You’re no chef, but you preserve a damn decent jar of pickles. You’re no master distiller, but that infused vodka turned out pretty nice. Then there’s that whole crock of sauerkraut that might be tough to finish.
Kim Christensen (below, bottom right) feels you. Her new endeavor, MPLS Swappers, aims to help everyday producers enjoy what clogs another’s larder.
Her first food swap, held Saturday in a rented South Minneapolis space, was inspired by food swappers in Brooklyn, NY. Christensen heard the idea and felt compelled to bring it to the Twin Cities. Swaps are also happening in cities like Portland, OR, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Austin, TX. The goal: helping canners, brewers, and bakers diversify their pantries.
“Obviously this is something that is not a new concept, it’s been happening between people for millenia,” Christensen said. “But in terms of something that is really an organized social event, I haven’t found anything else here.
“If you’re out harvesting berries along the Midtown Greenway or something and you want to bring them in to swap, awesome. If you grow it in your garden … if you make some soup, and you want to bring in a whole batch, that’s great too.”
The event has three periods: setup, bidding, and swapping. For setup, the 30 or so traders, arranging their products neatly, filled out bid sheets describing the item and listing ingredients problematic for those on restricted diets. Then, after all goods were on display, bidding begin.
A swapper myself, I was interested in Chelsey’s home-canned apple juice (traders wore nametags to ease bargaining), so on her sheet I wrote my name and offer of salsa, picallili, or a dozen fresh eggs. I also bid on jars of pickles and honey, all the while waiting and watching for others to check out my goodies.
And goodies abounded. Items brought to swap included pickled ginger, jalapenos, and nasturtium seeds, plus horseradish-infused vodka, limoncello, muffins, mini-cheesecakes, kombucha, yogurt, dried hops, several jams, and rosemary-infused sea salt. The crowd was as diverse as the offerings, too — not just 20-something hipsters in thrift-store duds, although there were some of those — and in addition to the swap samples, some brought simple noshes like homemade bread and lemon butter, cheese, cookies, and tea.
“Really it’s about people turning their home food production from hobby to habit and really just having it be something people do on a regular basis, have fun and learn things from other people,” Christensen said. “And get inspired from other people, too, because people make all sorts of weird stuff in their house, fun stuff you could never find in the store.”
Then came swap time. My eggs drew the most interest — I had five offers, including bite-size cheesecakes, pistachio pesto, and sauerkraut. I ended up trading for a bottle of homemade ginger brew.
Both jars of salsa drew one bid each: yogurt and pickled pineapple. I chose pickled pineapple and kept my other jar of salsa. That’s a rule: You don’t have to swap if nothing catches your eye. The picallili was swapped for some blood-orange marmalade, which I had sampled and was tremendous.
The variety was especially impressive considering nobody is growing much of anything this time of year.
“As summer goes on and all of that, I can’t wait to see how it changes, people bringing produce, things that they’ve canned, things that they’ve made,” Christensen said. “Then winter is a hard time because there’s not a ton of fresh food around, so it’ll be fun to see just the seasonal eating and what people bring. People can bring anything they make themselves or produce themselves or forage.”
Chelsey Perkins of Minneapolis traded her aforementioned apple juice for a pint of box elder maple syrup and a half-pint of pumpkin maple butter. “I was blown away by the variety of items people brought to share. There were hardly any items that were doubled,” she said. “I think this is the seed of what will be an awesome community to be a part of, whether it’s learning techniques from one another, trading recipes, or just appreciating the beauty of food together.”
Paula Desanto and Alberto Villate of Minneapolis, who brought homemade pasta, were slightly insecure at first but left talking about what to make for future swaps. “We’re going to try to make duck proscuitto,” Desanto said. “That will be maybe down the road. We have to perfect it. That would be something we’d like to try.”
There were lessons learned. My salsa is decent, but I didn’t have samples, so nobody could test it and thus few bid. Also, most products were in smaller portions: half-pint or pint jars, or 12 ounces of ginger brew. My salsa was a quart each, which made it tough to trade for a half-pint of something.
Being the first swap, though, it’s a learning experience for everybody.
“Some people are more into baking, other people are more into canning. But usually the bakers like to have jam, so let’s hook them up,” Christensen said.
Christensen said she hopes to hold the swaps, which are free but require registration, about every other month.
Four tips for swappers
- Rational portion sizes (one pint, six muffins). Too big or small, and it’ll be hard to swap.
- Make multiple bids to ensure success.
- Provide samples and as much information as possible.
- Neat, eye-catching packaging and labels are a plus.