What Are Potlucks—And Where Does the Word 'Potluck' Come From?

Learn all about the delicious history of potlucks.

<p>Arctic-Images/Getty Images</p>

Arctic-Images/Getty Images

“What can I bring?” A common question we’ve all asked (and been asked) when it comes to dinner with friends, family holidays, or other events. Entertaining is a lot easier when you don’t have to cook the whole meal and can rely on friends and family to pitch in a few dishes here and there. Plus, what’s more fun than going to a party at a friend’s house and getting the opportunity to try different foods and dishes that you normally wouldn’t get to try? Food is a massive part of gathering together, and potlucks are a great way to bring folks even closer by sharing food.

What Is a Potluck?

Even if you’ve never heard the word “potluck,” you’ve likely been to one. A potluck is basically any get together where everyone brings a dish, from church events to dinner parties. Each guest (or family) brings a dish large enough to share, all attendees make a plate with a little bit of everything, then everyone sits down to a communal meal.

Where Does the Word ‘Potluck’ Come From?

There are multiple proposed origin stories for the word “potluck.” The first comes from Indigenous Americans and the word “potlatch.” Indigenous peoples, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and some parts of Canada, would host large gatherings called potlatches, where communities would gather to give away and share food. The word potlatch comes from the phrase ‘give away’ or ‘gift,’ so if you think of a potluck as giving away food to everyone in attendance, this makes sense.

Another possible origin is that the word came about to describe when an unexpected guest drops by and doesn’t know what will be served or if there will even be enough to go around. This was described as “the luck of the pot,” referencing that the guest was at the mercy of the pot when it came to their dinner. Some versions of this word have been recorded in England as early as the 16th century.

Potluck History

Potlucks have existed in America for hundreds of years but hit their peak popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the South and Midwest. It’s no coincidence that this coincided with the rise of the casserole and other one-dish meals in American homes. Potlucks were a way to provide food for a social event without the burden of cooking or financing falling on one person or family. Most historians agree that this became a popular model for events starting in the early 1930s, likely in response to the lack of food and resources people endured during the Great Depression. Feeding many families in a community was much easier when everyone pooled their resources for a meal.

Over time, potlucks have become synonymous with church gatherings. Potlucks are sometimes called by church-based nicknames even when they don’t have any affiliation with a religious institution, such as “faith supper,” “fellowship meal,” or “church picnic.” Across many different religions, social gatherings outside of regular church services where church members bring food to share are a major part of community building.

Picnic vs. Potluck

Though they are very similar, picnics and potlucks are technically two different types of events. Loosely, a picnic can be defined as any time you’re eating outside. At a picnic, the food can be brought by one person, eaten alone, or with others. They usually take place outside.

Potlucks, however, are defined by many people coming together and contributing food. Additionally, potlucks can take place indoors or outdoors. There can be a lot of overlap between picnic and potluck foods, but picnics often feature cold foods that can be packed and eaten outside without additional preparation. Think sandwiches, potato salad, chips, cut fruit, and other easy-to-eat or finger foods. Potlucks tend to feature more casseroles and even things like meatballs in sauce served in a Crock-Pot to keep them warm. You’re more likely to see plates, forks, and folks sitting at a table at a potluck, whereas it’s not uncommon for a picnic to lean more toward handheld fare.

Popular Potluck Foods

Any food you can transport from your house to another location to share with a large group of people is technically potluck food. However, since potlucks have a rich history in America, many dishes have become potluck staples.

All types of casseroles, Midwestern hot dishes, and salads are classic potluck foods, like broccoli cheddar casserole or Waldorf salad. Other common potluck foods include baked macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, potato salad, baked pasta dishes, coleslaw, and pulled pork. And don’t forget dessert! Scoop-and-serve desserts are popular at potlucks, like banana pudding or colorful gelatin desserts, but classic baked goods like cookies or brownies are popular, too.

Now, it’s not uncommon to see themed potlucks where a specific type of cuisine or even a movie or TV show is the basis for the food served.

More Potluck Recipes

The next time you’re asked to bring something to a friend’s barbecue or are thinking of hosting a dinner at your own house, look no further than our favorite potluck recipes. From main dishes to sides to desserts, there’s a perfect potluck recipe for every skill level or event.

Read the original article on All Recipes.