Monday, August 29, 2011

The dying art of potluck


Growing up as I did, Methodist, and in relatively close proximity to my grandparents and bajillion aunts, uncles and cousins, I was schooled from a very early age the fine art of potluck, and what constitutes a "covered dish." We attended a potluck yesterday with my son's soccer team, with instructions to bring a covered dish. I whipped up this little number: loaded mashed potatoes. I don't have a recipe because I was throwing it together on the fly, but the basic ingredients are mashed potatoes topped with shredded cheese, bacon, green onion and you can dollup on some sour cream at serving. It is a good thing I made something reasonably substantial because here was the complete menu, as brought by the various guests:

My mashed potato casserole
A Skyline Chili-based 7-layer dip w/ Fritos (truly inspired and yummy!)
Potato Chips
Cheetos
Pretzels
Popsicles
Ice Cream cake

Hmm. I am not writing this to complain about the food, but I felt a little out of place. I wondered did I get lost in some time warp? Upon leaving my house, I was fretting a bit that my humble and easy to make casserole was perhaps not up to par. How surprised, nay, shocked I was to find that it rated main dish status! On one hand, the kids had fun, spent most of the time swimming, and were well satisfied with the offerings given them, seeing as how they often turn their nose up at potluck fare. But on the other hand I felt a bit sad. I thought back to my grandma's chicken and noodles, and all those aunties and church ladies of my youth, whipping up amazing things. They weren't just feeding us, they were nourishing us, as well as showing off their special dishes. Every lady had her own dish she was known for. My mom, for example, was always tapped to bring her potato salad (her secrets: sweet relish, heavy mustard, and one egg per russet potato.) I have this one aunt who makes corn casserole that would curl your toes. And another aunt whose meatloaf makes me want to show up on her doorstep with a plate and fork and a napkin tied around my neck. Oh and let's don't forget the aunt who makes the lemon bars. And the coconut thingies. And the pie. Please, don't forget the pie!

I guess this is a statement about our food culture, and about the way we fail to preserve the truly good things in life. Having something like a potluck isn't about the food at all. It's about the meeting and greeting, and showing that we care. I fear, though, that if we get to the point where everyone is bringing chips and bakery cookies and buckets of chicken, people will eventually lose interest in going to the event altogether. It is about the food, and it isn't about the food.

I take heart. This Christmas time my aunts and uncles and cousins and my own family will gather as we do. A couple of my cousins make sure to keep Grandma's legacy chicken noodle recipe. Someone always makes these delicious meatballs. My one cousin will bring an uber healthy and yummy offering (she's a nurse.) People will bring out their meatloaves and 7-layer dips and a big spiral cut ham and the casseroles that you don't recognize but you take a dollup because someone you love made it. There will be mac and cheese, so the kids have something to eat. And yes, someone will bring the buckets of chicken, because someone has to. It wouldn't be Christmas without it.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, grew up in the potluck culture. I, too, have had experiences where I was appalled at what other brought to a potluck. So I definitely feel your pain. I guess one thing I would say is that you may find more of the familiar potluck culture alive in Boy Scouts -- at least, I have. And another place where it still seems to thrive, somewhat, is in churches. BTW, your casserole looks EXCELLENT!
    Susan

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