I let all the insecurities of middle school creep back in. Would they like me? Would they approve of what I'd brought? Would there be a popular table? One I wouldn't make it to?
I wasn't bracing for a grown-up version of prom. I wasn't going to meet the future in-laws. I was headed to Terra Firma Farm, where owner Brie Casadei was hosting the nascent "Eggs for Pickles" food swapping event where food is currency and you better leave your shyness at home.
It didn't help that the friend I'd brought for a boost of confidence was even more afraid of rejection than me. I blame her, in fact, for the "but what ifs" that started to play themselves on repeat in my head as I prepared for the swap Sunday.
There were so many unknowns. The description of the event - a replica of dozens that last year began popping around all over the country, from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Portland, Ore. - instructed participants to bring as many items as they wanted to swap. But what constituted an item? Casadei's only rule was that participants bring goods they'd either made themselves or helped cultivate (i.e. fresh eggs or tomato plants).
I settled on my currency after going back and reviewing all the recipes I'd gathered over the years: blueberry boy bait, a buckle I'd made because of the funny name but that proved a huge hit in the newsroom, among boys and girls alike; a granola made with maple syrup, brown sugar, olive oil and dried apricots; and a peanut butter biscotti strictly for dogs. Divided, they made up five items.
I slaved away in the kitchen all weekend - and briefly wondered whether it would be worth it.
Meanwhile, my friend Karin whipped up some delicious, super chocolate-y chocolate truffle cookies divided into six plastic baskets and finished with ribbons. Her strategy was two-fold: make it look good (marketing, marketing, marketing) and appeal to the kids, who, if they like your item enough, will wear down their parents into swapping with you.
The swap was set in the bucolic farmland backdrop of Terra Firma, which doubles as Casadei's backyard. When I pulled in, chicks trailing their mother and piglets with giant floppy ears greeted me. This was going to be OK even if I was sent back home with the same items I'd brought with me, I decided.
I really shouldn't have worried so much. I really must worry more next time.
As suspected, the event was female-dominated. The few men that were there were doing their men thing - making their opinions known to their spouses without actually participating.
"I'll marry you again if you get me some of that bread," Ed Phillips, of New London, called out to his wife Fiona.
Part of the fun of food swaps is getting to know like-minded people, so the event had built-in social time. Name-tag affixed to my tank top, I made the rounds, emboldened by my reporter's notebook lest it seem creepy that I was walking up to strangers and asking them all sorts of personal questions.
My fellow swappers were pros at this by now - they knew Casadei and her farm and had participated in the first-ever swap in May. One of them, Sarah Oster of Westerly, had been participating in the Coventry Regional Farmers Market food swap with Casadei. Together they had decided to start the swap at Terra Firma.
"It's a fun surprise to see what people bring," Casadei said.
It worked like this: you grabbed a picnic table and set up your goods. Samples were crucial, and Karin was right, packaging mattered. My attempts at being practical and frugal while also rustic and charming meant I'd wrapped my goods in brown lunch bags labeled with "Hello my name is" stickers. No one commented on my packaging selection.
Sheets of brown paper lined the tables, and we were to jot down the names of our offerings right on the paper, with room for people to put a "bid" on the offerings, silent-auction style.
We swappers were to mingle for a while, taste each other's goods and bid on items we wanted (with a counter-offer at the ready - I'll swap you my boy bait for your bag of salad greens). Actual swapping wouldn't begin for another 45 minutes or so.
These ladies' skills made a mockery of my goods. Anyone can bake a blueberry buckle or make granola with the right recipe, but homemade laundry detergent? Organic vanilla extract made with organic Madagascar vanilla beans and organic vodka? I didn't tell anyone I'd made my buckle with - gasp - generic white flour. And when Kimberly, a multi-tasking swapper who arrived with not just greens fresh from her garden and a platter of cupcakes but also with three small children, asked me where I'd gotten my blueberries, I mumbled that they were the supermarket variety. On sale, too.
Oh, the shame.
But while the women were clearly more prolific foodies than I - I will never have the patience to make lemon curd or pickles, like Susan Cullen of Pawcatuck did, or start tomatoes from seed in February with a careful temperature monitoring system and grow lights, like Joanne Bergren of Stonington - they didn't judge.
Come swap time, many of them approached me and made quick, no-nonsense pitches: you want my hot fudge for your granola? Cathy Canto of Stonington asked. You could politely decline if you had your sights set on something else, but swappers rarely did.
"Everyone's supportive of everyone else," Bergren said.
Casadei, gracious hostess that she was, made sure no one felt left out and bid her free-range eggs to each participant - in all, eight.
"I'll do a pickles for eggs," Casadi offered Cullen. "For the namesake, right?"
For my humble offerings, I came away with a jar of hot fudge, organically grown mint, wonderfully fragrant bundles of sage, a dozen eggs and a bag of salad greens. Canto, whose vanilla extract I desperately wanted, sweetened the deal by giving me the vanilla for the mere possibility that I might next time bring something that appealed to her more than my boy bait.
Karin's cookies were a big hit, and for them she got two tomato plants, a jar of dill pickles, a dozen eggs, vanilla extract and herbal calcium. We giggled like schoolgirls, feeling like we'd just cheated and scored big.
I'm already planning ahead for next month's swap. Cullen's strawberry jam during the first swap was rumored to have been so delicious that Fiona Phillips joked that she and her family "fought over it." I must be prepared in case she makes more.