by Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council
My mother makes chewy ginger cookies that are so good, when I can’t make it home for Christmas, she packs some up in plastic wrap and puts them in the mail to me. My dad makes a sweet and tart winesap apple pie that his father said was the best pie he’d ever had. That means a lot considering my grandmother baked a pie nearly every day. We call it Grandpa’s Pie. My husband, from New Jersey, rolls a special porchetta that reminds him of growing up—even though he is not Italian. My baby daughter doesn’t have any teeth yet, but I’m thinking of making her a figgy pudding. It would be more for me than her, of course; the beginning of a new tradition.
We are on the brink of Holiday Season: So many foods, so many traditions, so many memories, and so many delicious favorites.
This time of year, the connections between food, family, and community seem easy to make. In a waiting room lobby yesterday, I was stuck long enough to read Midwest Living Magazine cover to cover. By the time I was finally called back for my appointment, I was starving and making a mental list of all the special things I want to eat over the next two months.
Notably, the recipes in the magazine were all attributed to a real person and came with a story. I was drawn into the personal snippets: little memories of eating the food, learning to make it, or where it was first happily discovered. In my work at the Wisconsin Humanities Council, I’ve been hearing a lot of food stories lately.
Last week in Reedsburg, just a little over an hour northwest of Madison, the Wisconsin tour of Key Ingredients: America by Food opened at the Woolen Mill Gallery. It is an exhibition that sparks conversation about what food means to us as individuals and as a society. The Wormfarm Institute has worked with the Wisconsin Humanities Council for over a year, along with partners in the community like the Chamber of Commerce, to uncover and collect Reedsburg’s food stories.
Standing next to a table covered with a red and white checkerboard cloth and overflowing with platters of homemade brownies, bars, and cookies, I said to Kristine Koeneke, one of the organizers from the Reedsburg Chamber, “this is like Christmas!” She agreed with a child-like twinkle in her eye. “That’s what this is all about,”Kristine said about Key Ingredients. She had called on all the best bakers in town to make their most-loved recipes for the opening reception. Kristine pointed to the various goodies and told me who made what.
I came home from Reedsburg with a full set of Hot Dish Trading Cards. The Ladies of Team HCE (Home and Community Educators) are giving out their secrets and sharing the key ingredients in their soon-to-be-famous dishes. I asked Mrs. Wessie Deitz about her cocktail meatballs, which she estimates to have served about 35,000 times. She humbly admitted that the ingredient list looked unusual, but I have no doubt that there are people all over Sauk County who could wax nostalgic about Mrs. Deitz’s meatballs.
Visitors may run into any one of the Hot Dish ladies at the Woolen Mill Gallery while Key Ingredients is up (through December 3). Every day that the exhibition is open (Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11AM-6PM, Sunday 11AM-3PM), there will be cookies baking in the gallery kitchen!
The Wisconsin Humanities Council’s tour of Key Ingredients continues further north in Rhinelander, where it will be on display through the holiday season (December 10 – January 21).
October 21- December 3, 2010 in Reedsburg. The Wormfarm Institute will display the exhibition at the Woolen Mill Gallery downtown. Visit the Wormfarm’s Fermentation Fest Calender to learn about the six weeks of events in Reedsburg, or contact the Chamber of Commerce at 800.844.3507 for local information.
December 10, 2010 – January 21, 2011 in Rhinelander. The Rhinelander District Library will display the exhibition at the Riverwalk Centre. Contact Ed Hughes at 715.365.1082 for local information.
January 28-March 11, 2011 in River Falls. The River Falls Public Library will display the exhibition in the library gallery. Contact Nancy Miller at 715.425.0905 for local information.
March 18 – April 29, 2011 in Westfield. The Marquette County Historical Society will display the exhibition in the Kerst Exhibit Building. Contact Kathy McGwin at 608.369.1061 for local information.
May 6 – June 17, 2011 in Brodhead. The Brodhead Chamber of Commerce will display the exhibition at the Brodhead Library. Contact Lea Brookman at 608.897.9027 for local information.
June 24 – August 5, 2011 in Osseo. The Heartbeat Center for Writing, Literacy and the Arts, Inc. will display the exhibition at the Osseo-Fairchild High School. Contact Scott Schultz at 715.984.2445 for local information.