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Potlucks: A Veritable Smorgasbord

11/19/10 5:55PM
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Marie Ritche


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This second episode in our weekly series, The VPR Table provides an in depth look at the beloved Vermont potluck. When it's squash season, how do you decide what to bring to share with neighbors and friends?  This VPR program offers inspiration and practical advice to all of us who prepare food and enjoy eating. Listen Friday at 5:55pm during All Things Considered or Saturday at 8:55am during Weekend Edition.


Vermont may have more cooperative spirit than any other state in the country. We shop at coop markets, send our kids to coop day care centers, and bank at credit unions. Our cooperative spirit extends even to the dinner table.

Hence: the pot-luck.

            The words "pot luck" were first welded together in Elizabethan England, when they were use to describe a last-minute guest taking "the luck of the pot." The phrase took on its current meaning - of a communal meal - in 19th century America. In fact,  1879, the New York Times described a "pot luck picnic" that was  sort of like a cook-off, in which guests were challenged to produce their best dishes: gumbo, lobster cutlets, plum pudding and more.

            At your next pot-luck, take a tip from the 19th century: and bring something with pizzazz!  Face it, bringing your dish home with food still in it is the culinary "walk of shame."  Don't worry about pleasing the children; You want the kind of dish that at least one adult will want the recipe for. And avoid the same-old same old. Does any dinner really need another bowl of sesame noodles?

            It's okay to be cheap. Since the general rule is to bring enough food to feed twice the number of people in your party, it makes sense to count pennies. Oysters Rockefeller get pricey. Roasted vegetables from your garden do not..                 But...Speaking of your garden; go easy on the obvious seasonal picks. Remember the potluck where nearly everyone brought something made of rhubarb...or zucchini...or beets?

            My own go-to pot luck dish is a wild rice salad. It's  a better-than-the-sum of its parts  mix of wild and white rice, tomatoes, almonds, raisins, and hot peppers. Someone ALWAYS asks for the recipe.

            The only problem with it is: I never want to share.

You' find the recipe below - and please - post your own potluck favorite.

Next week on The VPR Table - a big bowl of popcorn



1 and 1/2 cups cup wild rice, rinsed OR 3/4 cup wild rice and 3/4 cup white rice

water as needed (to cook rice)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup pitted black Greek (Kalamata) olives

1 cup raisins

3 bottled hot cherry peppers, drained, seeded and chopped

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved if necessary

salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds or toasted whole hazelnuts

 Cook the rice according to package directions; do not add any salt or butter. If you use all wild rice, the salad will have a very deep, robust, nutty flavor.  The salad made with half white rice is a bit milder (my family prefers it).

Remove rice from heat and add vinegar and oil.  Mix well. At this point you can refrigerate the mixture for several hours or overnight.

Just before serving, toss in the remaining ingredients. Serve at room temperature.               

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

This recipe was adapted from an old Craig Claiborne recipe that appeared in the New York Times in the early 1980s.



Marialisa Calta is a nationally syndicated columnist, food editor and cookbook author. For her latest book, "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the Modern American Family" Marialisa traveled around the country interviewing working parents about the whys and hows of getting food on the table.


potluck marialisa_calta the_vermont_table dinner food special arts health
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