On a whim, I signed up for my third Chicago Food Swap this past weekend. I had planned to give myself December off from swapping–it’s not like I don’t have enough going on–but um, I heard someone was bringing infused vodka. Can you think of a better way to spend your Saturday afternoon?
This was what I came home with:
- 6 duck eggs
- 6 chicken eggs
- rendered leaf lard
- artichoke ravioli
- pinot noir rosemary butter
- brandied cranberries
- cranberry anise bitters
- apple ginger shrub
- candied clementines
- carrot ginger salad dressing
- watermelon jelly
- pepper corn chowder
- spring rolls
- lavender chamomile kombucha
- cranberry honey mustard
- Christmas sauce
At each of these swaps, I learn a little bit more about the process, and I think this past weekend’s was the best so far in terms of low stress for me and stuff I’m really excited to try. I think these five tips pretty well sum up my approach, and might also be helpful if you’re planning to attend a swap:
Savory over sweet. Baked goods of all kinds are, as expected, incredibly popular for people to make and swap, but this leaves the “market” open for non-sweet treats. I tend to like savory over sweet anyways, and those items usually seem really popular with everyone else. People who bring pastas, mustards, dips, pestos, butters, soups, or homemade bacon (that was from the last swap, and they had a line around the room!) pretty much have their pick of things to swap for.
Limit the variety. Since this was a last-minute decision to attend this swap, I needed to make it easy on myself. I only brought two things: my red pepper dip (a hit at November’s swap, and incredibly easy to make the night before), and a few small jars of hard cider mustard I was experimenting with last week (I’ll share the recipe for that soon). 20 items total, a good, manageable amount. In the past, I’ve brought a lot more, and a lot more variety, but that tends to be harder to write on the swap sheets and carry around to swap with.
Presentation/labeling matters. This could actually go either way: some people bring amazing food with no big deal setup or labels and some people go all-out with tablecloths and coordinated platters. For me, I appreciate when people include the name of the item (and if the name’s not obvious, what’s in it) and contact information (even an email address), since I love getting the recipes for many of the things I bring home. I label the stuff I bring with printable brown craft paper Avery labels with the name of the item and my URL. Based on comments, people seem to think these look nice (good, since no one wants to try to read my actual handwriting) and it’s an easy way to include my blog info when I inevitably forget my recipe/business cards.
Find 3 to 5 things you really want, and go for those first. I took pictures as I went around the room of the stuff that I absolutely knew I had to get in on: duck eggs, ravioli, rendered leaf lard, rosemary red wine butter, for instance. Those were the people I made a particular point to talk to and mention what I brought. Happily most people who bring savories are also interested in other savory things!
After swapping started, I headed to those tables with a dip and a mustard to see if they’d be interested. After I got the items I was really excited about, I headed back to my table to see what other people might want to swap. I think this was the best balance of seeking out/being sought.
Be open to new things (and don’t forget to ask how to use them)! That’s how I wound up with cranberry-anise bitters, which I can’t wait to try. My swapping “neighbors” brought some beautiful panforte, which I have no idea how to serve, but it tastes wonderful (and I hope they read this because I’d love the recipe). Also somewhat related, I apparently should have tried the marshmallows that one swapper brought because everyone has been raving about them (especially the salted caramel ones)! Oh well, maybe next time.
As always, the Chicago Food Swap does an amazing job of organizing these, so a huge thank you to them. Sorry for the lack of pictures of the actual swap, I hadn’t even planned on writing this post until I got home Saturday night. And it’s a particular shame since it was held in a great loft space in the city with a beautiful view–you’ll just have to take my word for it (or if you took pictures, please share a link in the comments)!