Start a tradition that will last for years. Here’s how.
1. Start small and expect to grow. Friends will want to invite other friends who share a love of harvest. The more people, the more interest and excitement.
2. Decide if you’d like to host or share hosting. You can begin by hosting the first gathering and see how it goes. Perhaps others in your group would like to do the honors next time.
3. Provide a simple meal. Cook it all yourself or make it easier with potluck.
4. Establish a seasonally appropriate date and invite people in enough time so they can prepare. It’s lovely if you can exchange during the late-harvest bounty when there are some last peppers and tomatoes in the garden and apples, persimmons, or nuts to share.
5. Bring enough to exchange with everyone. If you don’t exchange everything, give it away.
6. Encourage people to share their creativity. Though the theme is mostly harvest food, everyone enjoys the non-food items people make.
7. Have fun choosing or making attractive containers and labels and setting the harvest mood with colored cloths and the festive late-summer bounty of flowers, fruit, and vegetables.
8. Date all preserves and write out storage instructions. This is especially important if foods need to be refrigerated.
9. Be fluid and easy about exchanging. It doesn’t have to be an exact this-for-that for everyone to go home happy.
What to Share
• A mix of experimental and traditional is most satisfying, and a variety of flavors and foodstuffs keeps things interesting. Most people appreciate and count on some tried-and-true favorites every year.
• Perennial pantry favorites are jams and jellies, canned tomatoes, tomato sauces, salsas, pickles, mustards, herb oils and vinegars, and garden-grown dried herbs.
• Pies, cakes, and cookies are always exchange hits. Sometimes people make freezer cookie dough for our parties.
•It’s nice to bring goodies people can enjoy in fall and winter, such as frozen berries or frozen juice. An abundance of basil, Italian parsley, and garlic in my garden allows me to make a Tuscan pesto that can be frozen. The cook simply defrosts it, then adds freshly grated Parmesan before tossing with the pasta. DeWitt cures duck-breast fillets to make a duck prosciutto. These will keep in the refrigerator for several months, or as long as people can refrain from serving them in salads, with pears, or on an antipasto platter.
FUN PANTRY FOODS
• Dried fruit
• Fruit syrups
• Trail-mix fruit and nut blends
• Herb oils (basil, dill, chile)
• Herb-infused vinegars
•Fruity vinegars (pomegranate, calamondin)
• Flavored vodka (limoncello)
• Spice blends (garam masala, curry, ras el hanout Moroccan seasoning, chili powder)
CREATIVE & CRAFTY
• Soaps (mint, lemon verbena)
• Garden-herb bath salts
• Lavender wands or bundles
• Aprons with a harvest and or kitchen theme
• Harvest drawings, paintings, or photos
For recipes to share at your harvest exchange celebration, read “Harvest, Exchange, Celebrate.”