• Publishers' Note Fall 2010

    Publishers' Note Fall 2010

    When we think of what a traditional Thanksgiving might have looked like, many of us may conjure up images of Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting around a communal table enjoying a shared harvest meal. We’re not sure who fabricated this idealized scenario, but even though it lingers with us to this day, its likelihood is doubtful. Actually, it was Abraham Lincoln who declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, as a way to raise people’s spirits during the long Civil War.

    Continue Reading

  • Squeezing Out Some Sunshine

    Squeezing Out Some Sunshine

    Many of our food plants have a rich and fascinating history, but few are as utterly loveable as the sunflower. These plants actually seem to have a personality and are often described as smiling faces or nodding heads. A field of them is a bit like a gathered crowd. Beautiful and artsy when in bloom, tastefully useful when gone to seed, and surrounded by an aura of cheerfulness and childlike playfulness—sunflowers are pretty easy to love.

    Continue Reading

  • Pick Your Own...

    Pick Your Own...

    The road leading to Dwight Miller & Son Orchards in Dummerston is far off the beaten path. For decades, visitors have driven down the road on crisp, fall days to spend time picking Golden Delicious, Cortland, Empire, and Macoun apples from trees that date back to the late 1800s. They’ve gone to this orchard—one of Vermont’s oldest—to pick for themselves, or maybe for their families or friends.

    Continue Reading

  • Set the Table with Nuts

    Set the Table with Nuts

    The case for local nuts. No, I’m not talking about your odd mother-in-law, your bizarre ex-boyfriend, or that whacko who expresses herself, extensively, at town meeting. And I don’t mean aficionados or extremely enthusiastic people. I mean those portable nuggets of nutrition, held aloft by tree limbs. A nut, technically speaking, is a big seed enclosed by a hard shell. And even though you’re now fantasizing about almond and macadamia instead of weirdo and diehard, I’m here to tell you about what nuts we can grow in Vermont, and why.

    Continue Reading

  • Cookbooks, Culture,  and Community

    Cookbooks, Culture, and Community

    The case for local nuts. No, I’m not talking about your odd mother-in-law, your bizarre ex-boyfriend, or that whacko who expresses herself, extensively, at town meeting. And I don’t mean aficionados or extremely enthusiastic people. I mean those portable nuggets of nutrition, held aloft by tree limbs. A nut, technically speaking, is a big seed enclosed by a hard shell. And even though you’re now fantasizing about almond and macadamia instead of weirdo and diehard, I’m here to tell you about what nuts we can grow in Vermont, and why.

    Continue Reading

  • The Spirit of  Thanksgiving Past

    The Spirit of Thanksgiving Past

    When Vermont families sat down to Thanksgiving spreads a hundred years ago, their turkeys were a whole different animal. Quite literally. They were beautiful birds whose radiant feathers displayed hues of deep reddish brown, bronze, pure white, iridescent charcoal, or houndstooth patterns of black and white. Mobile and small, they were very distant cousins to the huge, white turkeys that fill supermarket coolers today.

    Continue Reading

  • PYO Apples

    PYO Apples

    What better fun on a cool fall day than to head out and pick your own apples! Here's a listing of orchards to visit.

    Continue Reading

  • Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    A strong regional food system—one in which the people of a region are participating in their own food production in both sustaining and sustainable ways—is community based. As much as this system grows food, it grows people, encouraging relationships of collaboration and mutual aid, respect and care. No longer at war with nature and each other, unburdened by that ancient power relationship of us over them, and having given up the self-destructive effort to control life, people actively work with life in a community-based food system. In this way, they practice “relational agriculture,” building the social fabric that leads to a truly sustainable food system for all.

    Continue Reading

  • Farmers' Kitchen—Rabbit Revival

    Farmers' Kitchen—Rabbit Revival

    Rabbits, they say, are the new chicken. They’re small, fast growing, feed efficiently, and are lower in fat and higher in protein than any other meat, yet you don’t see them much on Vermont farms. Why is that? The few rabbits raised in Vermont are literally out of sight, as in raised indoors, tightly caged and strictly dieted. That method didn’t suit our style of farming, so when we started with rabbits we raised them in chicken tractors, moving them to fresh grass twice daily. (Pasturing rabbits increases the omega fats in their meat.) But even though they were outdoors and on pasture, we still weren’t satisfied.

    Continue Reading

  • Last Morsel—On Potlucks

    Last Morsel—On Potlucks

    I realize that the potluck is the quintessential Vermont meal: Yankee frugality combined with communal creativity. When my partner and I combined households and invited everyone we knew to celebrate with us, there was no way we were going to cook for 75 people. Friends brought spinach dip, chocolate chip cookies, and strawberries straight from their garden. That was the best kind of potluck—not just because we saved ourselves a whole lot of money and labor, but because everyone brought a little bit of their home to christen ours.

    Continue Reading

  • Spare the Turkeys

    Spare the Turkeys

    We asked our readers for Thanksgiving menu suggestions. Pat McGovern from the Upper Valley Localvores responded with this turkeyless feast. Here's a way to celebrate the harvest and give thanks and make a few turkeys happy at the same time.

    Continue Reading

Last Morsel—On Potlucks

Potluck Table

Written By

Sylvia Fagin

Written on

September 01 , 2010

I realize that the potluck is the quintessential Vermont meal: Yankee frugality combined with communal creativity. When my partner and I combined households and invited everyone we knew to celebrate with us, there was no way we were going to cook for 75 people. Friends brought spinach dip, chocolate chip cookies, and strawberries straight from their garden. That was the best kind of potluck—not just because we saved ourselves a whole lot of money and labor, but because everyone brought a little bit of their home to christen ours.

But it was not a meal. It was not dinner. Earlier this year I resolved to host fewer potlucks, and more dinners.

Dinner is a meal to be savored. It is an opportunity to linger. Dinner is a time to come together around one table, one meal, one conversation. The midwinter dinner I hosted last year, when the chicken took forever to cook and we all passed the time by revealing our most embarrassing travel incidents, has become a sacred part of my story canon. When I meet those dinner guests on the street, we share a special bond.

We had dinner together.

By contrast, a potluck often ends up with people talking one-on-one rather than as a whole, feeling isolated in a crowded room. And the food is frequently a mish-mash of offerings never meant to share a plate. “I can’t tell you how many potlucks I’ve been to that were just corn chips, salsa, and cider,” a friend said when I mentioned my potluck manifesto. It was not a compliment.

I’ve been to potlucks where I sampled delicious dishes and begged for the recipe, where through inexplicable magic the ratio of main dishes to salads to desserts worked out perfectly. I’ve also eaten from plenty of tables laden with baguettes and store-bought hummus with nary a vegetable to be found, and left stuffed but not satisfied.

That is not a chance I want to take when I invite friends for dinner. I want a meal that is cohesive, thoughtful, and satisfying. I want the food to provoke and sustain conversation. And I want to create an evening that we’ll all remember—a gift to our friendship, if you will.

I also want it to be affordable, leave some room in my day for something besides cooking, and preserve the communal spirit of a potluck. To that end, I’ve recently served some meals that don’t break the bank, but still involve guests as co-creators: the host provides a centerpiece dish and guests bring the sides and accoutrements. Here are a few:

Roasting a chicken is one of the easiest and most impressive things you can do in the kitchen. Ask each guest to bring their family’s version of salad, roast potatoes, or dessert.

Tacos are a perennial favorite at my house. They’ve got a comfort-food quality, and are especially great for kids who can make theirs exactly the way they want. We serve local ground pork, and Vermont Butter and Cheese crème fraîche instead of sour cream. Have guests bring tortillas, beans, meat, or rice, then have them grate cheese or chop tomatoes. Add a piñata if it’s a birthday!

Around the world, many families eat a version of rice and beans at least once a day. Search for a recipe from a place you dream of visiting. Indian daal might be one such dish—yellow or red lentils simmered with curry spices and served over aromatic basmati rice. Guests can bring flavorful chutneys (“pickle”) like mango, mint, and tamarind; a bunch of bright green cilantro for garnishing; naan bread; steamed vegetables; or sweet rice pudding.

Pizza is another meal that’s easy to personalize. Buy frozen or fresh pizza dough (or make your own from local whole wheat flour) and invite guests to bring their favorite toppings. Award prizes for the most outlandish combinations.

Rolling sushi (technically, makizushi) is a fun skill to practice with friends. You’ll need some special equipment and the willingness to eat your mistakes. If raw fish isn’t your thing, stick to marinated tofu and vegetables like asparagus, avocado, carrots, and mushrooms. Guests can bring pickled ginger, wasabi, and the nori sheets that hold it all together.

When the year started, I wasn’t sure how my no-more-potlucks resolution would pan out. It’s been a wonderful change. Choreographing cohesive meals has nurtured my inner Julia Child and resulted in stronger relationships. Because dinners have been smaller, the conversations have been more intimate. And some people are now closer friends precisely because we had the chance to sit down together around one table, around one conversation, around one special meal—dinner.

About the Author

Sylvia Fagin

Sylvia Fagin

Sylvia Fagin writes about food and agriculture from her home in Montpelier. To make sure that Vic, Marianne and the Bobs were making wine correctly, she recently took a tour of the Calchaquíes Valley winemaking region of northwestern Argentina. She is happy to report that they are right on track. Contact Sylvia via Twitter: @sylviafagin.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest. Optional login below.

What we do

A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

Connect

Sign up for quarterly notifications and issue highlights.
Please wait