I’d like to think that I’m not all that particular about my food. I’m pretty adventurous in my eating habits, and will happily (if sometimes squeamishly) tuck into strange parts of strange animals if they’re proferred in my general direction. Blood, guts and entrails are all happily welcomed on the Brit Out Of Water menu, even if I do draw the line at tripe. Put simply, I’m not a picky eater – invite me to your house and I’ll eat whatever is put infront of me.
As it happens, the few things that I don’t particularly like to eat are central to the American way of life. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t generally eat eggs. This means that on the average breakfast menu in a diner, the only item that I can sometimes bring myself to eat is the menu itself. It’s fine if you put steak sauce all over it, to be honest, although I’ve had to give up laminated menus because of high blood pressure.
I don’t eat beetroot. I don’t desperately enjoy (although will still eat) bitter greens like broccoli rabe. And while not unique to the United States, I’d rather put pureed head lice on my burger than ketchup. Apart from that though, I’m the most laid back eater you’ll ever find.
Where my culinary openness ends though is with an American tradition that shakes me to my core, and causes me to shudder at the mere thought. It’s only in season for a short period each year thankfully, but during that time you can find yourself in food hell at least once a week. Turning it down isn’t an option, unless you want to adopt an air of anti-festivity that would make Bernard Madoff look like the people’s champion by comparison.
There’s no place for potluck dinners in this day and age, if you ask me.
For the uninitiated, the potluck dinner sees all attendees bring a dish of their choosing to the event, for everybody to share and enjoy. It’s an impressive display of community which generally happens around the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday seasons, although the seriously unhinged have been known to try it at other points during the year. And to be fair, the principle is good, allowing the party host to engage in festive frivolities without the stress and strain of making food for dozens of people.
But the problem isn’t in the principle, it’s in the execution.
For a start, unless the potluck is organised to within an inch of its life, it can lead to some unholy combinations. I mean, pumpkin curry has its place, but it’s not on the same plate as roast chicken. Of course, there’s always somebody who brings their old family recipe for stuffing, made largely from dust and toenail clippings. And who needs eighteen different types of pumpkin pie, given that even one plate of the noxious substance would be enough to keep me dry retching for at least a week?
More to the point though, it’s the lack of clarity on the food hygiene standards of eighty three different people that sets me on edge. Let’s face it, these events are only called ‘potluck’ as it’s anyone’s guess whether you’ll get away without a serious dose of food poisoning. I mean, I know that I cook in clean pans and don’t use carrots that have been dropped on the floor to be licked by the cats, but that’s not to say that everybody is so fastidious. As I stare into the gloop of a lukewarm turkey gravy cooked by Andy Onymous, I’m not thinking “mmm, look at that glorious deep and flavourful stock” but “I wonder if he had a cold when he cooked this?”
I spend most of my time at potluck parties standing around the thing that I’ve cooked, or that’s been catered by the host. I know caterers are more than capable of their own crimes against domestic health, but at least I haven’t sat watching them pick their nose on eight separate occasions in the three days leading up to the event.
Still, the potlucks are all over for another year, and it’s home cooking all the way from here on in. I hope The In-Laws are looking forward to black pudding, that’s all I can say.