The Chicago Food Swap is having its next event on Sunday and it is going to be a doozy. I was able to find an amazing host, Gallery 1028, that has enough space to accommodate as many swappers as we could hope to have. For the first time, I did not have to cap attendance at 30 or 40 or 50 people because of space constraints. As a result, with less than 72 hours to go, we have 90 people registered to swap on Sunday.

I must admit, I am a little terrified about the logistics of an event with that many people — there will be a line to check in and I hope people are cool with that — but at the same time, it is very exciting to see this level of enthusiasm for a food swap. It amazes me to think that a friend and I started the Chicago Food Swap less than two years ago and in that time, we have grown a dozen swappers to eight times that many. Whereas we once had to scrounge around for sites to host our swaps, now businesses are reaching out to us about hosting a swap at their stores and I am able to plan events three or four months in advance.

Cooks and gardeners love the idea of swapping their homemade and homegrown goods — if you like to make homemade stuff, you probably also like to try others’ homemade stuff — and once they have actually participated in a swap, they love the reality even more. For those who toil away in their gardens and kitchens, it is so fulfilling to have others admire what you make. And, at the same time, it is inspiring to see that there are other people out there who love food just as much and who are also making and growing delicious things.  The bonus is that you get to bring home all kinds of yummy treats that you would have never made yourself.

I think all of the swappers who have participated in the past are wondering if this super-sized swap will feel different from our previous, smaller events. What is the right strategy when preparing for a swap with 90 people? Make twice as much stuff? I don’t know myself. I have barely had time to make anything for the swap, let alone make more than usual. The end-of-the-school-year festivities coupled with my kids being around more has really cut into my time in the kitchen! But I have managed to make a few things.

First, I am bringing two pints of the preserved lemons that I made for the June Tasting Jerusalem project. (That still leaves me with a pint, which should last for a while given how little preserved lemons one needs to use in a recipe to taste their briny tang.) I also have five pints of Rhubarb Chutney that I made using the recipe from the Food in Jars cookbook. I love to buy rhubarb when it is in season at the Oak Park farmers’ market and my husband can barely tolerate the stuff. (I make lots of strawberry rhubarb desserts and then assure him in my best Monty Python voice that this one “has not got much rhubarb in it.”) So a rhubarb chutney for the food swap seems like a good result. I will try to swap it for something he actually does like.

My third offering for the food swap is a lemon-fennel flavored salt that came about because JR wanted to have a lemonade stand. When we do a lemonade stand at my house, we do a lemonade stand. That means homemade, fresh-squeezed lemonade. And I make it a point always to zest lemons before squeezing them. There is no reason to let all the flavor that is in that zest go to waste. Cook with it, mix it with sugar, mix it with salt, but don’t just throw it away!

When I was faced with a large pile of lemon zest in the wake of juicing six lemons for lemonade, I opted to mix it with salt because it is grilling season. Lemon salt is very handy to have on hand for grilling chicken, fish and vegetables. I was inspired to go a step further and mix some crushed fennel seed into my lemon salt because of something I bought at Eataly last fall. On a whim, when I was there, I picked up a jar of Cancale, a fleur de sel flavored with orange and fennel. I liberally sprinkled this fragrant blend on all kinds of Mediterranean-inspired dishes until my small jar was gone.

Now, with all this lemon zest, I could recreate the magic of Cancale at home. And what a great thing to bring to the food swap! I bet it will go like hotcakes. Lemon fennel salt would make a charming hostess gift for any of your summer parties or travel. You can find cute glass jars or metal tins to pack the salt in at thrift stores, at places like Pier One, Ikea, Cost Plus World Market or craft stores. (I bought my little jar at Goodwill, but it originally came from Ikea. Go figure.) You can also order them online at Amazon on Specialty Bottle.

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Emily Paster

Emily Paster is a freelance writer and mother of two living in River Forest. She writes about food and parenting on her website, West of the Loop. Emily's print work appears frequently in Chicago Parent...