Food is an important part of the heritage of Kansas, and the heritage of recipes passed down from generation to generation is an active organism.
Jane Marshall observed that Friday in her food heritage presentation for Learning in Retirement at Tabor College. She began her program with a slideshow. She regaled the exploits of pioneer women, who she said are her heroes, who would churn 13 barrels of butter and back five loaves of bread on their sick days.
After the main program, Marshall grabbed a handheld microphone, stepped into the crowd, and asked her audience about their own food experience. She improvised the question-and-answer session to utilize an older crowd that had established food memories.
There were examples where improvisation was prevalent. Connie Isaac, who runs the learning in retirement program, said her mother would take left over pastries and bake them together to form Snetka.
“A lot of times that was better than the pastries,” Isaac said.
Another woman said her mother would use syrup instead of sugar in sugar cookies because of a sugar shortage during World War II.
Diverse memories started to pour out from the crowd. One woman talked about her mother making kolaches using the fruit from trees in her front yard.
A man said his mother would make custard pie on Saturday and his family would eat the pie for breakfast on Sunday morning.
“I would want to eat breakfast with your family,” Marshall said.
Ray Frantz talked about his mother making Russian pancakes, a version of crepes. She would make them one at a time in a single skillet.
“It took a while to feed a family of seven,” Franz said.
Bill Marshall recalled watching his grandmother kneed and work Dutch bread in her kitchen. He added that no one in his family has been able to recreate the flavor of the cinnamon raisin bread achieved by his mother and grandmother.
Marshall interspersed her own family food stories in with the group. She talked about her grandmother’s watermelon pickle recipe.
“The recipe wasn’t special because of the food; it could have been anyone’s watermelon pickle recipe,” Marshall said. “It was special because it was my grandmother’s watermelon pickle recipe.”
Marshall wanted to stress two messages in the presentation. First, she wanted to instill that food stories and recipes deserve to be catalogued.
She was preaching to the choir. Marshall grew up on a farm outside of Elmdale and she is familiar with Marion County food culture based on eastern European cuisine. With the Heritage recipe project Marshall has started at Kansas State University, where she is a professor, she has already received several variations on beirocks and varenyky.
The second message was that remembering food and recipes was another way of remembering the special people who created them.
“It sustains the memory of the people who made them,” Marshall said.
The Heritage Recipe Project is ongoing. Interested individuals can send Marshall information at her e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.