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Comforting potluck dishes perfect for after church on Sundays

Some foods simply taste better when crafted in the seasoned hands of local church ladies.

Whether chocolate-covered eggs filled with peanut butter sold as a fundraiser or a communal dinner set to celebrate an occasion, meals rooted in church traditions have created comfort for centuries.

And while certain foods - like wine or communion wafers - continue to have close ties to religion, other communal celebrations centered on food formed independently and expanded beyond faith-based partnerships.

Enter: The potluck—or covered dish. Or spread.

A potluck is a “communal gathering where each guest or group contributes a different, often homemade, dish of food to be shared,” according to Wikipedia.

The term derives from the situation in which a surprise guest turns up at dinner time, and they receive the “luck of the pot,” or whatever the family prepared that evening. Others credit Native American indigenous peoples’ “potlatch,” a communal meal. The more modern definition likely came from the Great Depression when people gathered, and each brought a shared dish.

Potluck dinners are often associated with religious or community groups for a few reasons: 1) They are more cost-efficient because they spread the meal costs amongst the participants, and 2) Meal planning and options are varied yet simplified, so there’s something for everyone. For these reasons, potlucks are also popular at work events, weddings, and family reunions. No matter the celebration, some quintessential potluck dishes in Appalachia complete the feast.

Check out some of the most popular dishes and put your spin on them for your next potluck invitation:

  1. Deviled Eggs - This classic picnic dish can be found at all gatherings: hard-boiled eggs are halved, and the center yolks are scooped out and mixed with mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, and other condiments before being piped back into the eggs. Some cooks top their deviled eggs with paprika, relish, hot sauce, or chives. The culinary term “deviled” refers to food prepared with hot or fussy spices or condiments. In Appalachia, you might find some chow- chow on top.

  2. Casseroles - Filled with meat, vegetables, and some starch, a casserole is baked in a deep dish, usually topped with cheese. The combinations are endless: tuna noodles, green bean, cheesy chicken & rice, broccoli & cheese, beef pot pie, tater-tot hot dish, and many more. Paired with classic Campbell’s cream soups, casseroles are versatile and can include any number of ingredients - even wild game.

  3. Salad - Prepared salads such as potato salad, macaroni salad, and pea salads are a mainstay at gatherings. While some salads are often made with green leafy vegetables, the mayonnaise-based versions are classics. Chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad, and ham salad are all Mayo-based spreads often eaten as sandwiches. And then there’s pasta salad, which can be either mayo or vinaigrette based and include chunks of cheese, pepperoni, olives, vegetables, and more.

  4. Fried chicken - Chicken is often the main entree at events because it can be homemade, made on-site, or even picked up at the local convenience store if needed. Plus, with the options for legs, wings, breasts, or thighs, there’s something for everyone - except the vegetarians.

  5. Dips - Like casseroles, dips vary widely by ingredient, layers, and more. But the general premise is that it’s created for the dunking corn chip, tortilla, or cracker. From a 7-layer dip with Mexican ingredients to a buffalo chicken dip with some heat, dips can have a vegetable or protein as the main component. Other favorites include spinach artichoke, caramelized onion, and roasted corn dips. Bonus points if the ingredients are local and, in Appalachia, may contain some foraged items like mushrooms or ramps.

    1. Cheeseball - As a cousin to the dip, the cheeseball is another similar potluck dish with cream cheese as a primary component, along with nuts, chicken, pimientos, bacon, and other spices to be eaten with crackers. It tends to be more solid and shaped into a ball or log, so it’s less of a dip but more of a scoop.

These dishes are just a sampling of the dishes found at various gatherings where folks bring a course from home. When putting them together, the result is a multi-course meal with everything from appetizers to desserts.

Not only does potluck food fill the tummy, but it can bring a community - no matter the kind - together to break bread. These meals nourish the attending event members but also nourish partnerships, friendships, and relationships.

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