When Potlucks Fed Families And Brought Cheer During Great Depression

The Great Depression of 1930’s brought countless people on streets. Several people were left scuttling for menial jobs to sustain. The surge in suicide rates prove that it indeed makes for one of the grimmest chapters of modern History. However, History has also taught us how adversities have brought people together in the unlikeliest of times in unlikeliest of ways.

History Of Potluck

The origins of Potlucks are difficult to trace, the word apparently, first appeared in the 16th century English work of Thomas Nashe, where it simply referred to the food brought in by unexpected or uninvited guest, in a ‘pot of luck’, some also say that the word comes from the North American tradition of ‘Potlach’ a sort of a gift-giving feast. Then there are some who say that potlucks have its roots in the middle-ages. It was a term used to describe a meal served to unexpected guests or travellers. If they happened to drop-in at the dinner hour, they would merit “the luck of pot”, or the food that was left over or was kept on simmer in the kitchen. But wait, these sound nothing like the ‘potlucks’ of today.  

How The Great Depression Shaped The Modern Idea of Potluck

Many Historians claim that the modern idea of ‘potluck’ which is essentially a communal meal, where guests get their own home-cooked food, rose to popularity during the Great Depression. One-pot meals and church potlucks, was not just another social activity, but also a means to keep people engaged and cheerful. People often grew vegetables and fruits in their own backyard. Small private farms to rear cattle, rear chickens were also a characteristic feature of early 20th century. Which may explain, why perhaps people preferred the idea of potlucks, and did not think of bringing their own food to a gathering as cumbersome or derogatory in any manner.

Potlucks Now

Potlucks have always been associated with religious or community gatherings, but they have evolved into so much more now. Office potlucks, college potlucks, birthday potlucks, people are trying potlucks of all kinds nowadays. In the post-pandemic world, when people were still wary of stepping out to dine, guess what proved to be the ‘safer’ option? That’s right. Potluck. 

Potlucks, are economical. You can play to your strength and be the star performer of the spread, or simply admire the delicious biryani cooked by your friend. Either way, you are coming out with your tummy full and regrets nil, as unlike in restaurants, you did not have to gulp-down a potato salad half-heartedly, just because ‘you ordered it’.  

You can have themes to level up your potlucks, another very helpful tip is to assign categories to participants, just so that, you know, everyone does not show up with macaroni. If you give each single one of them the charge of appetizers, mains and desserts, you can all enjoy a full meal at the end of the day.  

Here a dish I carried to one of the recent potlucks I attended. Hope you enjoy the recipe.