Monday, December 14, 2009

Weekend Report: Potluck Fatstorm

The predominant theme of my weekend was holiday potluck. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some potluck. A potluck is pretty much a buffet (which ranks just above art museums, but slightly below Christmas – more on par with pumpkin - on a list of things I love), so yes, count me in!

In the words of LLC via email: “Potluck = fatstorm?” Yes, yes it does. Because, as Mer so succinctly put it, “At a potluck, you’re eating small things, so you think you’re not getting enough, but then everything is full of cheese and bacon and chocolate, and you end up eating way too much.” Amen friend. Story of my life.

Especially this weekend.  I went to a dessert Christmas party on Friday night (amazing mint chocolate brownies – I ate three – don’t judge), and then a holiday potluck on Sunday (where the dinner food to cookies ratio was way in the favor of cookies).

Sugar coma. To the max. Roll me somewhere please. 

So what is the deal with potlucks? 

It seems like every holiday season, the potluck is the party of choice. It saves hosts a lot of stress – all they need to provide is a location, and the guests bring the rest. This can be good and bad (e.g. the aforementioned uneven food ratios).

How to be a good potluck guest? It's simple: bring food. I've told you before, I'm a great guest. I hate mingling, but I can fake it pretty well, and just invite me - I'll bring something yummy!

How to be a bad guest? You guessed it: Don't bring food. Too many people assume other people will bring something and just go to mooch. (I’m a huge fan of mooching in general, but really, a potluck without enough food is just a sad sad story. I mean the least you can do is stop by TJs and bring some sparkling cider!)

But what about the history of the tradition? 

For some reason I feel like potlucks come from Inuit culture. I don’t know why I think that - it’s one of those vague memories of fun facts that get mixed up in my head.


According to this "Food Timeline" article,

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the term "potluck" in print to the 16th century:
"Potluck. One's luck or chance as to what may be in the pot, i.e. cooked for a meal: used in reference to a person accepting another's hospitality at a meal without any special preparation having been made for him; chiefly in phr. to take pot-luck. 1592 Nash Four Lett. Confut. Ded., "That that pure sanguine complexion of yours may never be famisht with pot luck."

"Take potluck. To take what is offered to you...Unannounced guests who show up at a friend's home at dinnertime are likely to be invited to stay for dinner by are reminded that they will have to take potluck, i.e., to eat whatever the family is eating.”

“In the West "potluck" meant food brought by a cowboy guest to put in the communal pot."

So literally potluck means to take your luck with a pot. Simple, literal. Not really what I expected. Is this common knowledge? Am I just out of the loop?

But wait, I was right about the possible indigenous roots! A Google of “potlatch” gives me this:

The potlatch is a festival or ceremony practiced among Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. At these gatherings a family or hereditary leader hosts guests in their family's house and holds a feast for their guests. The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth.

At a potlatch, guests bring food and gifts, and usually the host sponsors dancing and other traditional ceremonies.

So is the word potlatch anglicized into potluck?

Wikipedia says no.

"The word "potluck" is commonly believed to have come from English origin. It is frequently associated with Potlatch n., although it is unlikely that this played any part in the development of potluck to mean a communal meal to which those invited all bring a dish to share (OED)."


Oh well. Whatever you call it, I hope you enjoy many fat-stormy potlucks this holiday season!

If you need recipe inspiration, I suggest you first check out my Cakes of the Week. And also the Things I Want list to your left.