Laurel Herman
Chef Instructor, Culinary Storyteller, and Culinary Medicine

Serving Food to the Bereaved,  What We Need to Know,  Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake Photo Credits Laurel Herman

 I grew up in the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva. For seven days, omitting the Sabbath, and holidays bereaved families are not to concern themselves with the world. Food is brought and the community supports the family through this time and beyond.Such is the case for many cultures. The Italians focus on bread, maybe because making bread is a living thing, …In the Hindu religion fruit is commonly bright to the family. Each with its own symbolism to mark this life altering thing called grief.

In Native American smudge the first meal with sage before serving the first meal, the elders are served first.

In my shamanic training, during times of intense sorrow, while working on oneself particularly after tears, chocolate is offered, to balance out the grief of reliving trauma with something sweet. I like that idea.

The times I’ve had the sacred privilege of cooking for the bereaved or dying, I never quite knew how to approach it, but prayerfully and with reverence. You go on auto pilot and do it because you know it is what you do. When words fail us, when we feel inadequate to say the right thing, we hope the food speaks for us. It is ingrained in our cultures, and religious practices to offer comfort and sincere desire to show up.

We bring that offering, even if the body is unable to take it in, and pray this small gesture becomes spiritual sustenance for our family and friends, whether it is a week, month or year later. The bereaved will continue to grieve long after what we may think is an acceptable timetable.

It is an ocean of waves, and a force so powerful, we would never think for a second to try to control the ocean. And so, we move on with life, often we are unaware that long after we have left the beach, our friends and family are still in the ocean.

I was deeply moved and surprised by a message to me the other day from a mom thanking me for something I made 5 years ago during an illness. What sort of grace could someone possibly have to remember that?   Last year, unimaginable tragedy struck, the thing no parent should ever endure.  The timing wasn’t right last year to send something over. It was too fresh, too painful and so personal.  This felt like the right time to send something she could taste with all her senses, texture, softness, sweetness.

A few weeks ago, another mom lost a son to suicide contacted me to help with her son’s memorial.  I knew in my heart since she was foreign born, that something from home, something familiar, would comfort her in some small way. Maybe it was more for me than for her. I’ll never know. Off we went to taste something from her homeland.

Suffice to say, that we can never know what a person needs. It is the subject we least like to approach,” What do you need?” Most people lost in their grief can’t answer that. The only thing I can offer is to watch and listen with our hearts ear, for signals,” this is where I am in this moment” and honor them in their process. There is no destination but love. My prayer for every grieving person is that you will continue to be held and nourished back to life, and for friends and family, to keep the food coming. It says, I remember you.

This cake has served me well in times of celebration and remembrance.

Although I never met you, this is for you, In loving memory of Henry.

Flour less Chocolate cake

You will need a nonstick 7-inch cake pan, OR cupcake tins with cupcake liners. (sprayed with coconut oil) Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Have a water bath in the oven ready to place the cake pan in. Cut a round parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and spray with coconut spray


2 bars of Alter Ego or good bittersweet chocolate

½ cup water

¾ cup coconut sugar

6 eggs beaten

1 cup Ghee or butter

¼ teaspoon salt

Combine water, coconut sugar, and salt, heat until dissolved

Melt chocolate in a double boiler.

In a large bowl, pour in the melted chocolate, and slowly alternate adding the eggs, the ghee or butter and the water. Beat on Medium speed. Pour into the pan (or cupcake pan) and sit in a water bath in a 300-degree oven for about a half hour or until the center is firm. Cool in the fridge several hours.  Unmold by dipping bottom of pan in warm water. Recipe may be doubled.

About the Author
Laurel Herman is Chef Instructor and Culinary Storyteller, and Culinary Medicine practitioner, residing in Richmond, Virginia. A classically trained chef in the European style( Thames Valley University, London, U.K. and The Institute for Integrative Nutrition) Her style is anything but classic, its fun, and relaxed. A lifelong career in food, Laurel had the unique experience of being the only woman in a kitchen brigade of 30 men, ( 40 years ago) earning their respect and affection through hard work and determination. Laurel's passion is bringing people together through food, her joy is to watch people arrive as strangers, and leave as friends. Her workshop and retreat work use storytelling combined with cooking and music to evoke a sense of remembrance. She teaches that cooking is a healing modality anyone can learn, but mostly that it brings people together. She currently teaches at Mise en Place Cooking School, and various venues throughout Richmond including a program for City of Richmond Employees. Her newest endeavor for 2020 is a fun online teaching course, and hopes to bring food education to food desserts throughout the city and surrounding areas. She is a strong believer that one way we can fight racism and bigotry of any kind is by helping people have access to clean and abundant food, supporting farmers markets and local vendors. Although not a chef himself, her favorite mythological character is Robin Hood, the revolutionary defender of social equality. Her books, The Blissed Out Chef was published in 2015 and the Inner Kitchen, Balboa press in 2011.
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