Saturday, September 24, 2011

Childlike Discovery...

Food. We all relate to food. We all have our favorite foods and of course, the foods that we prefer to never, ever eat. Some of us, like the challenge of trying new foods and others of us would simply rather stick with the foods we know and love. The same can be said of the people of the 19th century. As they arrived in Wisconsin, people brought with them their traditional and favorite foods.  Immigrants learned to accept and love traditional American favorites. Over time, Americans learned to love traditional European and Asian favorites. In the end, we find the 19th century palate is diverse, sometimes familiar and sometimes very surprising.

This past Friday, Karl and I had the opportunity to introduce grade school children to 19th century foods. We were fortunate to participate in a program at Wade House in Greenbush, WI.  This weekend is their largest special event of the year, Wade House 21st Annual Civil War Weekend.  Area grade schools were given the opportunity to participate in an educational program. Each class was able to visit 18 separate stations. Each station represented a different facet of civilian or military life during the years of the American Civil War. Our station was basic 19th century food. We of course could not bring everything, but Karl did try to find an array of different items.
This little girl was fascinated with
the tiles of tea. She readily told us
that she "really likes tea".

Part of the fun of seeing children discover the foods is that their surprise and curiosity is so easily observed. Many of these school children are growing up on farms or in families with large gardens. Their approach to the produce is often different then the children who live in urban areas. For example, they often ask questions that center around how the foods are cultivated before they ask about taste. There may even be a few patches of Queen Anne's pocket melons next year. Even modern young ladies found their scent irristable...and there were a few boys to jump on the pocket melon bandwagon, too.

It is fun to see which things they recognize and which completely stump them. Not surprisingly, children from Wisconsin readily recognize the bratwurst and many of them recognize the cheese even though the cheese was formed by hand instead of in a mold. Karl and I were both impressed that many of them recognize the spice chest and know what will be inside. White tomatoes and pickles made with lemon cucumbers threw them for a loop.  Lemon cucumbers are yellow, small and often rather round, but taste like a traditional-looking cucumbers. White tomatoes are white or at best a very pale yellow. It was the salt pork and bowl of freshly churned butter that completely baffled them. Even farm kids in the 21st century have not any opportunity to encounter freshly churned butter.  They were pleased to discover that tomato ketchup could be made and indeed does smell the same even if it contains no sugar like our modern ketchup. Although none them had heard of teacakes, they were all pretty convinced they would indeed be very yummy especially with the hot chocolate made with a wedge of chocolate in the chocolate pot. They were able to touch and smell, but unfortunately, we could not let them taste.

The blue willow chocolate pot is on the left.
The tea tiles are on the right.  The hand
cheese is behind the tea tiles. The fresh
unmolded butter is behind the empty glass.
Karl and I are surrounded by 19th century recipes, foods and kitchen tools on a regular basis. It is important for us to see the wonder in the school children's eyes. We are then able to again see these items through fresh eyes and experience them in new ways. These children are also a testament to how our American palate continues to change, grow and in some cases rediscover foods, recipes and wisdom of our past.

The pocket melons are in the tin pan.
1 large white tomato is in the bowl
with a red tomato. The striped
vegetable is a beet, but I don't
remember the variety's name.

Karl explaining that not all food in the 19th century looks
the way we expect it to look. The example in his
hands are white carrots versus orange carrots.

1 comment: