Plan gracious gatherings filled with fresh fare, fabulous setups, and fun for all by sharing fall’s bounty.
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.
Other fall potlucks include farmers’ market-inspired recipes like Butternut Squash and Cider Herbed Soup and Spiced Apple Pound Cake. An ode to pumpkins touts creative spins such as Pumpkin and Cranberry Chutney and Pumpkin and Sage Lasagna. And a root-vegetable-based soirée features Mashed Root Vegetable Casserole, Chocolate, Orange, and Beet Flourless Cake, and a guide to concocting homemade root beer.
The rest of the seasons get equal representation with delectable cuisine marked by Ashley’s unique culinary style: spring-fresh fare like Pistachio-Crusted Asparagus with Feta Vinaigrette; sumptuous summer recipes such as Crystallized Ginger Stone Fruit Potpie; and festive winter confections like Candied Ginger and Black Pepper Cookies.
The recipes are interwoven with anecdotes and inspirational tidbits as well as cooking tips and tricks. Ashley includes an introductory section that offers advice on being a great host, communicating with guests, and decorating and planning crafts collectively. She arms readers with all they need to pull off a delightful event by enabling everyone to share both the responsibilities and the good times.
Ashley’s desire for her book is to reassure others that hosting a grand get-together doesn’t have to be a daunting task. “My hope is that people will be inspired to throw seasonal potlucks of their own,” she says. “It is such a wonderful way to get all hands on deck. Potlucks are a great way to get started entertaining wherever you are—no matter your resources, age, or location.”
Published by Roost Books, Handmade Gatherings is available at booksellers nationwide. Enter below for a chance to win a copy of the book, and continue reading for a few of our favorite autumn recipes from the collection.
Recipes reprinted from Handmade Gatherings with permission from Roost Books.
Find more recipes, tablescapes, and seasonally inspired entertaining ideas in our October 2017 issue. Pick up your copy at newsstands and online now!