New website celebrates Kansas food heritage
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The Great Plains Foodways Connection, a website just launched at Kansas State University, explores the food heritage of Kansas and other Great Plains states and celebrates their contributions to the American culinary tapestry.
Historic foodways on the prairie paints vivid scenes of endurance and tenacity: pioneer women baking dust-flecked biscuits over buffalo chip fires along the trail, frowning cowboys grown weary of bacon and beans, settlers eating in sod houses, sheets hung on the ceiling to keep dirt from falling in the vittles, according to Jane P. Marshall, who teaches Development of American Cuisine at K-State and is creator and editor of the site.
Celebrations demonstrated the same hearty spirit, Marshall said.
A barrel of seaweed-packed oysters helped cowboys mark Saturday night; a pound party welcomed a new pastor; box dinners sold to the highest bidder to raise money for a new school.
Foodways is about how people procured, prepared and ate their food, Marshall said. It's about the choices they made and what affected those choices.
Preserving stories, encouraging research
The purpose of the Great Plains Foodways Connection is threefold, Marshall said.
"First, we want to preserve the stories of the past because they are entertaining, yes. But by understanding what our ancestors did to get, cook and eat their food, we can better understand ourselves and the future," she said.
"The saying goes 'You are what you eat.' Actually, you are what your family ate. And your family's food choices were guided by their beliefs, their heritage, where they lived and their access to technology," Marshall said.
In early Kansas, travelers and settlers brought with them a myriad of tastes and social and cultural traditions from all over the world.
Marshall pointed to examples. Volga Germans, settling in Ellis County put bierocks, kolaches and other breads on the Kansas table; former slaves added fried chicken and spicy stews, Southern adaptations of the foods of their African homeland; Swedes piled on a smorgasbord of preserved seafood, meats and breads.
Second, the connection will be a repository of research by students, faculty and others around the region who explore food, Marshall said.
For example, the site has information on historic rural Kansas cookbooks; a student paper on Fred Harvey, who brought white tablecloth hospitality -- and the Harvey girls -- to the Plains; and recipes from Clementine Paddleford, the groundbreaking food journalist who grew up in Kansas.
Engaging Kansans at the table
Third, Marshall said, "The website is a place where Kansans can tell their own food stories and submit recipes that have been in their families for generations." Several on the site were collected by Marshall's students.
"I hope this website will be the impetus for many in learning more about our Kansas food heritage and the incredible people who live in this state," said Deb Canter, professor in hospitality management and dietetics who worked with Marshall on developing the site.
"Food is such an integral part of who we are as individuals and who we are as Kansans. We use food in so many ways beyond just bodily nourishment -- to show love, to share our heritage, to give comfort, to celebrate," Canter said.
"Jane's contributions, as a food historian, a journalist and an educator, have been invaluable. Developing this site has been a labor of love for us both, and we look forward to seeing it grow in scope, depth and usefulness as a research and education tool," Canter said.
The development grant came from K-State's Center for Engagement and Community Development, directed by David Procter, professor of communication studies.
"Jane's project is wonderful example of engaged work. She has connected student learning and her own research agenda to an important social issue -- food security and cultural development," Procter said.
The website also lists ways to get involved in Great Plains Foodways Connection projects.
Story by Human Ecology communications