Tips of the Trade: A Food Swap Guide

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April Food Swap Haul Food swap.  Two words that make quite a lot of sense together.  You swap food with other people.  Not exactly a difficult concept yet when you get to the details of swapping it is hard to determine just what to bring to a swap and how much.  There are some with themes like last month’s swap we attended was a boozy theme with a highlight on beer.

Metropolitan Brewing April Food Swap So, a few craft brewers came to trade their beer.  The rest of us brought items that matched the theme and those that did not.  Basically, you should make anything homemade that you think other people would want.  If you’re hesitant then try a family favorite.  There is no such thing as consistency at a swap.  There are some people who will bring the same item but the majority bring something different every month.  Play to your strengths.  We at Rosie Discovers are more of the baking type of cook so we tend to bring more breads or sweet treats.  While we’ve received anything from fresh produce during the season to kimchi to soups to roasted coffee beans to gourmet marshmallows to jams.  The list goes on and on.

Food Swap April Rosie Discovers There are a few guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind.  If you wouldn’t want it, then chances are others wouldn’t either.  By that I mean, wrap it so we can tell what it is and that it’s the same as the sample.  Technically, you don’t have to sample your wares but sweet or spicy mean different intensities to different people and we want to know what we’re getting.  Plus you have to love hearing the food you prepared is delicious in person.  We’re not going to be mean if we don’t like it, but if we love it then we’re obviously going to be hanging around your table hoping that you’ll want to swap secretly before the time begins we’re going to be overly willing to trade whatever we have with you.

Susie with a Blue Hubbard Squash 1 Portion sizes can be hard to determine.  Generally, you’re going for a serving size if it’s not an item you put in a jar or other special container.  Nothing too overwhelming.  You don’t want to scare the other swappers by unloading a whole three dozen cookies on them in one trade not that I’d say no to that generous trade.  Maybe four or five is a good number depending on the size.  If we bring bread, then we generally cut our loaves in half for trading.  When we brought beer cheese we used half-pint jars. You can always bargain by trading two for one depending on what the item is you are looking to take home.   Keep in mind that we’re not going all out for our items.  Think of it as an office gift exchange.  You’re not looking to spend an exorbitant amount on your items.  You may find it easier to package your items by value say portions that would sell for $5 or less at a store not including the packaging.

Cabot Crisps at the Chicago Food Swap 1 Knowing your items is key.  You want to be able to tell us what is in your items.  Are they gluten-free or vegan?  What is in them?  Coming from a family with food allergies we always know to ask but it’d be good if you knew whether you did put peanuts in that sauce or if you used real butter or a vegan substitute or if you really did make that all by hand because it looks too good to be real.  You don’t have to tell us the recipe step-by-step if you don’t want to, but you might find recipes attached or they might tell you the recipe is posted on their website.  Besides, if it’s something we’ve never made before we’re curious as to how you’re making it.  Or if it is something we already make we might want to talk shop like last month.  Alison got extra detailed in the working of our specific beer bread recipe with one of the craft brewers.  You might pick up a few tips on how to make a recipe you use even more delectable or moist.  The other part of knowing your items is telling us how to consume them.  Do we eat them as is? Or can we reheat them or combine them with something else for an ultimate foodie experience? Does your item need to be kept cold or used within a certain time period?

Bringing more than you to the swap.  You may want to go alone which is fine, but don’t be surprised to see more than one person working their table.  At the bigger swaps it is beneficial to have one person by your items at all times or you might miss out on a great trade.  You might want to take turns walking and sampling.  You can strategize on how to trade.  Maybe one of you will speedily make the trades you desperately want while the other stays behind so you don’t miss any trades.  Depending on the size of a food swap you may have name tags and trade sheets to help you keep track of who is who and who is interested in what.   You may also want to keep in mind that the items you swap for may be larger than what you brought with you.  So plan to take a bag with extra space in case you come home with a big bounty or an empty stomach in case you really want to help out and make sure no one goes home with their samples.  Or maybe you want to bring a small cooler for the ride home in case you get fresh eggs or bacon or cheese.

Cabot Crisp Samples Pin 1 Samples should be bite size.  You can break up your items into smaller sizes and have them out in a container.  Or you can have an extra jar of what you brought to open up to sample.  Keep in mind general food safety and hygiene most of us don’t want sticky fingers the whole time we’re there. Bring toothpicks if your samples aren’t dry goods or a spoon or knife to spread that sauce or cheese.  Or you can use pretzels or chips to accompany your hummus or hot sauce.  Use your judgment knowing that if you would be hesitant to eat your sample then others would be too.

There is no limit to what you can bring.  You can bring five items to trade or a hundred but expect to come home with the same number of items.  We generally bring two or three different things with about six to ten of each to trade.  Our strategy is to bring a sweet and savory just in case we want to trade with someone we have a wider range to appeal to their tastes.  Just know that if you don’t trade all of your items they will be coming home with you unless the employees look hungry and you offer up your leftover goods before we do.  You can’t leave them behind.  We want to leave our swap locations as we found them.

No one is going to force a trade on you.  You can say no.  We won’t specifically reject everything you have, but we tend to be more adventurous swappers.  Our theory is that everything we make we can make again at home so we might as well trade everything we brought.  Or if it’s not a popular trade item we might just give it away for free.  We’re looking for something we don’t already make at home, but we know other swappers who would rather only trade knowing that they do in fact love the item they’re getting.  Some would rather take home their items rather than trade for something they’re not entirely certain they’ll finish.  Both ways are acceptable.  We’re not food wasters we just know that certain family members will definitely eat anything so we’re willing to trade for anything at least once or it could just be that we’re on a mission to find the most unusual item and trick the other one into eating it later.

Expect to make new friends.  Everyone at a food swap is interested in food so you already have something in common.  You may be hesitant as a new swapper but by the end of a swap you’ll most likely be chatting away.  I’ve never met a mean food swapper.   We might be taking pictures of your food but not of you, unless you want it that way.

There are a few other things to keep in mind.  Depending on the swap there may be a featured item or guest.  During one swap, Gale Gand did a cooking demo with one of her daughters.  There will be time set aside for special talks if there are any.  There will also be at least a half hour before the actual swap begins.  You will have more than enough time to set up your space.  You can decorate if you want, but it’s not required.  The entire food swap will take about two hours so plan your parking accordingly.  Some locations have free street parking while others do not.   Don’t stress if you show up late.  People will still be interested in what you have to offer.   We do expect your items to be homemade.  There is some leniency but if you show up with a box of cereal, we’ll know something is up.  Depending on the swap any homemade items might be accepted not just edibles so be sure to check the details of the particular swap you’re attending to see if you can bring scarves or lip balm or artworks.

The most important guideline is to have fun.  You may not end up trading all of your items your first time, but maybe if you liked it enough to come again you’ll find your food swap niche.  You might be great with ethnic food or vegan or gluten-free just not baked goods that’s our thing.  At the end of a swap, we want you to leave saying you enjoyed it and that you want to come back or if you didn’t at least you were exposed to some new foods and people in your community.

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