The e-mail invitation read, “Come swap homegrown, handmade or foraged edible delights with like-minded food lovers in the DC area.” I was intrigued to meet other people who enjoy the art of cooking. Even though I didn’t know what to expect, I signed up right away for the Sunday afternoon fall food swap.

October 2014 food swap in Alexandria, VA

October 2014 food swap in Alexandria, VA

I soon learned that food swapping is an international pastime. There’s even a Food Swapping Network website to find or organize one in your community. Ten to 15 people get together and bring at least six individually wrapped packages of one to three homemade food items plus samples of each item.

When my husband and I arrived in Old Town Alexandria with our jars of homemade strawberry preserves, quarts of canned peaches and vegetarian pâté, we were greeted warmly by the organizer, Shelu Patel. Now in her second year of organizing the Alexandria Food Swap, Shelu shared her interest with me: “I love food swapping because it is what the local communities did historically—bartering your homemade goods with others. I enjoy working with my hands. Participants inspire me to try new recipes, and I have met such wonderful people.”

Everyone displayed their samples and wares on the pre-set tables—some foods were very nicely packaged in unusually shaped jars, or with ribbon, faux leaves and artistic labels. Shelu gave everyone a swap sheet for each item and told us to list the food, indicate how it was made and whether it was shelf stable or required refrigeration and check off applicable categories, such as vegan, gluten free, dairy free and so on.

Coconut pound cake and the food swap form at the Alexandria food swap in October

Coconut pound cake and the food swap form at the Alexandria food swap in October

Then, she instructed: “Everyone should walk around and taste one another’s offerings. For any food you’d like to swap, write down your name and swap offer on the item’s swap sheet. After everyone has written down their offers, go back to the person, negotiate a trade and seal the deal.”

It was fun to see and taste what everyone brought. Along with other preserved jams, I tasted Irish soda bread, peach salsa, coconut pound cake and a sweet peanut butter and chocolate confection that made my husband swoon. I was most intrigued by a delicious whipped garlic spread called toum, a traditional Lebanese garlic sauce that is great on just about any anything. I swapped a quart of my canned peaches for two small containers.

Everyone took with new items home. It was as much fun to swap cooking stories and recipes as it was to swap the food. I enjoyed the event so much that I decided to offer tickets to an upcoming food swap as part of my synagogue’s annual auction fundraiser.

And so, on Sunday, February 22nd, four of us from Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation will join the next Alexandria Food Swap from 2 to 3:30 pm. You can, too, by registering online. You can also check out other area food swaps in Washington, DC, and in Baltimore. For more information, contact Shelu by e-mail. Whether attending or hosting your own, food swapping can be a great community-building activity for your synagogue, school or neighborhood, too!