The end of potluck dinner as we know it
This is because today I participated in another potluck meal situation in which most people that bothered (many cried, “oh darn I forgot” before digging in) only brought a bag of chips or box of cookies.
It was for my office — ideally not the best place for gourmand participation — that I made a decadent recipe for baked macaroni and cheese which I learned to make back in 1999. I used my good panko breadcrumbs and garlic for a topper, a sharp white cheddar cheese with heavy cream and ground mustard.
There have been other cases I’ve observed at summer parties in which guests are asked to bring a dish to pass and arrive either empty-handed or with paltry offerings. A few still do make actual food from scratch, but for most others it just seems like they were missing the point.
In a recent interview on American Public Media, writer Barbara Kingsolver mentions that while the feminist movement worked to liberate women from the kitchen, it also gave the false impression that slaving over a stove was being a slave to something. In the end, we forgot how to cook and provide for others in our community.
Before everyone gets defensive (“hey, I know how to cook you jerk”), I don’t mean that we’ve lost the ability to follow a recipe or know different food tastes as made by our own creative hands. Maybe you make a mean chili, or a perfect peach pie, or have just learned to make a tasty stir-fry with tofu and veggies.
Instead, what I mean is that the consistency of making dinner four or five days a week has vanished. Much of our food is fast, it is catered, it is pre-packaged, and it is meant to be eaten by only a few people at a time.
Taking a prepared flash-frozen meal out and microwaving it as per instruction doesn’t count as cooking. Also, having an appreciation for the slow food movement and yet sampling it at a restaurant instead of from your own garden or pantry does NOT count either.
Back in 1978, I remember attending a potluck dinner in my hometown parish hall. Stretched out on four tables was casserole after casserole, meats and potatoes, green beans and Jell-O molds. If 200 people showed up, 100 of those people made enough for eight people each.
It was much more anonymous and fulfilling than what you see today, in which someone who prepares a recipe they’ve read are just glad it turned out to be edible and points it out to the guests.
The corningware dish creations here were often made by people in my current demographic. The smells weren’t foreign (no curry in Southeastern Wisconsin farm communities back then) or greatly varied, but instead savory and sedating. It was beautiful in its simplicity and taste without sacrifice to wholesomeness or flavor.
I’ll continue to bring a dish to pass at parties, and obey the unwritten etiquette expected of providers when “Potluck!” is called. I will not call attention to my offering and I will make enough for everybody. I don’t expect anyone to follow me.