The American Potluck

Potluck 2

Image Credit: Simple, Good, and Tasty

The Greeks are credited with putting potluck meals into practice. The potluck practice itself is Greek although the word “potluck” is American. The Greeks would slowly cook meals and bring them to a centralized location after planting and harvesting were finished. They would make meals with various combinations of vegetables, grains, meats, potatoes, beans, and rice. Today we enjoy these same types of meals which we call casseroles. The word “casserole” derives from the Greek kyathion, the Latin cottia, and the old French casse. Casseroles are baked and served in the same container or dish and are easily transported. Because of their convenience casseroles are quite popular at potluck meals even today. Potlucks provide a way to share food and provide fun social gatherings.  The Greeks valued social interactions as much as the food and as Americans so do we.


Image Credit: Ideal Me

The first traceable potluck meal in the  (now) US dates back to the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony. As time moved on modern foods such as canned soups produced by the Campbell Soup Company made casserole and potluck history. Campbell’s ads proclaimed the ease of making casseroles by simply adding a can or two of soup to various foods to make dinners easy on busy American homemakers.

Clarence Birdseye II

Image Credit: Daily Telegraph

In 1924 a man named Clarence Birdseye II began producing frozen fish and then frozen vegetables. They were a huge hit. Now  meat and vegetables were handy at  any time of the year even when vegetables were out of season.  When the frozen food was thawed it looked, tasted, and smelled just like the fresh food. The American homemaker could now rely on staples in her pantry and freezer.  Meal planning became much easier and faster. The time to cook a meal was reduced from hours to minutes. Clarence Birdseye II became known as the pioneer of frozen foods while producing his Birds Eye brand of frozen foods. Birds Eye products can still be found in almost every supermarket and is known world wide. Though I don’t have time to go into Birdseye’s complete story, he also made significant contributions to the fields of taxidermy, agriculture,  fishing,  manufacturing, and veterinary science.

Because of the changing nature of food storage in cans and freezers block parties and potlucks became quite popular especially during World War II. This was a simple way to share food not to mention that for the first time many American women began working outside of  their homes. For this reason potlucks could also save time. Women could work during the day and attend potlucks in the evenings without a lot of extra work. It wasn’t long before potluck style meals were used at fancy parties, homey gatherings, family reunions, and holiday celebrations just to name few examples. Potlucks remain quite popular at any event in which a large number of people need to be fed. 

Reading through the library has brought me to the 641 section, Food and Drink. For this post I have relied heavily on:

The Potluck Cookbook

Other books I checked out but don’t have time to comment on are:

The New American Heart Association CookbookHealthy Fats, Low Cholesteral Cookbook$3 MealsSmoking Food

What was the last potluck you went to? Have you ever hosted a potluck? Feel free to leave comments about your potluck experiences.


7 thoughts on “The American Potluck

    1. Potlucks were also popular when I was a poor college student as well. I’m so glad that you and your friends were able to combine food and social life! (I think that’s popular no matter what age we are!)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Fantastic post – I never knew the history of potlucks and I’ve always been fascinated by the concept. I’ve participated in a lot of potlucks in the past. When I lived in Upstate NY and was a poor student I used to go to the Quaker Meeting down the street for their fantastic potluck after service.

    Liked by 1 person

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