Thursday, January 22, 2015

Playing with food

There are times when I really wish the county historical society museum had a bigger budget. Today is one of them. Usually it's because I'm indulging in fantasies about purchasing a first-class exhibit case or a specialized filing cabinet, e.g., a map case. Our display cases are a mix of different sizes and types because almost all of them came from retail stores that were going out of business or engaged in major remodeling. As for map cases? Probably not going to happen unless we get lucky with one of our grant applications. But I'm not fantasizing about either of those today. Nope. I'm wishing we could afford to buy fake food.

We decided at our meeting yesterday to proceed with editing our "kitchen" display area. We've got a corner that's got miscellaneous kitchen-related items: a Hoosier cabinet chock full of various gadgets, old cookbooks, old spice and baking powder tins, etc. There's a wood-burning Monarch kitchen range, an old ice box, an ancient refrigerator (from the 1920s; it still works), and a lot of other stuff. It's all neatly arranged, but it's basically just a collection of old stuff -- there isn't much of an attempt at formal interpretation. Depending on who the docent is on any particular day, conversations with visitors can range from explaining how a woodstove actually worked to listening to people reminisce about the Jewell Tea dishes their grandmother had.

The display also includes a farmhouse-style table that had four or five place settings on it, but it was't really set up for an particular meal. It was more like the last person to work with that area decided that it made more sense to have the table looking like it was set for a meal than to leave it empty. Well, at yesterday's meeting we decided to edit the exhibit. When we open for the tourist season in the spring, the kitchen area will have four place settings on it, each one representing a different era. One will, of course, be the pioneer days. The dishes will be basic whiteware and there will be a sample menu -- what people would have been likely (or able) to eat back around the time Baraga County was established in the 1870s. Another will be the 1930s, the Jewell Tea dishes era, also with a sample menu and maybe a recipe or two. One will be the present (or close to it). (I will fight the temptation to just do a couple crumpled napkins and an empty Burger King bag.) And one will be the melamine years.

And you know what goes with the melamine years? Jello salad. Jello salad in all sorts of bizarre combinations. Jello salad that doesn't just sit there passively on the plate waiting to be slathered with Miracle Whip. Jello salad that sits on the serving plate staring at you defiantly and daring you to get out the serving spoon.

I guess we'll muddle along with the full-page color ads from Woman's Day or Good Housekeeping, but, holy wah, I wish our budget was big enough to buy a fake Jello salad.


  1. is there a such a thing as fake Jello?
    Have you ever read the Reminiscence Magazine? You might also check out the Vermont Country Store.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  2. Jello salads are old fashioned? Who knew?
    The dishes set looks like one we used for camping.
    So how much is a fake Jello salad?

  3. I haven't been able to find any fake Jello salads (yet), but prop food is pricey. A set of 3 California sushi rolls is $24.95. Something as complicated as that jello salad would have to cost a lot more.

  4. At an early age, I became interested in preparing food as a survival strategy. No one in my house could cook. My sisters still frantically email me on Thanksgiving to help them remember how to make gravy! My youngest sister can pull an entire Thanksgiving dinner out of a microwave, after opening a few cans. My other sister was the queen of Jello salads. There was one I actually liked. A package of lime jello and cherry jello mixed together a tin of mandarin orange slices (can you still get those?) and maraschino cherries....the magic touch was cottage cheese...somehow a mysterious chemical reaction occurred an the salad separated into three layers. I recently discovered my wife's first cook book...A Woman's Day Treasury of recipes from 1960. She gets very nervous when she finds that one laying around on nights I cook dinner. I also have an official Mormon Missionary cookbook from the late 60's...a "survival guide" for preparing American style food in any god forsaken remote part of the world you are stuck in...the Mormon Missionary Housewife relied a lot of native kitchen help. But my prize cook book is an official 2 volume charcuterie school manual....lots of photos and I actually have done a few of the hams. I had an elderly neighbor who asked me to help him kill a pig. It was to say the least, an experience I will never forget. I did get one of the legs, which I turned into 2 nicely cured hams. I learned how to brine them. Now I pick up cooking tools at flea markets. I have a nice collection of ancient chocolate molds....Chocolate fish are a real tradition here.

  5. I cannot imagine being ambitious enough to tackle brining and curing hams. Back in the '70s we did raise a pig or two to put in the freezer. Never again. If you just have one feeder pig, it easily turns into a pet and you feel guilty as hell when it gets to be Fall and you have to kill it. If you have more than one pig, they conspire in planning how to escape and drive you nuts. The S.O. and a friend did the basic slaughtering and cleaning; a local butcher packaged the meat for us.


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