The first time I heard the word “potluck” was as a kid being dragged to a church supper by a pair of slavers. Over the howling, my parents promised I would like it. There would be food.
I wasn’t impressed. I’d been lied to about church before. A lot. I argued that if church food was anything like church preaching, they should show a little mercy and just kill me now.
The old man readily agreed. He was in the process of pulling the car over when my mother intervened. She said I would like the food. It was nutritious and well prepared.
Because I’d heard the same thing said about liver and cabbage, I wasn’t at all relieved. Further investigation was necessary.
Me: “What kind of food will there be?”
Mom: “We don’t know. It’s potluck.”
Two images immediately appeared in my 10-year-old head. One was a toilet bowl, the other a kettle regularly used by cannibals to cook and eat Christian missionaries.
Since either of these would be worth seeing in use at a church dinner, I happily shut up and went along with it.
I won’t bore you with the extent of my disappointment. The food at this particular potluck may have been nutritious, but it looked awful. I ate as little as possible of the following:
Hot dog and potato casserole.
Gelatin salads resembling bell jar specimens.
Something … boiled?
No liver, though. Certain things simply won’t be tolerated in any house of worship.
Since then, I have eaten many a potluck meal. Some of them were heavy on pot and decidedly light on luck.
The best one was in the Army, when my squad pooled what we had for a final meal in the field. Everything was culled from the remnants of our C-rations.
Two cans of turkey loaf, one can each of fruit cocktail and peanut butter and a package of hot chocolate mix stirred together in a helmet went well on cracker pieces. It’s amazing what hunger and Tabasco sauce can fix.
Note: OK, that was slightly embellished. It sounds better than the truth, which was that we brawled furiously over some grape jelly and two Chesterfields.
The worst potluck meal — which is absolutely true — was a ward supper where everyone complimented the person who brought a nice macaroni-tuna salad, the principal ingredient of which turned out to be Utah Lake carp.
Judging from the reaction — the bishop’s wife couldn’t stop retching — that’s not something you want to find out in the middle of eating it.
Overall, potluck dinners work best when you trust all of the contributors and none of them are trying to impress everyone else with their culinary skills.
Oh, and you’ll need to be careful about what you contribute. Nobody wants to be remembered as the person who forgot that Aunt Meevalou had a serious Brussels sprout allergy.
But if you’re obliged to contribute to a potluck gathering, there’s a safe bet: pizza. Not only will most people eat it (or at least know what it is), you can have it delivered. Then you don’t have to go.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/notpatbagley.