Historical Culinary Incidents: Food History of the Pioneer Valley

Historical Culinary Incidents
Lecture Series at Wistariahurst Museum
Holyoke, MA

Come to Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke this fall for a great lecture series featuring local scholars and experts discussing various aspects of the food of the Pioneer Valley and its history.

There are many different entry points for thematically investigating history. In studying the traditional dress of various time periods, we learn about the activities likely done by people based on their style of dress. We read and study classic art and literature as a means of understanding the historical context in which it was written or created. Architecture, similarly, can be examined in order to understand the resources (both material and monetary) of people in a particular place at a particular time.

This fall, the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke hosts Historical Culinary Incidents, a lecture series that examines local history through the role of food in the Pioneer Valley. Held at 6pm on Monday evenings – beginning September 9th – each lecture will focus on a different aspect of the area’s edible history. By attending the events, families can learn together about the important role that food has played throughout the area’s history. Lecture topics will focus on everything from the food enjoyed by college students to former valley vineyards…

Best for older students, the series will focus not only on food itself but also on the complex way in which what we eat is tied to our culture, age, and socioeconomic class. A few of the lectures focus on food-related traditions at Mt. Holyoke and Smith Colleges, while another will discuss the history of instant noodles, a food enjoyed by a wide variety of people (but particularly by college students!). Other lectures tell the stories behind places like Nick’s Nest and the former Skinner Coffee House, while others examine the role that technological advances (like ice harvesting) changed how people ate.

Perhaps the richest learning experiences offered by the series are the lectures that focus on foods specific to certain cultural traditions. Caribbean, Native American, and early white American traditions will be shared, and families will be able to learn about the foods specific to these cultures in particular time periods, as well as the ways in which these foods (and cultures) have influenced the Pioneer Valley as we know it today.

Lectures will take place every Monday at 6pm from September 9th through December 16th, 2013 in the Carriage House at the Wistariahurst Museum, located at 238 Cabot Street in Holyoke.

September 9 – The Seminary Kitchen with Sara Jonsburg
Sara Jonsberg will discuss the work surrounding cuisine at Mt. Holyoke in its earliest days and the food traditions that have lasted from the 1800’s into present day. Ice cream is still eaten at dawn on Founder’s Day at the grave of Mary Lyon, the founder of Mount Holyoke Seminary (now College). Mount Holyoke was the first ever location for women to experience post-secondary education as rigorous as that available to their brothers at Amherst or Harvard.

September 16 – The Skinner Sisters & the Skinner Coffee House: Food, Charity and Community with Elyse Moore
Belle and Katherine Skinner had a stated mission for the Skinner Coffee House. It was to provide ample, nutritious food of good quality and flavor at reasonable prices to women and girls who worked in the Holyoke mills. The successful program expanded to include ethnic dinners, dances, excursions, and community celebrations. Learn how The Skinner sisters empowered women mill workers in Holyoke’s immigrant neighborhoods.

September 23 – Grape Growing and Winemaking in the Pioneer Valley with Gary Kamen
Grape growing and winemaking are activities not commonly associated with the Pioneer Valley.  However, every state in the U.S. has at least one winery and wineries comprise the fastest growing segment of agriculture in Massachusetts. Presenter Gary Kamen of Mount Warner Vineyards in Hadley, will focus on the unique wines available in this region. Kamen will discuss the kinds of grapes well suited for the local climate, issues associated with growing grapes in northern climates, and winemaking styles that match the fruit available in this area.

September 30 – Remembrance of Instant Noodles Past with Dr. Deborah Gewertz and Dr. Frederick Errington
Instant noodles are a remarkable industrial food consumed by millions—young, old, affluent, and impoverished.  Their invention in Japan spread to markets as diverse as the United States and Papua, New Guinea.   This lecture will reveal much about the workings of a global food system challenged to provision 9 billion mouths by 2050. This talk focuses on their significance among largely middle class students and their parents in the United States, while touching in with others who depend on and remember them in a different way.

October 7 – A History of Nick’s Nest with Jennifer Chateauneuf
Come learn about one of Holyoke’s well-known landmarks, Nick’s Nest! Nick’s Nest has been in business since 1921, when it began as a roadside popcorn cart. Current owner Jenn Chateauneuf will discuss its history and how it has changed over the years.

October 21 – Caribbean Foods with Harry Rodriguez
The Caribbean countries, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and Cuba, represent three of the top five Hispanic cultures that have melded into American society. The influences and daily use of Mexican cuisine often surpass and diminish the importance and contribution of Caribbean foods. For this presentation Harry Rodriguez will discuss and illustrate some classic examples of this cuisine, primarily Puerto Rico, its origins, ingredients, preparation, and its social importance for the Hispanic family.

November 4 – Herbals and Medicinals in Early American with Reba Jean Pichette
Come learn how for centuries, many local and transplanted herbs were used by colonists and Native Americans for medicinal purposes.

November 18 – From Garden To Farm, A Chronicle of Red Fire Farm and the Farming Career of Farmer Ryan Voiland
When Ryan Voiland took over his Dad’s postage stamp garden in the early 1990’s, he was a middle school student and started market gardening. Today Red Fire Farm grows over 100 acres of certified organic produce crops in Granby & Montague,  MA, employing dozens of people and providing produce for about 1500 CSA members as well as farmers markets and wholesale customers all around Massachusetts.

November 25 – In the Kitchen with Emily: the Dickinson Collection at Amherst College with Mike Kelly
The Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College holds approximately half of the known manuscripts of Emily Dickinson. Among the poems and letters, one can also find evidence of Dickinson’s time spent in the kitch of the Homestead making cake, donuts, and cookies. Mike Kelly, Head of the Archives & Special Collections, will speak about the poet and food and the manuscript holdings of Amherst College.

December 2 – Culinary Curiosities at Smith College with Barbara B. Blumenthal
Culinary Curiosities at Smith College is a tasting of cookbooks, housekeeping and etiquette manuals, modern artist books with culinary themes, and food-related oddities, all housed in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College or in Blumenthal’s own collection. These books and manuscripts about food, recipes and eating (from the 16th-20th centuries) are part of the rich resources available for culinary enthusiasts in the Pioneer Valley. Topics in this illustrated talk from include: chocolate, puff pastry, Julia Child and Charlotte Turgeon, efficiency in the kitchen, menus, carving & serving, trade cards, miniature books, and more!

December 9 – Ice Harvesting and How it Changed Food Storage with Dennis Picard
The commercial harvesting of ice from New England’s ponds and lakes for export began in the first decade of the 19th century, making it the 9th largest industry in the US employing tens of thousands of workers in New England alone and producing hundreds of thousands of tons of block ice annually. Dennis Picard has been demonstrating the ice harvesting trade for more than a decade. He will display some of his antique tools of that trade including several invented here in Massachusetts, and will share the interesting tale of this once massive enterprise that is now fading from our collective memory.

December 16 – A Celebration of Land and Sea: Modern Indigenous Cuisine in New England with Rachel Sayet
Native American people of New England have continued to use the same ingredients that were available at the time of the much misunderstood “first Thanksgiving” to create their own modern indigenous cuisine.

For more information about the events, contact the museum at 413-322-5660 or visit www.wistariahurst.org. Admission is $7 for the general public and $5 for members.

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