Communities of food

Friday June 7, 2013

If you’re a regular reader of my column, you already know that one of the things most important to me is my communities. Not just my physical neighborhood community, but also the various circles that are woven throughout my life -- family, friends, schools, organizations, work, interests. These groups are the weft and warp of so many of the things that I do, teaching, supporting and sharing with me every day.

Last week I found myself in the midst of a new kind of community, one that reminded me of all the things that we as individuals have to share. Wednesday night was the official judging of the Strolling of the Heifers’ New England Quiche Cook-off and I had the privilege of being there. Graciously hosted by Brattleboro Memorial Hospital with judges from BMH, The Brattleboro Retreat and Thompson House I watched as 10 semi-finalists brought their quiches of all shapes (OK, mostly round), sizes and flavors. These 10 had been selected out of all entries submitted based on their written recipe which included a story about the quiche. Now was the time to critique the quiches as prepared by those people who knew them best and hoped to share them with the Brattleboro community and beyond.

Lined up on two tables that ran almost the entire length of the conference room the quiches sat, each awaiting their turn with the judges. Small pieces were cut and served, the recipe and story distributed to each of the judges as they tasted, hemmed, hawed and discussed the finer points of quichedom. The quiche varieties were as different as were their stories and clearly the people who made them -- some were surprisingly simple, some had ingredients that were interesting and unique, not to mention hard to find. Some stories were brief and light-hearted while others had deep, personal roots. All in all, much thought, effort and love had gone into those 10 dairy-and-egg pies.

That got me thinking. Lots of people had initially entered this contest -- these were only the 10 who had managed to make it to this stage. Let’s add them to the 10 on the table. Then think of the people who might have thought about entering but decided not to, for one reason or another, or who simply missed the entry deadline. Then think of the people who also make wonderful quiches that have equally wonderful stories who never heard of or who didn’t care to enter the contest. That’s a lot of quiche and a lot of stories. A lot of people valuing and loving the quiches they make with a lot of tales to tell.

And this is only quiche! How about macaroni and cheese? Soup? Casseroles? Stir-fries? Pies? Cookies? The list goes on and on. The wealth of recipes, stories and, dare I say, even lore is amazing. Then think about how many ways these people/recipes/stories may overlap as their community circles collide -- it’s amazing to think about. So much can be learned about our community and the individuals that make them up by sharing food, recipes and the stories that go with them that it boggles the mind. So much, in fact, that I had previously only nibbled at the edges of the concept; it took looking at a sample, literally slices, to understand just how important this kind of sharing is.

Have you ever attended a county fair, one of those that continues to have examples of not only the largest zucchini in the vicinity and the carefully stitched quilts, but also of prepared foods, including everything from pickles to pies? Years ago these fairs were not just about being awarded prizes for various things (although that is always nice) but about socializing and sharing important information and tips, much as they are today. It is the social aspect of these events, especially surrounding food that I find so compelling. If there were any way I could possibly do it, I would try to collect and preserve every recipe and tale for future generations. After all, we don’t want these recipes to go extinct, even if they don’t sound particularly appetizing. They are all a part of the puzzle that makes up who we are as humans and how we live and love our daily lives. Now, I just need to find a funding source to live on while I’m doing all this research.

We have many public and social ways that we can enjoy one another’s food, stories and company and I notice now that I think about it, that I have written columns about many of them. Community suppers, school celebrations, church bazaars, fundraisers, fairs and in the workplace lunch room are all examples of this.

While not a county fair, this year’s quiche competition is yet another great example of how we share with one another, and you too can get in on the action! Tonight at the River Garden as part of the Stroll’s Street Festival that corresponds with Brattleboro’s monthly Gallery Walk, the first 150 folks who collect a ticket will get to try the three finalist quiches as prepared by the Hospital, Retreat and Thompson House kitchens. They will then get to use their ticket to vote for their favorite of the three. Governor Peter Shumlin will be on hand at 7 p.m. to announce all of the winners, both as decided last week by the judges for First, Second and Third places as well as the People’s Choice Award.

But win or lose, it’s the act of sharing and coming together that is most important as we make both our own individual and greater community-wide food traditions. What food-inspired stories and recipes would you share? Would it be a dinner table staple or a special-occasion treat? Would it be the story of an ancestor or simply your own story of inspiration? The importance -- and fun! -- is all in our contribution to our food community and how we connect with those people who share it. Share your recipes and tell your stories!

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at


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