I thought I got to eat at a lot of potluck suppers over the years as a pastor, but churches have nothing on the staff of Grand Portage National Monument. We may have a short season at Grand Portage, but we make up for the brevity with lots of social time together in the form of frequent potluck suppers.
Allegedly, the term “potluck” comes from a 16th century writer, Thomas Nashe, who used it to mean “food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot.” I could find the quote ascribed to Thomas Nashe all over the internet but not the citation to an actual work. Obviously lots of people like Wikipedia! Potluck is defined as “a situation in which one must take a chance that whatever is available will prove to be good or acceptable.” I think this pretty well describes most of the potluck suppers I have attended: we take a chance that the food provided will be acceptable and there will be enough to fill us up! The only time I ever attended a potluck supper that didn’t fill me up was when every single person brought dessert. So we went to a restaurant for our meal and then came back for dessert!
But back to Grand Portage and its potluck suppers.
We started with a potluck the first night all the volunteers were in place. We had all arranged to bring a side dish or dessert through email, and we each brought our own meat to grill and our own drinks. When RVers have potlucks, they also bring their own tableware and silverware. This potluck helped all the volunteers get to know each other as we stated the basics: where we were from and our experience working at national park sites.
Just a week later we had our first potluck with all the staff at Grand Portage. It was a Taco potluck where you could sign up for a taco topping or bring a side dish or dessert. Although we were a little light on lettuce, there was plenty of other food. A couple of weeks later was a “wedding reception” potluck. Ranger Jeremy got married and his lovely bride came up for a weekend so we could share in wishing them good fortune. They provided the taco fixings and everyone else brought side dishes and dessert.
On the 4th of July the volunteers got together for another potluck at our RV “village.” We each signed up for a dish ahead of time and ate in the screen room to avoid the black flies and mosquitoes. We played Apples to Apples until it got dark.
A couple of weeks later we had a pizza party with the pizzas made in the bake oven after the historic site had closed for the day. Everyone brought a topping, a salad, or dessert and we enjoyed sitting on the porch talking, laughing, and eating individual pizzas made just the way we wanted them.
Several times one of us who was cooking in the kitchen would make too much food and we would have an impromptu picnic with whoever was available at the RV “village.” One night we had baked beans with sausage and Apple Brown Betty. Another night we had sloppy joes and mixed berry pie. A third night we had baked beans, spinach tarts, and banana cake.
During Rendezvous the maintenance staff put together a potluck for everyone for lunch. As we were able during the day, we would walk up to the maintenance building and eat our fill of burgers and hot dogs, salads and cookies. It was a nice, quiet moment during the craziness of Rendevous.
Our final potluck dinner was at the instigation of Ranger Jed. He invited everyone to a end-of-the-season “dress-up” dinner where he provided a turkey baked in the kitchen and we all filled in the other items for the feast. There was quite a bit of discussion about the dress-up part, but in the end everyone wore pretty nice clothes. Some people also wore some bling. Pam came in her tiara, Beth had a feather boa, and the Koster-Pfeil family came in birch bark headresses and a birch bark tie. The Walkers also sported some fancy birch bark hats. All of the interpretive staff came and we had a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner with lots of good food and laughter.
We were more social at Grand Portage than we have been at any other park. Part of this was due to having other volunteers around and part of it was because of the family atmosphere that the staff work to create. Sharing a meal potluck style was a wonderful way to express the joy we found in working and playing together.