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Pot Luck?

By Shelah Miner

A few years ago, my sister went to church at a singles ward where they had a potluck every Sunday. Some weeks they called it “Break the Fast,” and other weeks it was a “Linger Longer” but the basic concept was the same. The girls plugged their crockpots in the kitchen before sacrament meeting, the boys brought bags of chips, and they all hung out after the meeting was over. It was such an entrenched part of their ward history that the bishop requested that their ward always meet last, and he claimed that the high rate of marriages that blossomed in the ward (my sister’s included) sprang directly from the fact that the ward members broke bread together every Sunday.

This free-for-all potluck, where you bring whatever you feel like bringing, and cross your fingers that everyone else won’t decide an Asian Chicken Salad would be the perfect potluck dish too, was a concept that I encountered for the first time when I joined the church as a teenager. Before that, the closest I’d come to a potluck was my mom’s gourmet dinner club, where everyone brought a dish, but it was all carefully organized, with xeroxed copies of the recipes mailed to the participants a month in advance. Once she joined the church, she continued in a similar tradition, bringing three or four dishes herself, just in case there wouldn’t be enough food.

Despite my reservations that we’d end up with nothing to eat but Jello salad, the potlucks I’ve attended have usually turned out pretty well. There are often two or three really great things to eat and a bunch of boxed brownies and plenty of casseroles in which cream of whatever soup figures prominently. I’ve rarely gone home hungry, though. Even though I’m not hunting for a husband, I do like the idea of breaking bread with ward members. I usually leave feeling like I’ve expanded my culinary horizons (prunes in jello, who knew?), burned off my calories by chasing my kids around the building, and gotten to know my neighbors a bit better.

My husband, on the other hand, avoids the ward pot luck at all costs. He not big in for social gatherings, and he always wants me to bring something that he can fill his plate with if the other dishes look suspect (they usually do, in his eyes). So I’m never able to make my favorite showoff desserts and end up eating way too many boxed brownies.

What about you? Do you love the ward potluck tradition? Hate it? Do you usually try to bring something easy or do you want to wow your friends with your culinary skills?

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About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

30 thoughts on “Pot Luck?”

  1. I never have much luck trying to wow, I think I am a pretty good cook, but always seem to have huge failures when trying to cook for people other than family and close friends. Once for a R.S. super Saturday I made a lot of desserts with my sister in law and those got rave reviews. We were providing all the munchies so that so it wasn't really potluck. My husband loves potluck, but doesn't always love the socializing part. We were a little disappointed with this last years ward Christmas party fare, it was a more regimented menu. People provided dishes that were made according to a recipe or strict guidelines, no dishing yourself a tiny taste of ten different salads or cheesy potatoes and going back for a real serving of the ones that were especially tasty. It was good but I missed a lot of the fun that potluck provides.

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  2. I have to admit, i'm a potluck hater. Much to the dismay of my husband and children. However, my reasons are because I spend my whole time worried about food safety (how long was the crockpot of mystery meat unplugged?) and germs. I've visited a lot of homes where I would not trust food coming out of the kitchen based on serious lack of cleanliness. I know I'm a snob and it sounds terrible, but really, I am much happier eating food that I have prepared in my own kitchen.

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  3. Your family sounds like ours–when we lived in PA we were assigned to a small branch an hour away, and on fast Sundays they would have a pot luck after church. I loved that–for me, it was my primary interaction with branch members. My husband, on the other hand, hates pot-lucks, partly because of the bad experiences we had in our student ward while we were dating (where some students would fail to bring food but were nonetheless first in line) where pot lucks frequently ran out of food. In any case, he's almost always the last one through the line (if he goes through the line) because if there's not enough food he'd rather be the one to suffer.

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  4. I brought a big bowl of watermelon (no rinds) to our potluck last week. I tend to bring fruit to potlucks if I can get away with it. It's healthy, and it doesn't put my non-gourmet cooking skills on display.

    I had never considered the health issues involved in potlucks until a while ago when you mentioned that your husband is not a fan… and now I do wonder. But I eat anyway. I like the mingling. I like outdoor potlucks with playgrounds best, so I can talk and not have to worry about my kids.

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  5. I like potlucks; I like food and I like parties, so they're fun for both reasons 🙂

    My student ward I was in for several years before my mission had a potluck every fast Sunday. It was generally fun, but we did have a few times when more people than food showed up. THat's not fun.

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  6. Potlucks are rare in our ward, but they happened once a month at my last singles ward. They were so popular, that they actually called a potluck chef! He was responsible for making teriyaki chicken and rice that was the foundation for the rest of the meal. It was always a great time, and I do think that it helped having time to socialize with other ward members. I have a lot of fond memories of that ward's potluck.

    The Korean branch that met in our last building requested the final hour as well because they often met together to share a meal after church. Since the branch wasn't geographically bounded, the members liked being able to see and chat with each other in a family-like setting.

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  7. I never was a fan of potlucks in most of my singles' wards. Too many people planned failed to actually bring food, so there wasn't enough food to go around. It was also difficult that the men would insist "ladies first," so we'd all end up clumped at the same tables and typically end up finished with our meager portions by the time the guys finished divvying up what was left behind.

    One singles ward that worked great? Each round was a theme or something to compete with. Somehow the attitude in that ward was just right where everyone would bring something to contribute, and they'd usually try to bring something they were eager to share.

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  8. For six weeks I was in a branch in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma. Members attended from several hours away, and each Sunday, following the meetings, a potluck dinner would happen, since most of the kids, couldn't wait to get home to eat without becoming minions of Satan.

    I found that it bonded the members in unique ways, which are hard to describe, but the general unity and enjoyment of the ward was obvious.

    Now, I'm part of a singles ward that has a month 'Break The Fast' and it's always hit and miss as far as having enough food. There was a time when there would be so many leftovers that we'd have a round two at member's houses, regularly.

    The more I study early church history, the more I find this sort of communal sharing of meals. The early Christians were known for it, and the early members of this dispensation seem to have followed suit. I don't know why it's so prominent, but I think we can be safe following their example.

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  9. I am in the "hate potluck" group. We used to have them on Fast Sunday in our ward and b/c I was on the activities committee there were a number of Sundays that I felt stressed out and had to miss the last meeting of church to make sure it was all set up. It did NOT make a good Sabbath for this girl who is used to making a simple, hands-off meal on that day. Nor did I like chasing my kids all over the gym during dinner. (I prefer to corral them all as quickly as the meetings are over and get them home to containment.)

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  10. Since you mentioned food safety issues, I will tell you that my mother still remembers the ward potluck Christmas dinner that resulted in food poisoning for the majority of the ward members. They think the culprit was the ham. It was one of the worst bouts of food poisoning my mother ever had. Good times. Luckily I've never gotten sick after a ward dinner, but my mother's experience is always in the back of my mind as I pass over the more iffy-looking casseroles. =)

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  11. I love a potluck! What's not to love about the chance to sit around chatting and sampling lots of different foods? Friends did potluck "showers" for my 2nd-4th babies where we'd just get together for a potluck lunch, sit around and visit, get to introduce the new baby, all while the other kids played.

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  12. Our branch does potluck every High council Sunday since the lucky High Councilman assigned to us usually travels several hours to be here. Many adults here dread it (I think), but I love seeing the children and youth walk in that day and sniff the air and say "Its Potluck Sunday."

    We do have it down to a science though–our entire meal, including set up and take down is about an hour–each person has their job whether it is water pitchers, salt shakers or tables. I think we have a good thing going.

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  13. I love a potluck–maybe because my first calling when I went to college was the Break the Fast coordinator.

    I used to try to wow people, but once when I was new in a ward, I made a blue cheese potato salad that I thought was absolutely delicious. At my table, one person said she didn't like it, and soon everyone else was agreeing (which was ok by me, I know blue cheese is not everyone's cup of tea). But, it was awkward when one of my table mates realized it was my dish at the end of the night.

    Now, I only make tried and true Mormon dishes (mac and cheese, chili, cornbread, vanilla or chocolate cake, etc.) 🙂

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  14. I ditto mom of 3's comment…I am too worried about who licked the spoon just before stirring the crockpot….hehe I wouldn't mind if we could just eat what we brought, and still sat around and socialized. That would solve several issues: food handling safety, and for those who eat but don't contribute–good luck begging!!

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  15. I love potlucks. I was in charge of organizing the monthly break the fast in my student/singles' ward and I enjoyed coming up with themes and basically facilitating some fun interaction within the ward (I myself am not terribly socially adept, but I do like to see social gatherings happen and be successful). I remember always being well-fed physically and socially after break the fasts.

    The dynamic changed a bit when the singles were combined with the young married students. Singles are good about bringing enough food to share; families less so. Each individual unit (person or family) seems to bring just about the same amount of food no matter what their consumption is likely to be.

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  16. I LOVE potlucks. I much prefer potlucks for ward parties than people being assigned to bring particular dishes.

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  17. I'm Lutheran so we have coffee hour after church and the fare varies depending on the congregation. In one parish my husband served, there was a rotation of "groups" that provided food for coffee hour before/after church and my job was to be the back-up person.

    For special events, potlucks happened and frequently in this particular congregation, people brought their best dish. It was funny in some respects because this was cattle ranching country and one of the ladies made sure that her chili rellenos were meatless so my vegetarian husband could eat them. 🙂

    Now that I have a two year old, it's harder because I've got to keep him entertained and somewhat contained. Thankfully, I have a few "grandmas" and "grandpas" who are willing to entertain him so I can (quickly) eat.

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  18. My favorite potlucks were in two different parts of the U.S. One was a tiny new ward and our meetings ended at 6:00 P.M. (!!) So, in January, for Fast Sunday, the bishop said, "We should just bring pie and call it dinner!" in jest—but we all decided to do it. It was fun! Each month we had a theme: bread and butter; soup; baked potatoes; strawberries; salads…Even non-member spouses would show up at the end of Sacrament meeting on those days and join us for the really nice time, eating and talking.

    Then, in another region, some of us drove for 40 miles to get to church.On General Conference weekends, there wasn't time to go home. Everyone in our ward watched it at the church (pre-satellite dish days). Saturday, you could go get fast food, but on Sundays we'd bring pot-luck for between the sessions. The kids could run around outside after they ate, the parents could catch a nap–we used paper plates for a quick clean-up. Again, non-member spouses would show up to enjoy lunch and conversation. Sometimes pot-luck is just very pleasant.

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  19. When I was a missionary, one of the branches that I attended used to a pot luck after Church that I think was on Fast Sunday to break the fast. Being a typical missionary, I liked any time that members or nonmembers provided us with food that was tasty. My family gatherings have generally been pot lucks. There are some amazing cooks in the family so that is great too! I don't get out much but they often bring me a plate.

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  20. Many of the situations mentioned here are portrayed quite humorously in the movie "Singles Ward." Great potluck scene. Script definately written by someone who has been there, done that.

    I do find myself asking "Ooooh, who brought this?" in a tone that sounds like I am really impressed– and hopefully doesn't reveal that I am sort of double checking that it comes from a kitchen with which I feel comfortable.

    I do enjoy company at dinner, but when wards get too big and children are everywhere it gets hard. Still, however, an economical and worthwhile tradition.

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  21. The ward I'm in now has a monthly RS potluck luncheon which is a great way to socialize.

    The worst was a few years ago when a singles ward met in our building. They would have a "break the fast" on fast Sunday and the smell coming out of the kitchen next to the Relief Society room was a form of torture! Made me wish I was single, I was so hungry and jealous! They got to just eat but I had to go home and figure out what to feed my kids.

    We also had a bout of food poisoning after a stake Relief Society luncheon one year. An older sister in our ward even ended up in the hospital! Luckily, she made a full recovery. They were very strict about the menu and food handling after that!

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  22. In my singles branch we have "break the fast" after every fast Sunday. I usually try a new recipe every time- that way if the food is gone at the end I usually know the recipe is a keeper. We have themes though to prevent people from bringing the same thing. It usually works out quite well.

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  23. I dislike potlucks – I'd much rather have the people I'd really like to catch up with come over to my house and share dessert!

    I lived in an English/Mandarin/Cantonese speaking ward in Melbourne – you had to be careful about what you put on your plate, or be adventurous!

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  24. I have had good and bad potluck experiences. I always worry there won't be enough food to go around, so I bring triple. I get annoyed with the family of 6 who brings canned greanbeans and sometimes I seriously question the meals people prepare as in do people really eat that? Not to mention the cookie selection, burnt, crumbly, questionable or store bought.

    I do however enjoy a potluck activity, somehow they are different then a potluck after church. I think people just have more time to plan and usually their food is prepared just before arriving. I enjoy when everyone makes chili or soup and even a good pie contest. People who cannot cook bring the sides cheese, sourcream, chips, rolls, icecream. These events are always a hundred times better.

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  25. I always enjoy socializing that comes with potlucks. I always bring what my family would eat for an entire meal. It's fun to share and we only do a pot luck 1 or 2 times per year. Often the ward provides the meat and the members provide the rest of the meal. This way there is something to eat!

    I do remember the break the fast pot lucks in singles wards. It was a lot of fun. I remember the wives of the member of the bishopbric being responsible for the main dish and the ward members being responsible for sides and the dessert. We would alternate between the brothers and the sisters. I remember the time the brothers decided to make brownies and we had last minute brownie tasting contest. The winner got a box of tic tacs and a small packet of tissues foraged out of someones purse.

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  26. I love potlucks too. I love the feeling of food to choose from, of people standing around to chat with. However, I always look at the food with a discerning eye. I try to figure out who made it and how clean their house is. Sorry, but I do. If I have any hesitation, I pass that dish up.

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  27. At a potluck once somebody brought a canister of Slim Jim jerky. Seriously. And someone else brought a gallon of milk.

    I usually try to make something really good if I'm taking a dish, but the last potluck we went to was kind of a last minute decision to go, so I took a bag of chips.

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  28. I have a lunch potluck with my friends every tuesday at our city park, and I love it. We all just bring whatever. There are a lot of pb and j, muffins, and salads. It usually works well, because those of us who have time fix something filling, and those of us in a hurry bring cut up fruit or veg, or whatever crackers or chips we have on hand. It is such a nice opportunity to talk to grown-ups and relax and let the kids run around.

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  29. I love potlucks, but I've had my share of annoyances with them as well. As Kristine N noted, a mix of singles and couples/families is often a problem since couples and families often don't bring proportionately to their numbers and the burden falls on the single folk. My solution? Always state: 1 dish per person (two dishes or a doubled dish for couples, etc).

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