South Alabamian

Local and national exhibit examines our history with food and recent innovations

Local and national exhibit examines our history with food and recent innovations By Wanda Braun Special to The South Alabamian



By Wanda Braun
Special to
The South Alabamian

Chatom is one of five small towns in Alabama chosen to host a Smithsonian traveling exhibition called "Key Ingredients: America By Food."

The traveling exhibit opened at the Washington County Public Library Aug. 17 and will be on display through Sept. 24. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Local sponsors for the exhibit are the Washington County Library, the Washington County Museum and the St. Stephens Historical Commission.



On Aug. 21 from noon to 8 p.m., the library will host the grand opening of the exhibit and an "Ole’ Time County Fair." This day will be full of fun for the whole family. Outside the library there will be continuous music preformed by local artists. There will be food booths, activities for the children and a mini health fair. In conjunction with the Smithsonian exhibit, the library is providing speakers throughout the day. Three scholars from the Alabama Humanities Foundation are scheduled to begin speaking at 12:15.

Well-known historian Jackie Matte will speak on Confederate salt works, followed by a demonstration of the actual salt works provided by Walter Davis.

The next speaker will be Annie Crenshaw, who will speak on "Southern Food Traditions." Lisa Shaul will speak at 2 p.m. on "Food in Southern Fiction."

Author Mary Bird will speak at 3 p.m., followed by a Pampered Chef demonstration at 4 p.m. The Mowa band of Chochtaw Indians will give a fry bread demonstration at 5 p.m. At 7 p.m., there will be a cake walk.

These are  just some of the local pieces currently displayed at the Washington County Library.

These are just some of the local pieces currently displayed at the Washington County Library.

Joan Scott and Cookie Powell, as seen on Mobile television station WKRG, will be cooking at the Chatom Community Center Sept. 16 at noon and 6 p.m. A ticket is required for this presentation.

The exhibition tour, along with an array of attendant educational programs, are organized and will be presented by the Alabama Humanities Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. It takes a provocative and thoughtful look at the historical, regional and social traditions that merge in everyday meals and celebrations. "Key Ingredients" examines the evolution of the American kitchen, the technological innovations that have enabled Americans to choose an ever increasing variety of frozen, prepared and fresh foods as well as the land, the events and the history that reflects each area’s local flavor.

The local exhibit takes a look at our homes, restaurants and celebrations that help build a sense of community through food. Our food could be described as southern rural. Traditional southern dishes such as fried chicken, turnips, corn bread, chicken and dumplings, and pecan pie are just some of the home-style food choices. Offerings of coon, sweet potatoes and hog-head cheese add a unique rural twist to local menus. In addition, the region’s lakes, rivers and forests provide fish, venison and wild turkey.

The Native Americans who live in Washington County contribute much to our food history as they have raised, hunted and prepared many different food items. Food also plays an important role in various tribal celebrations.

While looking at the history of food in Washington County, many wonderful memories are brought back by the recall of such places as the Richardson Restaurant, the Courthouse Drug’s soda fountain in Chatom and the W.L. Bailey store in Wagarville. Through a selection of artifacts, photographs and illustrations, our local exhibit reflects on days gone by, offering visitors a brief step back in time. Canning and preserving exhibits and a chance to see a cow milked will give local children a lesson on how food has evolved.

For those who don’t remember, we have collected many "how to" instructions that were once a major part of each home’s food preparation. Do you remember scalding and scraping before dressing a hog? What about a recipe for "hog head cheese"? Do you know the directions for producing homemade meat products? Along with making lye soap, these things were part of everyday life in past years.

The exhibition will address the entrepreneurial spirit on which many food productions are based with contributions from businesses such as Coca Cola, Marshall Durbin, Dairy Fresh and Splenda.

A collection of recipes handed down from generation to generation are being complied and will confirm that some of the world’s best cooks and their recipes originated in our region.

For more information about the exhibition and the Aug. 21 celebration, call the Washington County Public Library at (251) 847-2097.

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