Emily Teel

writing about all things gastronomical

Fall Food Swapping

Ever been to a clothing swap? They're one of my favorite things.  For the uninitiated, a clothing swap requires each participant to bring a bag (or several) of clothes that he or she is ready to part with. Maybe you loved the color of the skirt, but it was actually a weird length on you, or you adored the idea of a dress more than the actual fit. Maybe you bought a jacket that seemed practical, but then never wore it, or perhaps you're just tired of looking at something. Regardless, the thing that is truly satisfying about a swap is that you arrive with items you're ready to bid goodbye and, inevitably, you go home with at least a few things that are new to you. Sometimes they come with stories behind them, like the hand-sewn dress that was a school project made by your friend's textile designer friend, and they're always just as exciting as if you had gone shopping. 

Despite having attended at least two clothing swaps each year for the past several, I had never been to a food swap until last winter. Frankly, I think I was being kind of snobby about it. Like, why would I swap food with a bunch of other people when I'm such a great cook? I'm sure that it comes as no surprise: I was so wrong.

Food swaps are roughly the same idea as clothing swaps, but instead of bringing items that are languishing in the pantry, participants bring a quantity of items they've made to trade for a larger diversity of items. Instead of working all summer to put up jam of every flavor and hue, swapping is a great way to diversify your own selection by trading your fantastic apricot jam for a jar of somebody else's scrumptious strawberry. 

And it's not just jam. I was amazed - and proven very, very wrong from my previous sentiments - to see at my first swap (organized by Philly Food Swappers) such an amazing variety. There were breads and baked goods alongside hummus, handmade butter, home-brewed beer, chickpea miso, honey, sausage, berry syrup, kombucha starter, infused vinegars, fermented green beans, preserved lemons, homemade soup with croutons,  bitters, infused liquors, and even dry goods like fruit leather, crackers, granola and soup mixes. 

In recent weeks I've happily attended a second Philly Food Swap and another swap held at Eat Retreat and hosted by Jane Lerner, who runs BK Swappers. Conscious of the accomplished culinary contributions I saw at my first swap, I was excited about each of these, and I tried hard to bring things that, to me anyway, seem unique and appealing. I traded jars of San Marzano tomatoes canned with backyard oregano and basil, sweet corn picnic relish, and two kinds of salsa: black bean and corn, and peach jalapeño. 

The haul I brought home in exchange is just inspiring. A tall jar of Jane's Salty Pirate Caramel and a Mexican hot chocolate spiced fudge. Honey cardamom syrup, marinated red peppers, and tomato achaar by Chitra.I was even the lucky recipient of some of Amanda's tiny, rooftop grown purple tomatillos, which disappeared into a salsa before I even snapped their photo.There was homemade sriracha, fermented dilly beans, and pickled brussels sprouts, chai tea bread by Alexis, and spicy sweet caramel popcorn. Home-cured guanciale by Heather and, and professionally pickled beets, okra, and jalapeños. My already loaded pantry (basement) is even more jammed than before and I can't help but feel, even as we head into the holidays when a lot of my jars will disappear to new homes, rich in the creative and delicious work of talented people. 


Find a swap near you: Food Swap Network







Emily Teel wants to hear about what you had for lunch.