Like all trends, this one started in Brooklyn. It’s the place where people believe in home made, hand made, home grown—and they’re not so into the cash economy. But thanks to Chicago Food Swap, we’re not far behind.

A food swap is a meet-up where everyone brings a food item that they’ve grown or crafted—spinach and mushroom calzones, pickled okra, kombucha, bundles of fresh-grown herbs—and you trade your cultured butter for their whoopee pies.

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My daughter and I made three things:

  • Nutella-Malt and Banana-Nutella Macarons (4 to a package)
  • Multigrain-Buttermilk Pancake Mix (2 cups, which makes 16 pancakes)
  • Maple-Apple Pickles (1/2 pint jar)

We had about 23 packages to trade, and we swapped them all for a long list of cool things, including: Polish Kolaczki (an amazing pastry that I’d never make in a million years); Bourbon-Peach Jam, and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. But the best part about the swap is the chance to meet and talk to other cooks. Natallia (baker of the Kolaczki) emailed me her recipe for Avjar, which she’d brought to the previous swap. Blogger and cook Kelly the Culinarian and I talked about Kombucha and how it’s made.


According to David Trout, who hosted the October food swap at his Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square, it’s a natural fit between his shop and an event like this one, and he adds, “I enjoy the energy you get with people making stuff they love.”

After everyone set up their goods, Chicago Food Swap founder Emily Paster gave us a little pep talk, where she encouraged everyone to taste and chat for about 20 minutes and then the swapping would begin. Each swapper has a sheet for each item (experienced swappers type these out ahead of time) and it lists:

  • What it is
  • What’s in it
  • How it’s used (although with a cookie that’s less necessary than with pickled apples)

And then there’s space for people to write their names and what they might be willing to swap. After the browsing, the chaotic trading begins. Some people walk around with baskets of their goods, others wait for offers to come to them. Everyone leaves with a lot of new and interesting foods.

If you’re interested in a food swap, check out Chicago Food Swap’s website. The November 10 swap is already full, but there is a waiting list and spaces always open up at the last minute.

Here are my tips after having swapped twice:

  • Don’t bring just one thing. Your pumpkin bread might have competition, so bringing 2-3 things guarantees more trades.
  • If you have food issues or food allergies, this might not be a great match. Home cooks can’t guarantee an entirely gluten-free kitchen or that no nut products came near a batch of granola.
  • Bring along enough to set out samples. Will you need toothpicks? A knife? Plates?
  • Think about packaging. You want your food to look attractive and be easy to transport home. I found everything I needed at Michael’s.
  • Make a label that clearly states what the food is, and pertinent details: If it’s canned, is it shelf stable? Should you eat it by a certain date?
  • If you’re a food blogger, give people the link to your recipe (lots of food bloggers attend, natch).Kelly the Culinarian went above and beyond with a QR code. Slick!
  • Think unusual. There are always lots of baked goods at a swap, so if you go savory or just think of something different—ethnic, boozy or cultured—you will have lots of offers.
  • Check out the Chicago Food Swap Pinterest page and links to other bloggers for ideas.
  • Be friendly. My daughter made a lot of swaps simply by starting with a smile and a compliment.

Along with the online resources that are included above, we got a lot of great ideas from these two books:


Photos by Emmie Hine

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