So besides Christmas music and holiday movies, the virtues of both I extolled in my last column, one of the other things I love about the holidays is the holiday potluck.
A good Midwestern girl, I love a good potluck. The best potlucks are those where there's a good mix of ages, genders and cultures, but I have to say women of a certain age make the best potluck dishes. They're the ones who haul in the crock pot for their fabulous meatballs or legendary crab dip, grabbing the primo spot on the buffet table. Don't dare move it; they earned that spot, darn it. Work around them.
These women usually have a cache of casseroles in their potluck repertoire but tend to have a signature dish that they've perfected over decades' worth of gatherings. My mother-in-law, for instance, passed down her recipe for Sausage Slices in Mustard that my husband and I have made 100 times if we've made it once for our work potlucks. Though she admits she got the recipe out of a magazine, it's still "Darlene Nordberg's Sausage Slices in Mustard." Ownership is based on where we got it, not where they got it, hence our recipe book is filled with entries of "Tina Mitchell's Ribbon Jell-o," "Judy Monticello's Reception Salad, "Sue Scanlan's Marinated Mushrooms" and "Ramona Backman's Cheesy Wild Rice Soup." Ramona and I both know she passed on the recipe from "Taste of Home" magazine, but to me, it reminds me of the first time we visited Ramona and her family on a cold winter's day at their house, then under construction, and I tried, without success, to teach Ramona to knit. I have made that soup many times, often for potlucks, and wonder whether Ramona ever found a better knitting teacher.
That isn't to say men don't contribute - you don't see many women bringing bear soup or venison sausage to a potluck, both of which are darn good fare, I tell you. And some of the best bread ever to grace a potluck table is Harley Sachs' limpa, a distinctly Swedish flavorful bread I haven't had in some years.
I appreciate the people who bring hot dishes to potlucks. It's harder to think about having to keep something hot than to bring a cold appetizer, but especially in winter, the hot dish is the soul of the potluck. This is true of hot drinks, too, particularly cider or hot cranberry juice. Yum.
Holiday potlucks are special because of two things. First, the dessert table. I can skip all the salads, as enticing as they are, and would be happy with just meatballs in grape jelly sauce (someone always brings that, thank goodness) and a variety of desserts. I love when kids bring sugar cookies they've decorated themselves to a potluck. Maybe Santa Claus does have a purple and green suit that he wears on St. Urho's or St. Patrick's Day, who's to say? Frosting of any color tastes good to me, and I subscribe to the universal kids' mantra that the more sprinkles, the better. Kids' contributions sure make the buffet table look pretty.
The second thing I love about a holiday potluck is the dishware. Seriously. As much as the variety of food, I love admiring all the containers displaying the food. I had the good fortune to attend a holiday potluck this week and it was a beautiful sight to behold. The slow cooker was ca. 1975, I'm pretty sure, and it was surrounded by a beautiful assortment of crystal candy dishes and relish trays that probably don't see the light of day in everyday life. There was a time when people gave fancy glass candy dishes as wedding or shower presents, but I think that time, sadly, has passed. Nine times out of 10, if you ask at the potluck where the dish came from, not just the food, you'll get a good story, and I do love a good story.
With the exception of a good Lutheran Church potluck, I have heard, I also think the jell-o salad, sadly, is heading out of favor. When I see ambrosia at the buffet table, it's a good potluck. If you get to a potluck early enough when the food is still coming in, there's always a tussle between the person who brought the Jell-o dish and the person who places it on the table as to whether it's a dessert or a salad. It's pretty comical to watch, and I'm sure it means a great deal to the person who took the time to make the Jell-o, but I don't care where you put it, I'm still going to eat it. Unless it has vegetables in it disguised as fruit. That's just mean and hurtful.
So bring on the baked beans, ham roll-ups and the deviled eggs. It's the most wonderful time of the year for potluck.
Jane Nordberg can be reached at jnordberg@ mininggazette.com.