This past Sunday was Chicago Food Swap's June swap. We had an awesome time at our first swap in April, but we had to miss the smaller swap in May because of Mother's Day events. (Read about our first swap here.) We were excited to return to swapping because we had gotten to try so many interesting things the first time around. This time the swap was located in a large gallery space in Goose Island, right near Kendall College. Previous, swaps had been limited to 35-45 swappers because of size limitations at the swap sites, but this time there was no limit. Around 90 people signed up for the swap, which honestly would have been pretty overwhelming, but it didn't seem like that many actually showed up.
L to R: Pineapple-infused Vodka, Cheddar Crackers, Broccoli Stalk Quick Pickles, Biscoff Muddy Buddies, and Salted Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
For our part, we brought five different items: pineapple-infused vodka, broccoli stem quick pickles, cheese crackers (homemade Cheez-Its), salted brown butter chocolate chip cookies, and Biscoff muddy buddies. The vodka was the runaway hit (and, of course, it was the item we had the least of), followed closely by the pickles. Sadly, one of our jars of pickles was taken before the swap officially began. (Before the official swapping happens, everyone goes around to look at everyone else's items, figuring out what they'd like to swap for. Generally during this time people leave their tables unattended. I think because the size of this swap was so large, it was harder to keep on eye on things. In the future, we will be sure to always keep one person at our table while the other one is out perusing the goods.)
There were a lot of great things at this swap. We saw pesto, sandcastle cakes (so cute!) caramels, lots of jams and curds, breads, spice blends, lime ginger beer, fresh strawberries, mulberries, lettuces, and herbs, crackers, sugar cookies, brittle, and a ton of stuff I'm forgetting. We saw some people from the April swap who've been reading our blog (hi Julie and Jo!) and met a lot of new people. It was neat when first-timers asked us questions about how the swap worked. We just love the sense of community the food swap creates!
Now, on to the bounty. We brought 18 items to trade, and ended up with the amazing bounty below: I do not literally have all these delicious items in front of me, but I will do my best. We have fresh homemade pasta, sea salt caramels, locally foraged mulberries, pickled jalapenos, mustard, mango curd, peach whiskey curd (subtle, yet satisfying), orange gelatin, dehydrated strawberries, rhubarb chutney, pesto (which went home with our friend Erin who was visiting and helping us swap), and a couple more shelf stable jars of goodness which I do not remember because I have not seen them every time I opened the fridge since Sunday. All good stuff. So far we have tried the pasta (delicious), the caramels (there's only one left), the mango and whiskey curd (perfect for a breakfast toast topping), orange gelatin (different than I expected, but it totally grew on us and all of a sudden it was gone!), fresh strawberries(not pictured because they didn't make it home), dehydrated strawberries (so far eaten like so many potato chips, and way more tasty), and the mulberries (which went into a mulberry lime ice cream topping last night). All wins for us so far! It was definitely a different collection of items from last time, which makes me think that every food swap will be vibrant and exciting! The big ticket items were infused alcohols and extracts, canned/pickled items, and jams/chutneys/dips. Fresh fruits and vegetables were a nice touch, and we were lucky to get get some things we could eat right away.
I want to encourage all our readers to seek out food swaps in their area. There were a couple of people from Ames, IA at this swap, but there's no need to go that far. All it takes is about 10+ people with well-made items to make a swap a success. If you are signed up to swap or you are planning to do so, here are some tips from us 2x swap veterans. (These are in no particular order.)
1. Vary your stock: There is literally no minimum or maximum to the number of things you can bring to a food swap. You can totally bring seven heads of lettuce from your garden or two bags of banana chips from your dehydrator. We have found, however, that bringing a few different types of things gets you a variety of items in return. Our first time, we had four different items, this time it was five. We had a few things (like pineapple vodka) that were there to be exchanged for something we really wanted, and a few things that were easy to make (brown butter sea salt chocolate chip cookies) and swapped for items from people with a sweet tooth. If you bring variety, you will receive variety in return.
2. Go as a team: If you have a friend, partner or family member who is also interested in food and is willing to help you barter for delicious items, definitely bring them to this. Even if you have wildly different tastes, you can split up the swap items and go for it on your own. Kristl and I have found it helpful for one of us to stay at our table while the other goes swapping. That way, if anyone comes to us, we can swap with them, and if we want anything in particular, the other person can go directly to that table with items to swap.
3. Say no if you want to: It's bartering, so you really don't have to agree to every swap. If you aren't seeing a resolution of an offer where all parties involved will go away happy, say no and see if the person is willing to switch things up to get what you have. There are no rules other than be respectful and be kind. Your swapping strategy is up to you.
4. Bring samples: It goes without saying that folks are going to want to know what they are getting themselves into with a swap item. If you are canning a batch of jam, make a half pint jar just for folks to sample. If you are bringing a baked good, chop some of it up and having it sitting on your swap table. Samples are the key to good swapping, because if you are bringing good food to swap, people will know when they taste it.
5. List ingredients: We are in the age of allergies and sensitivities, so it is vital that people know what is in the items you are giving to them. You do not need to go so far as to list ingredients on each container, but on your swap sheet for each item, everything should be fully disclosed.
6. Tag your stuff: We haven't gone so far as to put our website on our swap items (mostly because we are awesome at putting things together at the last minute), but that will be our next step. If you want to be an established swapper, put your name on your stuff. If you have an email or a website, slap it on there. If people really like your items, they may ask you for the recipe or want to see more. At the very least, they will remember that Amy's hot pickled peppers belonged to you, Amy, and then they will want to see what you come up with next.
7. Have fun and be nice: It's a fun thing. It's not supposed to be stressful or dramatic. You don't need to make people feel bad if you are allergic to their bacon peanut butter. You don't need to make people feel bad if they are allergic to your tomato sauce. Be honest, be kind, and have fun! It's a magical thing to leave the house with stuff you made, and come home with a basket full of items you never even expected. Embrace the magic and we'll see you at the next Chicago food swap.
If you are totally geeking out and want to hear other accounts of how the swap went down, find another account of the June swap here.
And for those of you eager to swap, the dates and locations for the next three swaps have already been posted:
- August 4 at Green Home Experts in Oak Park. We will return to the site of last August's swap. At this time of year, expect lots of homegrown produce as well as the usual array of prepared foods. Registration for the August swap will open on July 7.
- September 15 at The Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. This soon-to-be-opened spice store in the bustling Lincoln Sqaure neighborhood will be host for the September swap. We can't wait to check out their new space!
- October 6 at Peterson Garden Project in Ravenswood Manor. Let us hope for a nice day so we can use both the indoor and outdoor space at Peterson Garden Project's education center, site of last December's swap.
Good luck and we'll hopefully see you swapping in August!
P.S. We didn't link to a recipe for pineapple-infused vodka, but the basic idea is get candied pineapple, chop it up, cover it with mid-grade vodka, let it sit in the fridge for at least a week, but up to a month or more, shaking it every couple days. Drain the pineapple out, taste to see if it needs more sugar, otherwise it's ready for mixing. I like it with ginger syrup and sparkling water. (I do not recommend using bottom shelf vodka for infusing, as it still tastes like bottom shelf vodka after you've infused it.)