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Distracted Dining: Planned potlucks - ain’t no such thing!

In this DD, Nancy reminisces about authentic potlucks and how the rules of the eating game have changed

Let’s have a planned potluck. What? That’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. Ain’t no such thing as a planned potluck. I’m here to set the record straight.

I grew up in the small farming community of Alberton, Ont. Every dad did chores; kept a freezer full of beef; planted the one acre garden and the boys helped with all the ‘outside chores’. Every mom baked and made everything from scratch; harvested the one acre garden; picked, preserved and pickled anything and the girls helped with the ‘house’ chores. Households were lucky to have an indoor toilet and potlucks at the church were a thing of bountiful beauty. I can hardly believe I lived through that to tell about it. It seems like a different world now that I’m a city girl.

Thinking of the good old days (not always), I have to say the terminology planned potluck is still foreign to me. There is or was nothing planned about a potluck meal of any kind.
So what exactly is a potluck? Straight from google - the term is used in reference to a situation in which one must take a chance that whatever is available will prove to be good or acceptable.

I can only say by definition, Alberton’s potlucks were anything but good or acceptable. They were phenomenal culinary delights that pleased the palate from the starting tomato juice to the myriad of homemade pie choices and coffee at the end. We always used china plates; real knives, forks and spoons; glass glasses and mugs for coffee or tea. We were green before green was a thing. The only organization involved was what time the feast started and make sure the church was unlocked. Everyone helped with setup and cleanup and all would be home by 8 p.m. latest because 6 a.m. comes early! Church potlucks are some of my best childhood memories.

A true potluck. Only the date, time and place are planned. The rest is whatever happens, happens. Who brings what makes no never mind. Honest. That’s how a traditional potluck works. In all my years of attending true potlucks, we never ate a meal of just salad; or desserts; or veggies or meat. Somehow, someway - there was always the most creative variety of eats and drinks. Delicious delectables with great fellowship. If you didn’t like the food, you could always be distracted by the conversation. Me? I always LOVED the food. Who doesn’t like eating something lovingly homemade that you didn’t have to make!

Which brings me to my next point. Potlucks were all about the homemade. Through the evolution of a potluck gathering, the homemade factor has almost disappeared. It definitely takes away from the potluck experience if everyone shows up with pick-up KFC; Costco pre-made Caesar salad and M&Ms frozen dessert squares. To show up at a traditional potluck with pre-made anything is definitely a potluck faux pas. Don’t even start about how busy you are. I reference my upbringing above.

I experienced the first indication of mistrust in traditional potlucks when I recently saw one posted in our church bulletin. A slightly more organized potluck - people with last names starting with A-H bring salads; I-P bring main course; Q-Z bring dessert. Drinks will be provided. It was a wonderful evening of food and fellowship and I felt like some of the pressure was off when people were guided along with what to bring.

It seems we aren’t so creative these days to bring just anything to a potluck. There is much more planning involved, so I argue whether we can even call these gatherings potluck. Maybe a better name would be - cooperative dinner.

The office recently had what can only be described as a cooperative dinner. I love this name as it is so fitting describes us as we are actually David Bruce & Associates Ins/Fin Services - The Co-operators. Dave hosted, providing a beautiful venue; copious amounts of drink and steaks BBQ’d to perfection. Our office is blessed to have an organizer extraordinaire who quickly took up the challenge of ‘who brings what’ to the meal. It was a wonderful menu and it was exciting to see all the homemade elements around the table. Attendees ranged in age from early 20s to early 60s and a good time was had by all.

There’s something to be said for gathering together to dine. So many distractions, so much fun. I encourage you to try it. Be bold; be brave and plan a true potluck or, still a great option, host a cooperative dinner. Whatever you do - enjoy it all and HAPPY CANADA DAY!

Nancy Revie is a Guelph author, motivational speaker, fitness instructor and entertainer. Visit Nancy at Her column appears every other week.