I’ve hosted an annual holiday cookie swap quite a few times over the last decade or so, and while I liked it well enough I also noticed that it became increasingly difficult to coordinate a date that worked well for those I wanted to invite, mostly because the December calendar is chock-a-bloc full by the middle of November.
Instead, I began thinking about how fun and practical it would be to rally my girlfriends at another time of the year. Maybe in February when the dull days of winter take over, or in September when canning season is at its peak and jars are being filled with the best of the season’s bounty. There is no written rule that states that food swaps can only be done with cookies, so why not gather your friends to come together to share and swap handmade condiments and baked goods, or store-bought specialties they can’t live without instead?
Things to swap might include a favourite granola or pancake mix, flavoured boozy beverages, finishing salts, homemade oven-roasted pizza sauce, or that sea salt you find at your favourite grocery store that you just can’t live without. Regardless of what you decide to share, you won’t regret having an opportunity to enjoy an afternoon or evening with like-minded bakers, canners, cooks, and food makers at a casual gathering that requires very little to coordinate. Here are my best tips for hosting a pantry or preserving party this fall:
- Choose a date and send invitations via email, an e-vite or Facebook group. While old-fashioned paper and post invites are pretty, the former allows guests to share which pantry item they’ll be bringing, which helps to avoid duplicates, and provides people with a way to keep track of how many invitees are coming so they will know how much food is required.
- Keep in mind that while weekends are a great time for hosting parties for a large crowd, this gathering is ideal for a casual weeknight get-together if it’s with a small group. Guests will appreciate that there isn’t a huge time commitment involved.
- Ask friends to bring one food item per person in attendance, plus an extra for sampling, if appropriate. This format works well if there are less than 12 people participating. If you’re inviting a larger group (15 or more) ask guests to bring 12 items total. Request that guests only take as much as they brought (for example, if someone brings 10 jars of jelly they leave with 10 new food items). Ask guests to bring a copy of their recipe if the item they are sharing is homemade; also, be sure to insist that the items being swapped travel well in order to avoid breakage and spilling on the trip home.
- Set up a long table for guests to put their goods on. Provide a small station fitted with assorted labels and pens in case some of the guests forget to label their items.
- This is one of the easiest gatherings to host since the guests provide most of the food. As the host, provide a simple cheese and cracker tray for nibbling and/or pairing with any condiments that are available for tasting. Keep small plates and tasting utensils available for sampling the other goods. The host is also in charge of providing the beverages. For an afternoon event, coffee, tea, homemade sodas, and hot chocolate are nice options. For the evening, consider offering wine or Prosecco as well.
There you have it! The easiest party you can host this season is also one of the simplest, because the guests provide the entertainment and even some of the food. Tell us, do you participate in any food swaps? What are some of your favourite goods to exchange with your friends?