I learned many invaluable lessons this summer. One was that pickling is really just boiling – shockingly simple. Who knew? Also, making jam? A breeze. I was astounded by my new-found talents. Armed with this knowledge I was able to wield jewel hued Ball jars as presents to the occasional murmur of surprise and wonder. I was filled with shimmering pride, arriving at friend’s homes with a tiny homemade gift and inspiring a sigh of appreciation and perhaps a twinge of envy in their eyes. “I can’t believe she made those,” in hushed tones from the cupboard. Oh yeah, I made the water hot.
Still, there are many other culinary gifts I’ve yet to master – like bread. I cannot bake a decent loaf of bread to save my life and I have tried. I’ve also never so much as considered a chutney or believed I had the time, inclination, or space to raise a laying hen. Luckily for me, my friends have. From airy loaves and infused olive oils, to beautifully knitted blankets and delicate jewelry, I’m surrounded by astounding talent. What better way to celebrate those talents than by arranging a gift swap?
For tips and advice about how to pull together such a gathering, I reached out to Kim Christensen, who along with Mandy Ellerton and A-K Thordin, runs the Minneapolis Food Swappers, a monthly gathering where people bring in their homemade wares to swap for others.
“Not every item has to be something amazingly over the top like at our last swap we had a woman bring in wild rice that she’d harvested herself by hand – or we also had some homemade Limoncello. It’s not necessary to go that fancy. Maybe you’re an incredible muffin maker and to you baking off a couple of dozen muffins is no big deal. To someone else they might be the most amazing muffins ever created. We have chefs to people new to cooking [who participate.]”
The Minneapolis Food Swappers group was inspired by a Brooklyn based food swap group that has since become a national movement. The Minneapolis chapter gathers once a month at Open Arms and has fast become a hot ticket for food crafty types in town. Christensen was kind enough to share her top 5 tips for a successful swap:
1. Set up lots of tables. A table can be just a board set between two chairs, but you want to have plenty of room for people to display their wares.
2. Swaps work best if it’s a one to one trade. Keep this in mind when packaging your items, cookies wrapped together by the half dozen to trade for one pint of jam. Make it clear what and how much is up for trade.
3. Print out swap sheets (available at mplsswappers.wordpress.com) The swaps usually go in two rounds, first is like a silent auction, with everyone bidding for what they like. Round two is usually assessing what you have left and what everyone else has remaining.
4. Don’t be afraid to say no to a bid, and don’t take it too personally if your bid is turned down. It’s not personal, taste is subjective. Just because someone doesn’t care for your chutney, doesn’t mean they don’t dig you.
5. Bring samples. Not only does it help you push your product, but it adds to the festive atmosphere.
The most important thing is to be aware of food safety. The gift of botulism or e. coli is nothing you want to share with friends; be clean and be careful.
C’mere Honey Butter recipe
1 stick or 1/4 lb of butter
1 Tablespoon quality honey (like Ames Farm)
1 Tablespoon organic navel orange zest
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Mix in a bowl and wrap in wax paper. Allow at least one day to let flavors meld. Keeps in the freezer for up to 6 months.