October 11, 2018

A Taste of the Past: Gathering Montana’s Food Heritage

by Molly Kruckenberg, MHS Research Center Director

The Montana Historical Society’s work extends beyond the borders of our doors and reaches out into every corner of Montana.  Recently, MHS staff spent time in Sidney, Montana learning about the food history and heritage of that area.
MSH students digitize food-related materials at the Pella Lutheran Church in Sidney.
Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer

On Saturday, September 15th, a team of historians and students from the Montana Historical Society and the Center for Western Lands and Peoples at Montana State University hosted "A Taste of the Past: Gathering Montana's Food Heritage" in Sidney. Residents of Richland and Roosevelt counties were invited to bring traditional recipes, community cookbooks, historic photographs and documents of food-related events, menus, records of home demonstration clubs, and artifacts related to food preparation and preservation to share with the historians and students. While stories were shared with historians, the MSU students scanned and gathered information about the documents and artifacts that were brought to this event. During the day, MHS and CWLP staff presented programs on Montana food history and preservation techniques for cherished artifacts, cookbooks, and photographs.  
Recipe card library with handwritten recipes from the Lambert area,
courtesy of the Lambert Historical Society.
[Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer]
Area residents brought in items ranging from cookbooks to bread rising bowls to recipe cards and krumkake bakers. A 1920s era Sidney Ladies Guild Cookbook showed ads from local businesses, as well as favorite recipes from women of the Ladies Guild. A set of three krumkake bakers, dating from the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first century showed continuity in area food traditions.  A group of items containing a large wooden bowl, paddle and mold illustrated how butter was packed into one-pound blocks for use.  These, and the many other recipes and artifacts that were documented, speak broadly to the history of the region’s local food customs.

Wooden bowl, paddle, and butter mold that belonged to Mary Folvag,
courtesy of Debra Rasmussen.
[Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer]
The digital images and information collected at the event will be used to study Montana’s food heritage and history in many ways.  The images and accompanying stories will eventually be made available on the Montana Memory Project (www.mtmemory.org), where they can be freely used by the public for research and enjoyment.  Additionally, the historians involved in the project will return to Sidney in the spring of 2019 for a public program based on the stories and information gathered at the event. 
MHS Reference Historian, Zoe Ann Stoltz, spoke with many
event participants about Montana's food history and heritage.
[Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer]
This project was made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as through the partnership of many institutions:  Center for Western Lands and Peoples at Montana State University; Sidney-Richland County Public Library; James E. Shanley Tribal Library at Fort Peck Community College; MonDak Heritage Center; Montana State University Library;  and the Montana Memory Project.