The single biggest pleasure I get from gardening is putting delicious food on the table. A jar of canned tomatoes, fresh salad greens, chocolate zucchini cake and basil pesto—especially the basil pesto—make the blistered hands, muddy knees, dirt-stained fingers and insufferable mosquito bites worth it.
So, a few months ago, when a friend and local blogger invited me to the inaugural DIY Del Ray Food Swap I didn't have to think twice. Of course, I would be there: basil pesto and cake in hand.
Leslie Duss, one of the writers of the local blog DIY Del Ray, found her inspiration for the party when she learned about food swaps in Bamboo Family Magazine. Now a nationwide movement of sorts, modern-day food swaps bring people together at recurring events to exchange handmade, homegrown or foraged foodstuffs. Think homemade pasta, bread and jams.
Food Swap Network, an online community for food sharers launched last year and provides links to swaps across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. The site offers tips for foodies eager to host their own parties, and features photos and details on newly-formed groups.
"I thought it would be really fun to have with friends whom I know love to cook and garden," Duss told me in an email. "I wanted to bring people together in Del Ray whom I thought would have a lot in common. I love making connections between people. I knew people would love going home with new items for their pantry. I also knew friends would enjoy sharing their own creations."
On July 22, about two dozen people gathered on the fancifully-decorated, multi-tiered backyard patio of Del Ray resident Heidi Vatanka. Before long, picnic tables and shelves were filled with delectables like sea foam candy, power bars, white peach sangria and sour dill pickles. Another table held appetizers, salads and desserts for the minglers.
About 45 minutes into the party, Duss announced it was time to swap. Participants wrote their names beneath items they wanted to take home, then talked with the makers and swapped their stuff. The atmosphere was informal and fun. People talked about backyard chicken farming, raising vegetables and favorite recipes.
I came away with delicious Nutty Power! Bars that didn't last 24 hours in the house before being devoured, pizza dough from the Pioneer Woman's recipe book, Mila Oat Balls, six freshly laid chicken eggs and Duss' handmade Maple Butter Nut Granola that my children insist I make again.
Duss and her blog collaborator, Katie Briscoe, plan to make the Del Ray Food Swap a regular event with another party in the fall. By then, I should have a bumper crop of tomatoes ready for canning. I can't wait to see what the others bring.