By Elizabeth Bonner Czapski
Photography by Jen Altman
It was a lifelong love of good food and sweet Southern entertaining, passed down from her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, that spurred Ashley English to write Handmade Gatherings. An aficionada of elaborate dinner parties with intricately prepared cuisine and carefully coordinated décor, Ashley discovered that hosting such involved occasions on a regular basis wasn’t sustainable. So she devised a strategy to redefine the traditional potluck as something much more grandiose, but just as comfortable—retaining its purpose to bring people together with food made to be shared.
“My husband, Glenn, and I entertain regularly at our home,” Ashley says. “Years ago, we would throw these big parties and do everything ourselves. By the end of the get-together, we were completely depleted, both in terms of labor and budget. The idea for potlucks naturally came out of that, coupled with our existing approach to using seasonal foods.”
In Handmade Gatherings, Ashley brings readers a guide to 16 potlucks that she’s put into practice with family and friends in the North Carolina mountains. The potlucks follow the seasons, with four themed party plans for each time of year, plus recipes, décor ideas, and craft tutorials that showcase nature’s bounty and beauty. Decorating tips range from color schemes to table settings to foraged accents, and crafts involve a hands-on activity that complements the menu.
Ashley’s recipes are rooted in her Southern surrounds and heritage, lightened and updated for today with her own seasonal flair. The book’s Autumn section is one of Ashley’s personal favorites, as fall is her most cherished season. “I am especially fond of all the recipes in the Apples to Apples potluck,” she says. “The Apple Bourbon Pan Meatloaf, Apple and Fennel Slaw with Buttermilk Dressing, and Rosemary and Sage Apple Hand Pies are truly delicious.” The chapter also incorporates a guide to making mulling spice sachets that guests can take home as favors.