“What we’d better do is fortify you with a glass of our lovely vintage punch.”
Janet Kincaid presides over a punch bowl on white cloth – trimmed table spread with sweets made from 1930s recipes. Kincaid owns the Old Colony Inn in Palmer, a vintage building where she’s hosting a recipe sampling.. most made from local produce.
“This building was built in 1935 as a dormitory for single teachers and nurses for the Colony. They found they could not get teachers and nurses to come up here an live in a tent. “
Barb Thomas with the Palmer Historical Society and Kincaid came up with the recipe swap idea, featured at last weekend’s Palmer Midsummer Garden and Art Fair
“I love nutmeg with rhubarb. Anything rhubarb”…”And the swap means I get to take one of those recipes.”… “You can taste”..”Can I taste? Theses are your cookies?.. Yummy!”
Kincaid directs me to a long table with elaborate place settings for six, and explains the proper etiquette in preparing a table for dinner. Even the doughty first colonists in Palmer brought along their sets of china, colorful “depression glass” plates and silverware.
“This china is Bavarian china, and it was my mother’s who got married in 1930. And in those days, they had silverware that matched. What I think is interesting, is how many of the glasses were goblets. You had goblets instead of solid glasses. And many pieces. They used a lot of dishes.”
Elegant stemware and a special dessert fork are rarely seen nowadays. But at one time, supper was the glue that drew the family back together at day’s end. And a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian traces how American eating habits influenced our society through the years. Selina Ortega-Chiolero is the director of the Palmer Museum.
“Every country has a very clear distinction of what their food is.. their native food. But when you think of America, where such a combination of different cultures, it’s really hard to define what American food is. So the Smithsonian did a lot of research, they compiled this wonderful exhibit, and it explores that question.. what is American food culture in the United States. ” ..”So, let’s step in.”.. “Sure”
Inside the tiny log structure that houses the museum, the Key Ingredients exhibit literally stretches floor to ceiling. The panels trace American food festivals — think Thanksgiving — from their earliest start in pre-Revolutionary times, through corn huskings, lobster bakes, and the advent of the frankfurter right up to our current eating habits. One thing food trends of the past had in common.. they brought people together.
“And it explores that idea of sharing food in a more social gathering. So, food festivals, like state fairs. When they started to commercialize and had restaurants. The whole idea of eating out is considered a special thing, a special occasion event. The exhibit explores that idea as well. One of my favorites is actually this one over here, the Art of Hospitality.. especially the younger generation that comes in here.. they don’t know what a table setting is. “
We walk through the exhibit, which is eclectic, to say the least. Two little girls in sun bonnets are marveling at a model of a Wisconsin cheese head hat. One panel shows the evolution of the roadside diner. There are photos of the Washington Apple Queen and of New Mexico Indian women grinding corn. Selina says Key Ingredients has special resonance for Palmer, because it is a farming community
“It really did start with the fact that we were a fertile land. And the fact that we can have a lot of things produced here, locally. We’re very self-sustaining that way.”
She says when mass food production and marketing entered the scene in the 1950s, people were influenced to buy a certain way.. leading to eating packaged and frozen foods.
“Even though that’s what took off, because it was convenient and fast. At least here in Alaska, we are starting to see a return back to eating fresh, eating local.”
And that’s something Janet Kincaid says the original colonists took for granted. They made their own fun, and food was central to their social networking.
“The entertainment was social. And we are just kind of reproducing that, and letting people know how important is is to connect. “
The Key Ingredients exhibit has traveled state to state, with Alaska it’s last stop. It’ll be at the Palmer museum until July 20, then it moves to Talkeetna for it’s final run.