Key Ingredients exhibit comes to a close

More than 2,000 visit museum, events.


Record Editor

Posted June 22, 2012

(See Image Gallery below)

From Soup Wars in March to the final barbeque on Sunday, the Dakota Buttes Museum in Hettinger has fed the physical and mental hungers of area residents and groups of people from all over the state, and as far away as Texas and Florida.

Key Ingredients: America by Food was a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian, which took a look at America’s diverse food tradition over the past four centuries.

Bonnie Smith, director at the museum, saw a grant possibility a year ago in May, and the Hettinger museum was one of three sites in North Dakota chosen for the special exhibit.

“There were 17 people on the original steering committee,” said Smith. “After that it just grew and grew.”

The focus of the exhibit was realizing how much of American tradition and culture revolves around food –growing it to cooking and eating it – how it has stayed the same and how it has changed as technology and the way life has changed along with it.

From colonial days when all was grown at home, to the first McDonald’s opening in 1955, the exhibits and displays showed how processed food and distribution, from home canning to frozen dinners – which were available more than 20 years before most people had freezers – the first ice box, cooking over a hearth to top of the line home ranges, the kitchen has been the heart of the home for many generations.

Just putting up the special exhibit was a chore in itself, but Smith and the others included both on-going and one of a kind events for four months connected to the exhibit, beginning with Soup Wars on March 18.

“A lot more people turned out to take part in this that we thought would,” she said of the event. There were 14 contestant groups, whipping up everything from chicken soup to Texas chili, and more than 200 people headed to Reeder to taste soup and spend the afternoon visiting and taking part in other side events, such as kids games and face painting.

In March, April and May, community book discussions were led by humanities scholar Karen Ehren.

A docent visited in May to talk about the exhibit and how it related to everyone.

There were many different types of events, including “A Very Prairie Tea” which drew a full house from the very young to those who remembered going to formal teas as a part of social life when they were younger.

Alan Bjerga, journalist and former president of the National Press Association was present for a discussion on his book Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest.

The final day drew a wide variety of people. The Girl Scouts that presented the colors at the beginning of the closing ceremonies, the Borderline Singers and Yesterdays Farmers provided entertainment for the crowd.

“If Aprons Could Talk” was one of the final presentations, complete with style show, during the last day. This bit of cloth has been a standard in kitchens since the 1600s, when worn mostly by serving maids, to keep their dresses covered. Prior to that time, aprons were worn by men, such as blacksmiths.

“This made sense, since it was much easier to wash an apron than a full-length dress,” said narrator Joey Erickson. And most women only had a few dresses.

From Homestead days through the depression aprons had the uses of towel, egg holder, and wiping away a tear or two from a child in addition to protecting clothes.

In the 1940s, economic times improved, and women had a little more leasure time, so aprons became a little more personalized, with flowery print material , roomy pockets and the inevitable safety pin.

Eve Knutson modeled one of her mother’s aprons from this era during the style show.

The pretty aprons became something women would change into from the kitchen’s useful garment when company arrived, and then kind of died out in the 80s and 90s, except for men barbequing.

“They are making a comeback,” said Joey. “They had first been created to fill a need, and now, for many, they have become a novelty item or an accessory.”


An old-fashioned barbeque was put on for those present and when the doors finally closed for the day 2,023 people had come through the museum for the exhibit or attended some of the special events.

One comment heard over and over again while wandering through the exhibits or attending events, “This is amazing.”

And it truly was.

“To be able to have an exhibit of this quality available for anyone who wanted to see it has been great,” said Smith. “Most of us won’t be traveling to the Smithsonian anytime in the near future. Being able to have it come to us has been great.”

Smith said being involved with the entire program was an experience she will never forget, and would not have been possible without the hundreds of hours put in by volunteers from the entire community to make the various events happen.

“Having ideas is great, but they are worthless without the teamwork to make it happen,” she said.

As more events took place, more people responded and she was especially happy that more than 400 children came from all over the state. Student groups came from local schools, and farther away (Bismarck) and Smith said students came back with their parents to share what they learned.

“It was wonderful watching them take their parents around the museum and say ‘Look at this,’” she said. “I believe strongly if we opened a door for just one child our that is a great accomplishment.”