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Potluck Meals and Freezer Roulette


You’ve probably heard of ‘potlucks’ those communal events – particularly popular in the US – where guests all bring a homemade dish to share, and you don’t know what you’re going to get. Sounds quite simple, stress-free and fun. In theory yes, but apparently an etiquette and many rules govern both the hosting and the attending of a potluck as Danielle Walsh explains on Bon Appétit.  

The other, unintentional potluck

Anyway, I digress. I’m not talking about that kind of potluck. No, I’m speaking of the solo, I’ll grab something out of the freezer version. These meals weren’t supposed to be a game of culinary chance but they became one.

With bravado I add my batch cooks or leftovers to the freezer without labelling. I’m always one hundred percent confident that I’ll know exactly what the contents are three months or more down the line.

Spoiler alert: this isn’t the case.

Recently neither my husband or I could ascertain what was in the Tupperware languishing in the freezer. Something compelled me to mention on Facebook that we were having a ‘potluck’ lunch. The response on the post was surprising in terms of engagement. Sometimes the mundane strikes a chord. It turns out that we are not alone in having a freezer full of mystery meals.

Everyone regaled their stories of food mistaken identity: chilli con carne served with pasta (and the flip side of a Bolognese ragù served with rice), thawed sweetbreads instead of the expected chicken fillets and literally a dog’s dinner instead of an anticipated beef stew. I had no inkling about what I was defrosting for our lunch so didn’t risk an accompaniment. I knew it was bound to be something we liked; after all, I’d gone to the effort of preserving it. Unfortunately, it turned out to be homemade veal stock! Needless to say, that didn’t appeal as the main event for lunch at my desk. Although I did repurpose it for a cottage pie for dinner. The BBC’s recipe is brilliant by the way.

The veal stock didn’t go to waste

Groundhog Day

What became apparent from the Facebook responses was that ‘potluck’ is a common, Groundhog Day phenomenon. 

“And you do it [add unlabelled items to the freezer]regularly, believing that THIS time you’ll remember.” 

“Every time and it’s usually gravy.” 

“At least 25% of my freezer contents are categorised as Mystery Meat.”

“I do this all the time. It’s called freezer dinners round here.” 

“Happened to me last week as it goes…. Settled down for a nice chilli con carne…. Lo and behold it was Spag Bol. Wasn’t prepared mentally for it.” 

What is it in the psyche that makes us repeat the same behaviour and play freezer roulette? Does the thrill of uncertainty draw us in? Do we secretly enjoy the challenge of turning unexpected components into an enjoyable meal as if appearing on Ready Steady Cook (RIP)? Or is that we’re just a bit lazy? I suspect for me it’s the latter.

I know that I still won’t label freezer bags so this will inevitably happen again. The other thing I know is that I’m now almost certain to host my first traditional potluck. Here’s hoping that no one brings their dog’s defrosted tripe. 

What’s your most. unexpected mystery meal?

Potluck meal


About Author

I’m Fran: wife, mother-of-three and freelance publicist. My love for communicating and writing mirrors my passion for trying to be the best mum I can be. I love good food & wine, Italian culture and football and have a keen interest in personal finance. I also blog over on Epsom & Ewell Families and Habyts, and write sporadically for a number of other sites.

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