In the middle of every November, about six girls show up at the extension service office to line up. Always, it’s a cold day, made all the more so by the blue shade that lives against the building at 10:30 in the morning this time of year. But these girls, they bundle up, chatter enthusiastically and shake their legs in a vain effort to produce heat.
Always, in the middle of November, the wait is worth it.
That’s because we’re talking about the Annual Homemaker’s Tasting Bazaar.
The line-up is necessary because this may just be the most well-attended event in Pulaski County. In fact, the only reason why we get tickets at all is because the president of the club is my friend Meredith’s mother-in-law. Otherwise, they are harder to come by than a reservation at The French Laundry.
Even though it’s cold, the fun starts in the actual line-up. I’m proud to say, thanks to my organized friend Tiffany, we are first in line every year because we arrive 30 minutes before the doors open. We feel a little badly about this since the rest of the women who attend this event are approximately 33 years older than us so, really, we should be letting them cut ahead. But shivering in the cold is shivering in the cold, and, since many of them wait in their cars, they seem to respect our effort.
Tiffany always gets there first, but soon, six of us are clumped together in a knot and we have a quick catch-up. The anticipation of what is to come spins inside us like a windmill though, so we can hardly concentrate on anything more than small talk.
“How much longer?” we ask Tiffany.
“Doable,” we agree.
At exactly 11, the doors open. Inside, we see about 15 elderly ladies standing behind a parade of chafing dishes. Each wears a black apron and a white blouse, pressed smooth and soft in the way only grandmothers can manage. The tables are decorated with Christmas runners and usually a festive topiary or two. We hand in our tickets, pick up our cookbooks and it’s game on.
The best thing about the tasting bazaar, of course, is the food. But what makes it especially great is the strict mechanism on which it operates. In a grandmotherly way, it’s somewhat akin to The Soup Nazi in that Seinfeld episode. You follow the rules and that’s that. The line-up is a good example.
“Can we please just stand inside in the doorway? Because it’s really, really cold out and we forgot our mitts.”
Same thing with what you get on your plate. You do not pick and choose what you would like to eat at the tasting bazaar. The minute the first customers come through the door, the women in white start passing plates down as if in a factory line, each lady adding one bite-sized appetizer to the paper plate in question. Your job as a taster is simply to go to the end of the line and graciously accept your plate. Then you arrive at the beverage station and choose between a warm cider or a Christmas-themed punch. Then you head to the dessert station and get a similarly loaded plate filled with bite-sized confections.
The time that has passed from entering the room to taking your seat at one of the long tables is approximately 23 seconds.
All of this is for good reason, however. The homemakers know how popular their luncheon is. They know there are 50 people now waiting outside in the cold shade. So the goal is efficiency, people, efficiency. Let’s keep it moving.
Within 10 minutes, everyone is seated. Now that we have our plates, us girls can really talk, most of which revolves around the holiday parties we’re attending. There’s Andrea’s cookie swap. There is the ugly sweater party. There is the Nutcracker Ball. Are you going? What are you wearing? This is the other fantastic thing about the luncheon: It kicks off holiday season, and everyone is in the mood to get together.
Given that it’s a tasting, the intent is to “taste” the samples and see how you feel about them. Then you look up their recipes provided in the cookbook and decide if you want to make them for one of your upcoming parties or not. This is the intent, but, since I’ve been dieting for this for a week and have no concept of moderation, I actually just clean my plate and then dive into the desserts.
All of the food tastes like the year 1972. There is no Jell-O mold, but it wouldn’t be out of place if it were there. Instead, there are sausage rollups, spinach pinwheels, mini ham puffs, fiesta dip and Vermont cranberry spread.
All of this is wonderful in a kitschy, festive way.
The end of the luncheon comes when some of the homemakers approach us girls and suggest that we form a youth homemakers group. The fact that I am 37 years old and considered in the “youth” category gives me tremendous pleasure. At that point, we look at each other, consider, imagine ourselves in those aprons, and then decide what would be even better is to start looking forward to the middle of November next year.