The (pot)luck of the draw

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

With age comes a more intimate understanding of the events and happenings of adult life. Potluck dinners are one of those events that seemed to occur out of thin air as a kid, and which now require forethought and active participation. Gripes about responsibility and long-lost casserole pans aside, it’s potluck season, and these iconic family gatherings deserve their due.

Photo courtesy Unsplash.

The term potluck was first used in the 16th century to mean whatever is available to eat or whatever is already in the pot when an unexpected guest arrived around mealtime. It’s also been used as a catch-all term for taking a chance when faced with unknown options.

Potluck gained its modern meaning — a gathering to which attendees bring a dish to share — sometime in the 19th century.

While a true, traditionally defined potluck is free of pre-planning and depends completely on fate to determine whether the buffet table fills up with only desserts or a smattering of various potato salad recipes, I tend to take the “luck” out of my own potlucks.

This usually begins with an innocent group text message to everyone attending the get-together, sent about a week in advance: “I’ll be providing the main dish, please let me know what you’ll be bringing!”

This allows me to know what else I might need to prepare, and prevents potato-salad overlap. The quicker you respond, the higher likelihood you can bring your signature dish before someone else snags it.

If all goes according to plan, a couple of family matriarchs will volunteer to churn out the more demanding staples like macaroni salad and coleslaw, while aunts, uncles, siblings and friends offer up various sweets and finger foods.

Of course, there is always one cheeky sibling quick to reply in the group message: “I’ll bring myself,” accompanied by a sly smiling or winking emoji. Cute — now please, for the love of all that is edible, just bring some chips or something.

When I’m not the host, I tend to jump on a dessert option. Peanut butter cookies or a crisp of some kind are my easy crowd pleasers, but seeing as my backyard has become somewhat of a favorite location for such events, I more often find myself buying hot dogs, buns and plastic cutlery in bulk. 

Despite the planning, stress and frantic serving-spoon-searching it takes to get to dishing up, I’ve never met a potluck table I didn’t like. As long as there’s a deviled egg and a slice of dessert with my name on it, potluck success has been achieved.

That’s because in the end, no matter what types of food might have made its way from the kitchens of loved ones onto my mid-shelf paper plates, it’s the people I sit down to eat it with who matter. 

Yes, even the sister who brings nothing but herself — I can only hope she one day has a backyard of her own, where I’ll arrive with Doritos in hand.

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