funeral food, and a recipe: lemon buttermilk pie

lemon buttermilk pie | the merry gourmet

It took me three days to make a pie last week.

On the first day, I diced the cold, unsalted butter into cubes and stored the small nuggets of butter in a plastic container in the refrigerator. I think that was the day my sister and I went to my mom’s house to meet with the minister, to plan the details of Dad’s funeral.

On the second day, I carefully weighed the flour and measured the sugar and salt. Using the pastry cutter, I cut the butter into the flour and drizzled in ice water, finally using my hands to pull together the piecrust dough. That was the day we took Mom shopping for black dresses to wear to the funeral. The dough, in two plastic wrapped discs, waited patiently on a shelf in the refrigerator next to the bagels and cream cheese.

On the third day, I floured the large, wooden breadboard I keep stored upright in the pantry. I unwrapped the butter-speckled dough, and once it warmed up a bit, I rolled the dough into a large circle. It wasn’t a perfect circle; it never is. When the dough felt tight beneath the rolling pin, I paused and let it rest, lifting the edges to scatter a bit more flour underneath. When the dough relaxed into itself, I took the rolling pin to it again, shaping it under gentle pressure.

After another rest in the fridge, and then in the freezer, I blind baked the crust, using old coins from our change jar as pie weights. The custard filling came together quickly while the crust was baking. It’s an easy pie, really, this lemon buttermilk pie. Eggs and buttermilk and sugar. Some lemon juice and lemon zest. Some whisking. It baked for an hour before I took it out of the oven. When it was done, just before noon, I changed out of my jeans and put on my black dress. The funeral was at 2 pm.

It seems silly, to make a pie before your father’s funeral. We never even ate any of the pie that day. It would be the next day before I felt ready to slice it.

lemon buttermilk pie | the merry gourmet

Friends and family showed their love for my father and their support for us in so many ways, and one of the most meaningful and memorable ways was through gifts of food.

After the funeral, we returned to my mother’s house where so many of her friends had prepared and brought all sorts of dishes. There was a green salad, potato salad, and deviled eggs. There were casseroles of all types: chicken casserole, broccoli and cheese casserole, macaroni and cheese. There was a spiral cut ham and rolls for sandwiches, fried chicken, and roast chicken. There were perfectly-salted acre peas and peppery creamed corn and fresh strawberries and three different types of melon. There were sweets: two varieties of brownies, a pecan pound cake, a lemon pound cake, a chocolate layer cake, and more. There was sweet tea, unsweetened tea, and lemonade.

I’m not sure whether funeral food is strictly a southern thing, but if it is, I’m glad I live in the south. I am so grateful to everyone who prepared food for our family during this time. I’ve eaten a lot of takeout over the past two weeks, and while takeout is usually something I’m okay with, I’d had enough. I craved a home cooked meal, but I didn’t have the energy to cook it myself. The chicken pot pie and blueberry jello salad that my sister-in-law made for us ranked far higher than the Chinese takeout I usually love. The chicken fettuccini alfredo casserole and the baked ham were ten times more satisfying than the Domino’s pizza we’ve relied on too often.

I finally had a slice of pie yesterday afternoon, and it was good pie. It reminded me of my grandmother’s chess pie, but with less overt sweetness and more lemon flavor.

I never had the chance to make this pie for my father, and I sure wish I had. He would have loved it. He would have asked for seconds.

Yield: 1 9-inch pie.

Cook Time: 1 hour

Lemon Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk pie is a classic southern custard-based pie. It's easy to make from ingredients you probably already have on hand. This pie would make an excellent addition to a potluck, and in my own mind, it fits the definition of the perfect funeral food - easy and comforting.


Ingredients for Crust:
1 single-crust pie dough
Egg wash (1 egg white + 1 teaspoon water)

Ingredients for Filling:
3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup full-fat buttermilk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon


Blind bake the crust:

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate, and trim all but a 1/2-inch overhang. Tuck the excess dough under itself and crimp the edges. Place in freezer for 20 minutes. While piecrust is chilling, heat oven to 425 degrees, and place oven rack in middle position.

Prick the bottom and sides of the piecrust several times with a fork, then line the pie plate with two sheets of nonstick foil, with the nonstick side facing the piecrust. Fill with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, brush the bottom of the crust gently with the egg wash, then bake for another 3 minutes. Decrease oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Make the Filling:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, granulated sugar, salt, and flour. Add in the melted butter, buttermilk, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Whisk the filling until thoroughly combined.

Pour the filling into the shell and carefully transfer pie to oven. Bake for one hour, or until the filling is set and barely moves when jiggled. Let the pie cool on a rack; serve at room temperature or chilled. Store in the refrigerator.

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18 Responses to “funeral food, and a recipe: lemon buttermilk pie”

  1. 1
    Kimberley Mulla — March 9, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

    I’m new to your blog but the idea of lemon buttermilk pie brought me here. And then I read your post. My Dad passed away a year ago. We lived on takeout for two weeks while we slept in his room at the hospital. But we are not in the south so didn’t get to enjoy such beautiful food at his funeral. Southern food was my dad’s favourite. Mine too. Hugs. Sending your family peace and best wishes.

  2. 2
    Macaroni Mama — March 9, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

    Bits and pieces made up our lives over the past few weeks. I love this post.

  3. 3
    Renée J. (RJ Flamingo) — March 9, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

    Thinking of you all, MJ.

    We have funeral food for Jewish funerals – and for a full week after that. It’s mostly cold cuts and cake at first, then the casseroles and roast chickens after that. And more cake.

    It’s at times like these that I feel sorry for people who say “Eat to live, not live to eat.” They’ll never quite understand the warm, comforting hug inherent in a beautiful pie like this one.

    xox – RJ

  4. 4
    Jacqueline — March 9, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

    This beautiful photograph just seems so poignantly perfect. Bright and comforting, somber and serious. I want to make this pie, now. Thoughts are with you and your family.

  5. 5

    Sending you all so much love MJ. That you found the words to write this post is simply inspiring. And yes, I do bet your dad would have loved this pie. XO

  6. 6
    Gail — March 10, 2014 @ 9:03 am

    While there was plenty of food after my parents’ funerals, nothing was homemade. Platters of cold cuts (which I never eat except at funerals) for sandwiches, platters of smoked fishes & fish salads are all the ‘food of my people’. That, in and of itself, makes me feel good.

    But a little homemade something or other would never hurt.

    Love this pie, love this post. Love you.

  7. 7
    Catharine — March 10, 2014 @ 9:37 am

    We love this pie! You’re invited to come link it up (and your other pie recipes you may have) at our Pie Party here:

    Have a great day,

  8. 8
    dina — March 10, 2014 @ 10:19 am

    oh my! i’m a huge buttermilk fan. this pie looks amazing!

  9. 9
    Jeannine — March 10, 2014 @ 11:34 am

    I’m from Alaska, originally, and was still living there when my father died. Our neighbors and friends filled both our fridge and freezer with love and empathy in the form of carob cakes and casseroles, pies and baked meats. Not just a Southern thing, but strongly a fortunate thing, and I’m glad you have a caring community around you. May you, your mother, and your family heal stronger than you now believe you can.

  10. 10
    Eileen — March 10, 2014 @ 6:40 pm

    This pie recipe looks like a “keeper” Jennifer. I'[m partial to custard pies so this looks perfect to me. I’m from the North, and it’s very common here for people to deliver food when someone is very ill or has a family member pass. Recently my neighbors lost their 40+ year old daughter to cancer. I felt horrible for them and didn’t know how to express myself so I baked a huge pan of homemade dinner rolls and delivered them while they were still warm. I think delivering food to someone who is experiencing a loss is one universal way of showing how much we care. I hope your days begin to get easier for you and your family.

  11. 11
    Laura — March 10, 2014 @ 11:35 pm

    What a beautiful pie and touching words. You and your family continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.

    When my grandmother passed away unexpectedly in fall 2012, so many friends and neighbors showered us with food gifts, it was so touching! We were in North Dakota, so it must not be just a regional practice. Grief is such a funny thing… sometimes I wasn’t hungry at all, and other times ravenous. There were so many details to be dealt with and having peoples’ food gifts available was such a blessing. I’m now trying to remember to pay it forward and give food gifts to those grieving/going through illness/have new babies, etc.

  12. 12
    Kathryn — March 11, 2014 @ 5:42 am

    Such a beautiful post xo

  13. 13

    Such beautiful writing, as usual. I wish you a sense of peace and comfort in the days and weeks ahead.

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  16. 14
    Brighid — March 17, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

    My father passed away at the end of February so your account resonates so much with me. While there wasn’t different food for our family, it was still part of how we cared for each other. My days were similarly broken up between the normal and the demands of the situation.

    Your pie looks lovely and someday I’ll make it for my family, think of my Dad and your Dad. I know mine would have also loved your pie.

    Thank you for the gift of your words and your recipe.

  17. 15

    Funeral food is a church thing up here in the North. I’m so sorry about your dad’s passing, MJ. I don’t have great words in these situations, but wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you and your family. And that pie? I think I’ll make it for someone I love and share the love.

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