Philly Swappers share their kitchen treasures

Baked goods and canned and jarred items are common sights at Philly Swappers gatherings. The group is planning its fifth swap for mid-July. Marisa McClellan
Baked goods and canned and jarred items are common sights at Philly Swappers gatherings. The group is planning its fifth swap for mid-July. Marisa McClellan
Posted: June 01, 2012

DON’T LOOK NOW but your next-door neighbors may be swappers.

We’re not talking swap as in swing, unless your idea of swinging involves habanero jelly. These swappers trade in edible goods — homemade, homegrown, home-brewed or even foraged currency — exchanging whatever they’ve brought to the table one-to-one for others’ delicious treasures. Although bartering is nothing new — it’s likely prehistoric cave dwellers traded jerked woolly mammoth meat for dodo eggs — there is a growing movement of passionate foodies intent on sharing the wealth.

People like Georgia Kirkpatrick, a Philly resident who, along with Marisa McClellan of foodinjars.com and a few other fervent do-it-yourselfers, cooked up Philly Food Swappers last fall. The group, on Facebook at facebook.com/PhillySwappers, patterned its first event after BK Swappers, a Brooklyn-based group with members committed to everything from homesteading to honey-making.

Philly Swappers, planning its fifth swap for mid-July, has inspired other regional groups, including South Jersey Swappers ( southjerseyswappers.blogspot.com), which just had its first meet, and Oakmont Farmers Market ( oakmontfarmersmarket.org) in Havertown, which had its first swap May 22 at the Haverford Township library and is planning a repeat performance.

For Kirkpatrick, the experience of swapping is satisfying on a host of levels. "You always end up with really delicious things you’d never make yourself," she said. "And it’s been great to see how so many people want to participate — it’s really growing." Her favorite booty so far has been fresh eggs from Wyck Garden & Farm in Germantown. "It’s always fun to be able to swap for something you’d probably be buying anyway."

The first Philly Swappers gathering drew about 35 participants to the First Unitarian Church at 20th and Chestnut. Then the event was adopted by the Philadelphia Horticulture Center and held at its headquarters twice. The last meet was in the gardens at PHS’s Meadowbrook Farm in Abington. Up next, the group is looking at Wyck Farm to host. The farm’s caretaker, Dawn Reid, has been to all of the Philly swaps, contributing cherry chutney, fig jam picked from a friendly neighbor’s tree in Germantown and eggs from the farm’s chickens — always a crowd-pleaser.

If you’re wondering whether your contribution would be cool enough to go public, fear not. Just pick something you can make yourself that you know is delicious. The only misstep Kirkpatrick has seen was at the first meet, when a confused cook brought a large tossed salad to share and no individual containers. Think trading whatever it is, self-contained, and you’ll be fine.

The website foodswapnetwork.com explains the rules this way: "All swap items must be homemade, homegrown or foraged by you. Bring an assortment of your homemade edible specialties (think pickles, preserves, eggs, baked goods, … honey, granola, pasta, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices … you name it!) to exchange for other handcrafted delights. Bring as little or as much as you like (we suggest 10-15 items, but it’s up to you). You can bring a bunch of one thing or multiples of a few different things."

Remember, too, that other swappers will be picking up your goods and taking a closer look, so packaging needs to be sturdy and, if possible, reusable and Earth-friendly. It’s also a good idea to bring samples for others to try.

Lee Kreloff thought he’d be the only guy — or the only person under 70 — when he attended his first Philly Swappers. "To my surprise I saw a great group of young, enthusiastic people who simply love food, and love to share it," said Kreloff, 30, of Cherry Hill.

"There were even a few men there. Since then I’ve made great friends whom I see outside of the quarterly swaps. Meeting like-minded people who have a love for food and more importantly sharing that food with others is much better than my typical Thursday night."

Kreloff’s niche is spicy food, so he usually brings zesty preserves or sauces to share, including peach habanero jelly. Also popular are his caramel rosemary popcorn, pumpkin-pie bars, habanero hot sauce and vegan Twix bars.

As a Midwest transplant to West Mount Airy, Abby Lyn Rogers has found that swaps are a great place to meet new people and make friends. Rogers has traded in jams, quick breads, cakes and other baked goods but will try something new — homebrewed beer — next time. She’s also trying to talk her fiancé into bringing his killer rib rub. "There are always delicious homemade goods that are outside my wheelhouse, or it just wouldn’t occur to me to make," she said. "I love the homemade-ness of the treats. Each is full of real ingredients, not processed chemicals."

Robin Shreeves’ biggest hit so far has been her pizza sauce. Shreeves, of Barrington, N.J., has also made caramelized onions, taco seasonings and hot buttered rum. "I participate for two reasons," she said. "I like to meet and spend time with other people who enjoy making and eating food that’s real — made from ingredients instead of a box. And I also like that I get to bring home new foods that I would never think to make myself. When I bring home a variety of foods that are new to me, I end up coming up with creative ways to use them. It helps me to break my family out of eating the same old, same old."

Besides the sense of community, McClellan, whose book, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is new from Running Press, loves the variety that swapping brings to her pantry. For the next Philly Swappers, she’s planning to bring coffee liqueur that has been brewing since December, several small loaves of sourdough bread and an assortment of jams from her stash.

"I nearly always take some sort of canned good, and so attending the swaps allows me to transform half-a-dozen jars of plum jam into homemade cheese spread, freshly baked bread, cookies, garlic sauerkraut, sweet-potato chips and dark-chocolate peanut-butter cups. Not a bad trade, if you ask me!" n

Food and travel writer Beth D'Addono writes about authentic travel experiences at unchainedtravel.com.

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