What's for Breakfast?

Memories of holiday meals, with a nod to my Great Aunt Pearl

Happy Monday! What's for breakfast?

It's December, and I'm declaring it potato month, as winter is coming (in the northern hemisphere at least) and that calls for something hearty. One could use potato month as an excuse to have a Bloody Mary for breakfast, but I hate to break it to you: most vodkas on the market are not, in fact, made from potato. But it's the holidays, and if that leads you to vodka for breakfast, well, hell… it's a terribly hard time of year, isn't it.

On Thanksgiving, Kin and I were talking about our memories of holiday meals growing up, and I realized that it's quite hard for me to conjure anything specific about what was on the table where and when. The hosting and cooking duties would rotate year-to-year: if my mom made Thanksgiving dinner, then Christmas dinner would be at Grandma's; the next year, they'd switch. The meals were almost identical: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, dinner rolls. The desserts were different, I suppose, and my Uncle Jimmy would be present at Christmas. But otherwise all my childhood holiday dinners sort of blur together — my mom and my grandma were both excellent cooks.

Not so, Great Aunt Pearl.

My grandma's little sister was "a stunner" and a social butterfly — voted the most popular girl by her high school class in 1932 (the award was a trip to Cuba?!). She belonged to almost every social club in my hometown, I think; and although my dad would mock her for it, she went to everyone's funeral. (He said it was morbid; but he was wrong. Honestly, you should always go to the funeral.)

Pearl was not a good cook. She was, however, the kind of person who cut out recipes from magazines — the promise of transforming a processed food into home-cooking. I imagine that she was the person who introduced the whole green bean casserole to my family's holiday table, although she wouldn't have been the one to have made it. Cooking was my grandma's thing. It was not Pearl's. Oh, she did have a couple of items she'd bring to the table every once in a while — tomato aspic with little canned shrimp was a particular horror; there were these "cookies," I recall, made from club crackers with butter and sugar baked on top; and that coconut and marshmallow delight, ambrosia salad. Really, anything that was assembled out of cans and packages of big name, brand foods — that was Pearl's contribution.

Today's recipe is hers. (My mom still has the recipe card, I believe, written in Pearl's perfect cursive.) It's only a breakfast food, I recognize, insofar this is something you might serve at brunch.

This dish is also known as "funeral potatoes" — that is, something you'd take to the house of a grieving family.

Again, this time of year is very hard — the holidays can bring up all sorts of feelings of grief and loss. (I'll have a lot more to say about this throughout potato month.) Give yourself grace — whatever that might look like. Find comfort where you can — and if it's in processed food and dairy, hell yeah, do that and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for it.

Company Potatoes


  • 2 lb frozen hash browns
  • 1/4 c chopped onions
  • 1 10 3/4-oz can cream of potato soup (or cream of chicken)
  • 1 pt sour cream
  • 10 oz shredded cheddar
  • optional: 1 stick of butter, LOL
  • 1/2 cup parmesan


Mix ingredients and place in a greased 9 x 13"casserole and sprinkle with parmesan. Bake uncovered for 55 minutes at 350.