The new trend you should check out: food swaps

Do you love to cook or bake? Have a vegetable garden that, come summer, produces more zucchini or tomatoes than your family can eat? Do you raise backyard chickens or keep bees and find yourself with extra eggs or honey? You are a good candidate to join a food swap.

A food swap brings home cooks, bakers and gardeners together to trade their homemade and homegrown foods. No money changes hands, and all of the participants bring something they made, grew or foraged themselves. From its origins in Brooklyn six years ago, food swapping has developed into a national trend, with food swaps held in every major American city as well as many suburbs and small towns.

The idea is to encourage people to cook more, to cut down on food waste and to create community around food. Along the way, participants learn about different food traditions, get inspired and connect with others who share their love of food.

A friend and I started the Chicago Food Swap in 2011 and it is one of the most active and dynamic food swaps in the country. We meet every other month at the Community Cooking School in the Broadway Armory Field House, 5917 N. Broadway St., Chicago.

Typically a Chicago Food Swap event draws 30-60 attendees. Some examples of popular items to be swapped are jams, pickles, salsa, dips, baked goods, candies, granola, spice mixes, fresh pasta, home brews and infusions, and homegrown vegetables or herbs.

To encourage people to start food swaps in their own communities, I have written a book, Food Swap, that is both a guide to starting a food swap and a cookbook with more than 75 recipes that would be good to bring to a food swap.

These recipes–which include candies, baked goods, soups, dips, condiments, jam and pickles–are also ideal for bake sales, edible gifts and entertaining.

Some people tell me that they would love to participate in a food swap, but are afraid their food is not good enough. That’s a misconception: anyone can participate in a food swap. There are all kinds of easy recipes, such as the two I’m sharing here, and DIY kitchen projects that would make desirable food swap items.

Citrus Sugar

Infused sugar is an easy swap item that almost anyone can prepare, regardless of cooking experience. Flavored sugars add an extra level of flavor to baked goods and are wonderful for sweetening beverages such as lemonade or iced tea. You can flavor sugar with herbs, spices, citrus zest and more.

Citrus sugar makes a beautiful hostess gift.

Makes one pint

Ingredients

  • Zest of two lemons (or other citrus fruits, such as orange or lime)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar

Directions

Dry the zest by spreading it out in an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and baking in a 200°F oven until crisp, 30-45 minutes. (You can also air-dry it by letting the mixture sit out overnight.)

Crumble the zest with your fingers and combine with the sugar.

Turnip Green Pesto

This pesto recipe came about as a way to use up the greens attached to the tiny Hakurei turnips at the farmers market in late spring. There is no cheese in this recipe, so it’s actually vegan. The lemon juice adds brightness and fixes the vibrant green color.

Makes 12 ounces or three 4-ounce jars

Ingredients

  • 5 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 4 cups well-packed, coarsely chopped baby turnip greens
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are slightly browned and fragrant. Watch the pine nuts carefully so they do not burn.

Combine the toasted pine nuts, turnip greens, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to combine. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture resembles a thick paste.

Store the pesto in the refrigerator until needed.

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