« The top 10 of everything | Main | Monday Morning Quarterbacking »

December 22, 2008

The end of holiday potlucks as we know them

Sometimes I look at a story one of my fellow journalists writes (not, of course, at the Sun) and think, "This is just nutty."

Consumer blogger Liz Kay is one of my best sources for odd items, and she passed along this story, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times. I know I contributed to the bad press for the holiday potluck by publishing Bucky's post, but saying everyone brings desserts when they promised to bring casseroles is a little different from saying you're likely to be ingesting e. coli. ...

Of course, you could conceivably get food poisoning from something one of your co-workers made, although I've never heard of that happening; but you could also get sick from something prepared in a restaurant's kitchen.

This is turning into an example of what I think of as the Fruitcake Effect, which has been magnified a thousand times by the 'net. When I was a little girl, fruitcake was a perfectly acceptable holiday food. People liked getting them as gifts if they were good fruitcakes.  Then someone made the first fruitcake joke, and then there was another, and then journalists started writing stories about how people were grossed out by fruitcakes. The whole thing snowballed. I stopped making my wonderful Virginia fruitcake because I couldn't give it away.

Some reporter is going to remember the holiday potluck gross-out story next year and write it in a slightly different form. I give holiday pot lucks five years max before they go the way of the Great Auk.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 7:37 AM | | Comments (20)


My office has come to terms with this and just held a holiday dessert/Secret Santa party.

This reminds me of Ruth Reichl's first book, in which she describes her mother as the "Queen of Mold"--just scrape off that green stuff and serve it to your guests!

Wow. And I think I'm germophobic!

The LA Times piece is culinary paranoia. It makes about as much sense as 'never go to a baseball game, you may get conked by a foul ball' or 'don't take a plane; those suckers have been known to fall from the sky.' No matter what you eat, there's an element of risk. But I'll take my chances on my neighbor's kugel over the mystery meat manhandled by the kid behind the counter at a fast food outlet.

I think that you are right. Little by little people are turning to going to a restaurant for the holiday get together. Tales of people who do not wash their hands when leaving the bathroom abound. There is almost a bathroom patrol and as these stories are passed along, people refuse to eat food prepared by the non-handwashers For those of us with immune systems that are already challenged, we are not willing to chance getting sick just to not hurt someones feelings.

But, I do remember back when people participated in pot lucks without concern about these issues. I was among them. Alas, no more.

I love potlucks, holiday or otherwise, and use the same "ignorance is bliss" attitude toward all offerings that I employ when eating food in restaurants --- perhaps too much faith in my own digestive system. But I did avoid making egg dishes for The Sun's holiday breakfast week because I was worried about leaving it out at room temperature for hours.

I should have guessed, however, what actually transpired: any quiches that appeared were consumed way too quickly to risk going bad.

Maybe potluck dinners just need to evolve a little. My boss just had a wine and appetizer holiday potluck at his house. it was very laid back and fabulous. Since the menu was simple (appetizer/desserts), folks could bring a dish and not worry about it coordinating with a main course. not to mention, they didn't have to worry about portions. Since he and his wife love wine, they opened about eight bottles from their collection. the party started at 7 and everyone was content and relaxed . no worries about salmonella or fruitcake (ha!). that was the best office party I have ever attended.

Since you mentioned fruitcake, I can assure you that the tradition is not extinct. My wife and son made fruitcakes yesterday -- late in the season, but Kathleen has been ill for more than a week.

Kathleen's recipe does not use that bizarre candied fruit, just raisins (both kinds), dried apricots, walnuts, pecans, etc., flavored with a little triple sec and now aging with a slight pour of brandy applied.

Having become violently ill in the wake of an office holiday potluck party, I'd say there's some truth to the LATimes article.

As for fruitcake -- well, long before Johnny Carson started the "one fruitcake" joke, I couldn't stand the stuff. Ditto for mince pie, too. There's something about having pieces of nuts and (dried or candied) fruits embedded in a dessert that I find revolting.

hmpstd, I can tolerate the nuts (as evidence, check out how long I've been here on this blog). It's the candied citron that makes me go GACK!

Ah - those germs just help build up the immune system, don't they? Seriously, I'm no fan of food poisoning (nor is the poor friend I was visiting when striken with a week-long bout - gotten from a restaurant), but people just seem so particular any more. Tell me something worth doing that doesn't entail risks.

Kevin Cowherd had an article about the mounting food issues that arise when inviting friends, family, or co-workers to a holiday meal. Maybe we were hardier in the past, but I don't remember all the allergies, food problems, as well as food distinctions when I was growing up. If I made a comment about the acceptibility of dinner I was either told "Take it or leave it" or "You know where the peanut butter jar is." Today we seem to have a new food crisis every week if not sooner. If you don't like going to your office or family pot luck dinner because you are afraid of what lurks within the food, either bring something you like and eat only that or just stay home. Harsh, yes, but having people complain "This might get spoiled sitting out" or "He doesn't keep a sanitary kitchen" does nothing for the spirit of holiday joy in sharing.

I love John McIntyre's statement about "bizarre candied fruit". Made me smile!

Dahlink wrote: I can tolerate the nuts (as evidence, check out how long I've been here on this blog)

I'm nominating her for this week's comment of the week.

My office does a potluck, and I love it Then again, I also like fruitcake. And for those who think they hate fruitcakes, you need to get one from the Gethsemani Abbey. No one makes a better fruitcake than those Kentucky Monks.

No, seriously, what happened to the Great Auk???

jl - I believe it joined the Quagga. Or, maybe the Quagga joined the Great Auk. Either way...

Thanks, Bucky. You make me laugh out loud every week!

I never touch food at a pot luck, but I am a total germophobe. The article seemed slightly tongue-in-cheek to me, actually, like maybe the writer is poking fun at all the paranoia.

Publix in Florida makes a "breakfast bread" that's like a fruitcake in training: full of nuts and fruit but not the candied, filling-destroying kind. It's great plain or toasted [try that with a fruitcake!]. And EL, I'd eat any fruitcake you made if you could get it here 'cuz I'm not coming north.

Post a comment

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

Top Ten Tuesdays
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Restaurant news and reviews Recently reviewed
Browse photos and information of restaurants recently reviewed by The Baltimore Sun

Sign up for FREE text alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for dining text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Food & Drink newsletter
Need ideas for dinner tonight? A recommendation for the perfect red wine?'s Food & Drink newsletter is there to help.
See a sample | Sign up

Stay connected