When I was growing up, my mother was a member of the Ladies Aid at our church. Among the many activities the ladies organized were potluck dinners. Since our little country church lacked a fellowship hall or even a basement, the best potlucks were in the summer, when plank tables covered with bright tablecloths were piled with fried chicken, roast beef or pork, potatoes, bread, salads, pickles, cookies, cakes and pies.
Those potlucks were carefully planned by the senior members of the Ladies Aid. Grandma Weingarten or Mrs. Sjostrom would approach my mother after church with a request that she bring a gallon of her potato salad or a three pound meat loaf or whatever else fitted the menu that had been decided upon and that they knew Mom cooked well. Other ladies were asked to bring their appropriate specialties.
“Asked” may not be the right word, though it is a polite way to say “ordered.” The results were well-balanced and delicious dinners. I don’t remember appetizers (unless you count the first piece of chicken) but neither do I recall any potlucks that consisted of ten bowls of jell-o, two trays of celery and carrots, three casseroles and a plate of spice bars. Ladies then may have deferred to their husbands in most things, but they ruled the kitchens and planned the meals. And plan they did.
A few years ago when I was still gainfully employed I had the good fortune to work with a team that knew how to organize potlucks. Again, the ladies took charge. A sign-up sheet would appear in the break room headed with the theme for the affair and spaces for such items as “3 Meat dishes,” “3 Salads,” “Bread/rolls,” “2 Desserts,” etc.
There were soup and sandwich potlucks, outdoor barbecue potlucks and of course potlucks for special occasions or seasons: The Christmas Cookie potluck comes to mind.
Since the place was filled with good cooks, these dinners (lunch is truly not the appropriate word) were anticipated by everyone in the building. My retirement potluck was as spectacular as one could want. Among the many excellent dishes that day were spears of fresh asparagus from Susanne’s garden wrapped with ham and cream cheese in flour tortillas. When I asked for the recipe she told me that a friend had given it to her and she was happy to share it.
1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
3/4 to 1 lb. shaved ham or turkey
1/4 cup sesame seeds
8 oz. tub whipped cream cheese
Shredded parmesan, cheddar or other cheese
1 package large thin flour tortillas.
Wash the asparagus spears and trim if necessary. Drop them into a pot of boiling water and cook them for three to four minutes or steam them to “al dente,” which will take a bit longer. Use a fork to test for doneness or bite one as you do when cooking pasta. The exact time depends on the size of the spears.
Put a couple of quarts of cold water in a large bowl and add a dozen or so ice cubes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, drop the hot spears into the ice water to stop the cooking and cool them quickly. Incidentally, this is called shocking. You will know you have cooked the spears properly if they are bright green and tender but not mushy.
Spread a tortilla with cream cheese and sprinkle with sesame seed and shredded cheese. Add a layer of shaved ham or turkey and place a small bundle of asparagus spears (two to four depending on the size) on each half. Roll each bundle to the center of the tortilla. Slice down the center to form two “logs,” then cut on the bias into thirds, chill and serve. Susanne’s drawing shows how to do this:
NOTES: The ingredients listed will make 48 appetizers. Susanne used Garlic and Herb cream cheese, but any flavor you like (excepting sweet varieties) should work fine. I know that they are good with Chive and Onion cream cheese.