This was not your mother’s potluck. Well, actually, it kind of was, and I mean that in a good way. It had the same ingredients of potlucks of yore—about 30 interesting people gathered on the lawn, eating one another’s offerings and sharing the wine. But this potluck was way more cutting-edge. On this July evening at the Hargrave house in Jamesport, the “potluckies” were members of Slow Food East End, the local chapter of Slow Food USA, with an interest in national food policy reform as well as local, fresh, well-prepared food. So the dishes were really good! Spice-rubbed grilled chicken, noodles with cherry tomatoes, bluefish, zucchini galore and more made a delectable display.
“We have people here from all over the East End bringing their favorite dishes, and just about everything is from local farm stands and people’s gardens,” said hostess Anne Hargrave, a fine art consultant whose parents, Alex and Louisa Hargrave, first planted grapes on the East End in 1973, founding the now world-renowned Long Island wine industry. “But what I love best is the spirit—there’s such a great spirit here, and we’re having a wonderful time.”
Golden evening light shone through irrigation mist from the neighboring farm, and the eating began in earnest. Chioggia beets, brought by the Kaplan-Walbrechts of Garden of Eve organic farm in Northville, were a hit. “We added goat cheese, dill and balsamic vinegar,” Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht said. “I think balsamic vinegar goes so well with beets, don’t you?”
Cod baked in local merlot, mustard and cheddar was unusual and delicious. “The cod at the fish market looked so fresh, I had to choose it,” said Jeri Woodhouse of a Taste of the North Fork in Cutchogue. Next to it was polenta, by Rona Smith of Orient, made the traditional way with the delightful addition of the first local sweet corn of the season.
A few bottles of wine made the rounds. Named “the Vineyard,” after that first planting long ago, it is the Hargrave house merlot sourced from McCall vineyard in Cutchogue, a pretty, medium-bodied wine made from the grape that most agree does extremely well here. “It’s lovely; Long Island wine is very good but you must agree that French wine is the best,” teased Anne’s friend Marc de Gontaut Biron, who is French, naturellement.
The response to the potluck was overwhelmingly positive, and more are already planned, answering a call for casual, less expensive events to complement the chapter’s multi-course restaurant dinners, said Hargrave. This is the first time the Slow Food East End chapter has incorporated potlucks, which may attract new members, especially younger, more budget-conscious East Enders longing to share a passion for fresh local bounty and sound food policy in a fun, casual way. There’s always some hot new topic on the East End Slow Food scene, like a new winery opening up, a new wind-turbine proposal or the movement to bring healthy, locally grown food into the lunch programs in area schools.
“I can see this being the start of something that could actually make a difference,” Hargrave said. “And we get to eat really well.”