Here’s a winning combination: Ribs from Eastern Market. Pies from Armada. Beer from pretty much every brewery in the state.
That’s what it takes to throw a legendary “Made in Michigan” party. Well, you’ll also need a huge family and about five dozen friends to supply the goodies for such a crowd. Because with that much locally produced products, it will take hours of eating, tall-tale telling and taunting to make sure it all gets consumed.
Recently, I was one of the guests at such a party, thrown by a gregarious, generous family of four. Their Harper Woods home has hosted two other similar parties, held every third Saturday in July. The timing is perfect – not too soon after the Fourth of July, but not so far into August that the guests are weary of summer fun and already thinking about school supplies.
There was only one requirement for attendance – you had to bring a food or drink item created in our fine state. It could be anything: Traverse City cherries. Mackinac Island fudge. Romeo peaches. Detroit pop and potato chips. Just as long as it was produced locally, you could share it with your fellow families and be welcomed with the right amount of enthusiasm.
As for summer-like weather, that wasn’t required. It was a cold day, punctuated by rain bursts and chilly breezes. Everyone brought a jacket, and the kids’ chalk artworks had to be created and recreated about four times. The pickup game of football between the little boys (and one brave girl) also was a bust, mostly because everyone kept slipping in the puddles and got too many grass stains to please the mothers present.
But what kept the party moving forward was the conversations. Everyone wanted to know, in no particular order, what kind of food you brought. Where did you pick up that growler of beer? Who was going to provide the McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix and how much? Who brought the sea-salt caramel chocolates, and could they bring them again next year?
Granted, we probably had more beer on hand than bottles of Faygo. And that was good as well, mostly because there was nowhere else any of us wanted to be. So everyone sat around for umpteen hours, talking about upcoming vacations or the new baby that was due to arrive any minute. The kids all ran around with endless requests for Garden Fresh chips and Achatz pie. And no one denied them even a single, tasty bite.
So what was missing? A few dear folks who couldn’t make it that day. Some warm temperatures. That’s it. So what was there? A sense of accomplishment – we all enjoyed Michigan and the great outdoors, sitting inside a two-stall garage when it rained and out on a deck when it didn’t. Thanks to the abundance of food and drink, all you could think about was how lucky you were to be there, how grateful you were for good friends and what an amazing state we live in for its natural beauty and great creativity when it comes to eating well.
I’d be lying if I said I’m not already looking forward to next year’s party. We weren’t terribly creative with our food choices, and I can think of a dozen or more places where I can pick up party supplies. The “Made in Michigan” theme both inspires and excites me – even if I’ve lived here my entire life and have enjoyed these refreshments on a regular basis.
That’s because, in part, they might have been new to some people. They might not have known about the wonders of Rocky Peanut’s candy assortment. Perhaps they had never known the glories of Dirty Blonde beer from Atwater Brewery (because they definitely did after that night). Everyone had something new on their plates, and it was fun to learn about new bakeries, fresh food carts, unexplored grocers and fab restaurants. The conversation, much like everything else I’ve mentioned, never seemed to run out.
So, if you take away anything from this blog post, it’s probably that I have a drinking problem now. While that’s untrue, I will say I highly recommend planning a similar party soon for you and yours. It was placemaking of another sort – finding your place among the things you love and making new memories with those you hold the most dear. Huzzah, dear Michigan, for all you provide.