I’m sure you all know that Conner Prairie prides itself on sensory engagement – letting you see, touch, hear and smell pieces of the past. And I’m sure that many of you have been here on a day when you wish we offered things to taste. Maybe you’ve been here when Mrs. Curtis is baking her delicious smelling batter bread, or when Abigail at the Campbell home is frying up some mouth-watering chicken, or as Mrs. Zimmerman is pulling a beautiful pie out of the oven. Well, if you have ever found yourself wishing that you could get a nibble of a delectable historic recipe, have I got an opportunity for you!
This weekend, August 29th and 30th, Conner Prairie will be offering several opportunities to actually Taste the Past! Three of our historic areas will be featuring historic recipes that you can take home with you, and, while supplies last, we will have small samples of the recipes that our staff members will be cooking.
While this opportunity brings some challenges with it, like how to create enough samples for several hundred people, I am particularly excited about providing a connection to such an important part of life. What food we eat and why we eat it says so incredibly much about who we are. If you think about it, every family has some secret recipe or traditional food item that goes along with special events. For me, it’s fresh, homemade salsa – that’s the food I now associate with my birthday because, since I’m a summer baby, my mom would have usually made a big batch of it the week of my birthday, and we feast on it all week long.
Of course, there are other foods that trigger strong emotional cues for me. Whenever I have anything with cooked cabbage in it, I am immediately transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen, and remember nights when she was preparing a big meal for the whole extended family and letting her Irish roots show through. I always love this phenomenon because it makes me feel so connected to all of the women in my family who came before me – I’m sure my grandmother learned to cook cabbage from her mother and grandmother, and so on for many generations. It’s really moving to know that I am the next link on that long chain. Anyway, I love running across a new and intriguing food tradition and thinking about all of the lives that have been touched by that tradition over time. So, I hope that our program next weekend can inspire curiosity about food traditions amongst all of you who come to visit. But until then, I’d really like to hear about your own traditions.
What types of food define important events in your life? What recipes have you had handed down from your ancestors?
As I waited in line for my turn to enter the State Fair parade last Thursday, the Red Gold Tomato a few spots ahead and a go-kart following behind, I took a deep breath in—and immediately regretted it. The undeniable scent of food vendors deep frying from sun-up to sun-down mingling with the odors of trash, pork and lemon shake-ups wafted over to me. After instantaneously losing my appetite, I drove the Conner Prairie van through the parade … and it was the enthusiasm I heard from the fairgoers upon seeing the CP van that reminded again why I volunteer to do things like this.
“Ooo, I love Conner Prairie!”
“We just went there and saw the potter!”
“We should get back up there...”
“Mom, it’s Conner Prairie! Can we go?”
Here’s the thing: I can talk about how great Conner Prairie is as much as I want, and we can advertise and give you coupons and sing and dance to get you to come here. But really, we know it comes down to the person. You—our supporters and guests—provide community-wide enthusiasm that we couldn’t buy. When you and your kids get excited to see our van at the State Fair—that’s when we’ve done our job.
It’s all the kids who come to pet the animals at the Animal Encounters Barn, all the aspiring artists who marvel at the blacksmith and potter, all the adults who take their first balloon flight in 1859 Balloon Voyage (me, too). So thank you, fairgoers, for cheering on the Conner Prairie van. You made the smell of the Dairy Bar topped off with the Swine Barn (almost) bearable for me!