For decades, newcomers to Darien have been joining the local YWCA Gourmet Group in which sets of five couples are in charge of five different tasks for five different dinners held during a year.
Each couple gets to know four other couples in town, and they get to experience recipes (all assigned to them) that a local YWCA committee has judged to be not too difficult but which got a great response in past years.
This six-decade Darien tradition has resulted in a cookbook now a couple of years old, titled "Dinner at Eight: A Collection of Recipes from the YWCA Gourmet Group," that anyone can now buy from the . The book could make a great Christmas gift for the Darienite or former Darienite who has everything else.
The Gourmet Group has proven so popular with the YWCA that as many as 50 groups of five couples each may join in a year, with some rejoining again and again. This year, there are 30 groups.
"When I moved here, I was in Group 50 or 51," said Ellen Kirby, the YWCA executive director. What's fun about the group is that everyone is in it together, facing the same challenges with the recipes and meeting new people at the same time, she said.
The book is a compilation of 10 years' worth of recipes, from 1998 to 2008, and it was preceded by a cookbook some decades ago, Kirby said, although she isn't sure how far back. Decades before, a previous cookbook sprang from the group, she said, and there may have been one before that.
For such a regimented program, little seems to have changed over the decades. The dinners may follow a theme—for instance, the dinner for Nov. 19 was reminiscent of a "New England Thanksgiving," with dishes that couples might then try for the real Thanksgiving about a week later.
The tasks for each dinner is split five ways. For the Nov. 19 dinner, each group's Couple No. 1 made the main dish: "Roast turkey with herbed butter & gravy & harvest stuffing," and the rest of the assignments were as follows:
Couple No. 2: Hosts (also provide beverages)
Couple No. 3: Appetizers: "Vermont farmhouse cheddar cheese straws & Gloucester lobster dip & sweet potato coins with pecans, goat cheese & cranberry salsa"
Couple No. 4: "Butternut squash soup with parmesan and fried sage leaves & pumpkin gooey butter cakes"
Couple No. 5:"Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, pancetta and parsley & mashed potatoes with chive cream"
"Dinner at Eight" is available at the YWCA office at Old Kings Hwy S. The book costs $20, or you can get two for $30. It also makes a great gift for Mother's Day, Valentine's Day or even a graduation, Kirby said.