If “The Potluck” were on Facebook, I would not become a fan.
Let’s just get it out there: People bring some pretty heinous food to potlucks. There are always your requisite casseroles made with unidentified ground meat and cream of mushroom soup, topped off with chips or Cheetos or something weird. (Sometimes, I secretly enjoy those.) But the worst, I think, is the Jell-o things.
I kid you not, this weekend I went to a potluck and there was a strawberry, Jell-o, cream cheese, Cool Whip, and pretzel ‘salad.’ (Who in the 1950’s decided that anything made with Jell-o and fruit constitutes a salad? Sounds to me like a Kraft Foods conspiracy to get ‘jigglers’ on the food pyramid.)
Anyway, I would love it if someone could explain the etymology of this word to me. I get that most things arrive in pots, but I need a little help with the whole “luck” factor. Maybe it’s because you’re lucky if someone actually brings something good? Or perhaps you’re lucky if you manage to leave feeling satisfied?
I didn’t say full, I said satisfied. That’s my biggest beef with potlucks—I always leaving feeling bloated and gross because I’ve tried fourteen small portions of cream- and noodle-based concoctions in order to find something I like—with or without success. At which point I usually stock up on iceberg salad with Kraft Italian dressing so that the whole evening doesn’t feel like a complete nutritional waste.
Of course when the desserts are unveiled the whole process of “find something yummy” starts all over again—usually with a better, though even more filling, outcome.
There is also a certain level of anxiety that comes with going to a potluck. Some people insist on standing by their dish and trying to “sell” it to me. It’s not a telemarketer—I can’t say no! And sometimes they plop their weird creation right on top of the precious pile of mac’ and cheese I managed to snag that actually looks good!
And then there’s the whole issue of what I brought. Are people eating it? Do they like it? Are they going back for seconds? Am I going to be the one who has to take home a full pan of food? Because that would be embarrassing.
It is too much to ask not to eat a food-collage for dinner? I just want to plan, or attend a meal that has a little continuity. Paella? Spanish wine? Manchego cheese? Yes, please.
Andie Reid says
I always scour the table for the mac and cheese, which someone is always kind enough to bring. Anything else goopy gets left behind. Can’t believe someone made a Jell-O dish. I haven’t seen one in 20 years at a potluck!
This describes my thought process about pot lucks PERFECTLY! I couldn’t agree more, especially about being full but not satisfied.
My strategy now is to make and take something I really like and fill up the rest of the plate with salad.
Maggy Keet says
Sharon this post is an “it’s funny because it’s true” kind of thing. I most identify as the self-conscious potluck attendant. Do people like my food? Will I have to bring home an entire bowl of potato salad at the end of the BBQ? There’s no way I’d try to sell it to people.
If you’re holding a potluck, it might work to give attendants a broad theme, it would certainly help narrow down the randomness. But you don’t want to eliminate the potential “luck” element. Specifying “Spanish” may be difficult for some people. I know how to make a great stew, but Spanish cuisine is not my area of expertise. Maybe just say – no Jello or creamed soups 🙂
Also, I must say a word about the recipe. It’s quick and delicious. We had this prepped and in the oven in the time it took to boil water and cook the shells. Perfect for a potluck, perfect as a weeknight dinner with a salad. Nothing so good for the soul as a plate of mac and cheese. The parsley is a must.
It may be an age thing or who our friends are, but our pot luck get togethers tend to be adventures in great eating. Part of it may be that we’re talking about 3 or 4 couples getting together with everyone responsible for a course – hors d’oeuvres, salad, dessert with the host usually doing the entree and sides. But the church supper or soccer team banquet version, with a wider mix of guests can become a culinary free for all with widely diverse standards and skill sets. And then, yes, over eating is a risk!
After reading this, I went on a google search for the origins of the word potluck, and I found this article http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1426/whats-the-origin-of-potluck, which credited the origins of the potluck to the practice in medieval times of not throwing away leftovers and keeping them warm in the pot to feed people on short notice. So they basically got the “luck of the pot”.
One thing that always bothers me at potlucks is all the ooey gooey creamy food. Everyone sees fit to bring their most creamy decadent dish, or they all want to bring desert. I agree, I usually leave potlucks feeling bloated and nauseous.
Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) says
Add in the challenge of finding food without meat (I’m a vegetarian) and I end up eating lots of heavy starches and very little else.
I’m with you. Potlucks are a strange phenomenon.
I always assumed “pot luck” came from the Native American tradition called “Potlatch,” but last week when my boss and I looked it up (I know, I know, I get sidetracked from work.), it didn’t come from that origin. But, I still think it should.
I am not a fan of jello salads, but you are missing out by shunning the strawberry pretzel one! Think of it as dessert: an icebox dessert with a pretzel crust and that irresistible salty/sweet combo. We make it with whipped cream rather than cool whip, though.
“Snicker’s SALAD”. I love the fact that whoever came up with this bowl of dreamy creamy deliciousness decided to call it a salad!
HILARIOUS! My hubby hates potlucks, he grew going to them and only eating what his mom brought. It freaked him out too much. I am dreading an office party potluck next week…I wish they would at lease assign a theme to it-mexican, italian whatever just anything so I don’t have to eat 4 different genres in a meal…
Girls! You have to come back to a Trinity Pot Luck sometime (next one is in May)! They are fabulous and jello free. While I imagine I have been to one like you described years and years ago, as of late we have been having them at Trinity and they really have been fantastic. But then you remember the cooks in the Solebury area – not your Kraft Foods variety.
Potlucks. Flashbacks to when I was knee high to a grasshopper. I remember peering at the nasty array of casseroles and meat or meat product loaves and funky salads at church gatherings. No luck involved what so ever. Unless someone brought store bought dinner rolls, then I was in business. Goooooooooooooo carbs!
I’m honestly kind of tired of hearing people complain about potlucks. I personally enjoy trying out new foods, even if they’re not something I would eat for a normal, everyday meal. Once in a while, it’s not appalling to eat a casserole made with cream-of-chicken soup or a salad made with Jell-O. Turn up your nose if you will, but I kind of enjoy these nostalgic potluck foods. I also have a long list of foods I’d like to cook, but some are not all that healthy or they make such a big batch that a potluck is a great opportunity to make them. Some people really don’t like to cook at all, and coming up with something to bring to a potluck can be a challenge, so perhaps instead of all the foodies griping, we could blog about good things we’ve had at potlucks and perhaps that would better serve to save the luck-less potluck.
I’ve been to my share of pot lucks — my husband always comes up to me and nonchalantly whispers in my ear — “What did you make?” and he fills his plate with that. For me, I LOVE trying out my luck – a little taste of this and that. Will definitely try the shells and cheese, Sharon.
You nailed it Sharon! Recipe looks like a keeper. Trying it tonight for dinner!
Oh wow that Jello salad sounds disastrous! Hope you have better luck with your next potluck.
You must not be southern! Our church potlucks (in the deep south anyway) always include Fried Chicken, Biscuits, Brownies and if we are really lucky, someone went to Krispy Kreme! Of course there is a pot of something w/cream of fill in the blank and a jello dish – but you can’t do away with tradition entirely. I remember once I took a bowl of chopped iceberg and a bottle of ranch (my children were stuck to my knees or attached to my hip during this part of my life). I was teased endlessly about not even grating a carrot in it for color, but when all the moms told their kids they had to have one veggie on their plate, they flocked to the plain ole iceberg and not a leaf was left. So I still consider it a success!
I am at the end of my first quarter at the Art Institute of Seattle for Culinary Arts. On finals week we have to completely scrub down our kitchen so it is perfect and shiny. We are the last class of the day and week so we should have it pretty easy….except our chef wants to turn it into a potluck. UNFORTUNATELY, most of us work or have classes before that class so I’m not looking forward to what we will be eating! And I have tried most people’s foods and only a handful shine! I wish the chef’s would just do something special for us! lol