had even figured out what they were, and the general list of ingredients. For some reason, you never see them on sale, and I have never gone to anyone's house and been served one. If you check old cookbooks, you will see they were once common enough; it puzzles me a little that they have now become such an arcane item of eclesiastical ritual.

Being a Quaker, I had not realized until I had attended quite a few that the menus of church funerals were so steeped in unvarying tradition. For once we leave the committees to others and cater by means of pot-lucks, which means you will get a strange and always changing selection of items such as tofu casseroles and sushi, but someone is bound to bring a salad and some cheese and bread, so that's all right. Still, just like an awful lot of Quakers tend to sneak off for midnight mass on Christmas eve, it's sort of comforting to know that even if we wouldn't dream of bringing ham salad sandwiches to a funeral ourselves (what would the vegetarians eat?) there's other people out there engaging in time-honoured if theologically baffling rituals.

I do wonder what will happen when the present generation of refreshment committee ladies have had the ham salad sandwiches passed around over their own coffins. Are novices being initiated into the refreshment committees at a sufficient rate to ensure the survival of the ham salad sandwich? Or will the terrible day arrive when not only does no-one know how to make them, but no-one even knows that they ought to be made? I lie awake at night and worry about things like this.

Oh, and by the way - they're really very tasty. Don't wait for a funeral.

Enough for at least 8 sandwiches
About 10 minutes prep time, not counting cooking the ham

Ham Salad Sandwiches

2 cups chopped cooked ham
a slice of onion, or a green onion, if wanted
1/3 cup mayonnaise, light is fine
1/3 cup green cucumber relish
1 teaspoon mustard or horseradish

Put the ham into a food processor, with the onion slice or chopped green onion if desired, and process briefly, until finely chopped. Turn it into a bowl and mix with the remaining ingredients.

Use as a sandwich filling, or to stuff mushroom caps as an hors d'oeuvre.

Last year at this time I made German Style Red Cabbage & Apples.


K@ said...

It's funny, I've also seen these at funerals, but never really thought about it until this posting.

I used to work in a Finnish nursing home as a dietary aide and we use to serve these same sandwiches as snacks.

Anonymous said...

I have never seen a ham salad sandwich done like that, but then the only funerals I have been to were in England, perhaps it is a different set of rituals.

In England you can by ham salad sandwiches in stores but it is slices of ham. This looks much tastier, I think I am going to have to try this next time I have ham leftovers.

Marnie said...

The food I always associate with funerals is fruit/raisin bread and cubes of cheese, along with the inevitable squares, but I'm going to a funeral on Monday and will report back.

Kevin Kossowan said...

My wife's favorite dish of her mom's at Christmas is 'hamball'. Which essentially a funeral ham sandwich sans bread, and w more cream cheese.

I too have had these sandwiches.

Ferdzy said...

K@, I'm glad to hear someone else recognizes them from funerals.

Heidi, they aren't usually served open face, but I wanted to show the mixture (and I like open faced sandwiches). Ham sandwiches are common enough; but that extra step of chopping it, etc seems to have become very rare.

Okay, Marnie; I'll await a report, although I'm sorry to hear that you have the opportunity to do that research.

Kevin; hmm, cream cheese. Yes, that sounds good. Have you had the sandwiches at funerals? Or is this an eastern Canada thing?

Joanne said...

This is such a funny tradition, I've never seen this. We usually go out to eat after funerals. And eat mass amounts of pasta (i.e. comfort food).

The salad concept is interesting though!

scribe said...

Lutheran funerals were the same. There was something comforting in them. (They had them at my mum's funeral, of course.) In fact, earlier this month, at my brother-in-law's funeral back in northern Wisconsin, the lunch afterwards was catered. We had to leave for Ontario right afterwards - and for supper that night, in our motel, I got a carton of ham salad from the grocery store deli for sandwiches. It just seemed right! (When I told my sister about it later that evening on the phone, she responded, "oh - funeral sandwiches."

Ferdzy said...

Scribe - good, good; it's not just me! Although I'm sorry you know what I'm talking about.

Marnie said...

My report from today's funeral (at a funeral home in Kitchener, for a United Church crowd): the sandwiches were salmon, egg salad, and something like salami with cheese. (I didn't investigate that one too closely.) There were also many kinds of delicious squares, but no ham salad in sight. I don't believe I've ever actually seen such a thing, to be honest, but I've heard of it.

Ferdzy said...

Hm, Marnie, no ham salad - worrisome. The rot is setting in already... The rest of it sounds exactly right though, except for the salami. Coldcuts? Shocking!

scribe said...

different cultures, different comfort foods: ran across this post on the "Homesick Texan" food blog from a while ago -

The opening quotation in the post is interesting: “Pass the chicken, pass the pie. We sure eat good when someone dies. Funeral food, it's so good for the soul. Funeral food, fills you up down to your toes.” —Kate Campbell

scribe said...

had to look this blog post up again today for the recipe - tomorrow is a dear cousin's funeral, 1000 miles away. i can't be there, but i've decided i will make "funeral sandwiches" for lunch tomorrow. they always taste so much better than any other sandwich. thanks!

Ferdzy said...

Sorry about your cousin, scribe.