The (European) custom (of bringing a small gift of chocolates or flowers) got mixed up with the jolly American tradition of cooperative meals — picnics, covered-dish suppers, family reunions and improvised parties by students. Nothing wrong with those, as long as everyone understands the deal. Now guests entering a gala dinner party look as if they are in the express line at the grocery store, each carrying one item.
How often have I seen this example of missing the intention of an invitation: I spent several hours in the kitchen preparing a superb meal, a three-course meal, including dessert. Then my guests brought a cake which we had to eat for dessert instead of the one I prepared. The Miss Manners response? You should respond: Thank you; I’ve made dinner, so we’ll enjoy this another day. Brilliant!
But as many of us DO have invitations for covered-dish, here are a few of my tips:
- When you promise to bring a salad, bring one! The hostess might have worked hard to ask for the right balance of dishes.
- Bring your dish ready to set out. Again, from Miss Manners: One of my guests offered to bring a fruit salad, and commandeered my kitchen for the better part of an hour to wash, slice/dice and arrange her fruit. I was frantically trying to do my last-minute preparations, so the intrusion threw me into a tailspin, and then my guest wondered why I was so frazzled.
- Consider the presentation. Use glass, pottery, but not a mixing bowl! Touches such as parsley, etc. are nice, too.
- Bring your serving utensil, one that you could lose. One website suggested going to the dollar store to have a few on hand.
- Bring your own hot pads -- again, be ready to lose them.
- If you don't cook, put something together that's EASY, but don't bring a bag of potato chips!! Our favorite easy dish is Allen's Beans that have been simmered in a little olive oil and Italian seasonings. If you really don't cook, visit Kroger, Fresh Market or Earth Fare and be prepared to pay a handsome price for an ample amount from their ready-to-eat section. That might make you think harder about learning to cook.