A few weeks ago I sent in a proposal to a contest offered by Buttonwoods Museum, and I WON!
Have you ever wanted to curate your own exhibit? Here is your opportunity! Using our artifacts and your ideas, pitch us story line for an exhibit you would like to see and implement.My proposal centered around one of my passions: vintage cookbooks and recipes. For those of you who didn't know I had such a passion, checkout the blog I wrote for several years, before deciding it wouldn't help pay the bills: Cookbook Love.
I've been thinking about why I love the darned things so much, and the default conclusion is that they harken back to a time of simpler living. A fictional time when emotion and mother nature and the dark things of the world were minimal, and the difficulties that were in play could all be solved by a platter of fried chicken followed by a lattice-topped cherry pie.
In a way my conclusion was correct. We do long for ways to block out the harshness of living, though our contemporary darkness might be more about school shootings rather than polio outbreaks or the Great Depression. But what was incorrect in my thinking is that it's only old cookbooks that bring us to that place of hopeful forgetfulness, or hopeful fixitives. Because isn't that what new cookbooks do as well? When we look at recipes or watch cooking shows on television, aren't we seeking the same thing, hoping that if we find a way to turn kale and chia seeds into a mouth-watering dessert, our minds will be wiped clean of guilt and worry and helplessness?
But that's not why I thought that vintage cookbooks and recipes coupled with period cooking implements and demonstrations would make a wonderful exhibit. The real reason is that cookbooks are time capsules and useful anthropological windows into life and culture at the time of writing. The making of a Sunday dinner in 1895 is very different from it's making in 1954, and another thing entirely in 2014. The procurement process for a chicken alone is vastly different, as are the styles of meal taking, our calorie requirements, and many other things. I have cookbooks which feature the "new mechanical iceboxes", war-time meals which accommodate rationing, entertaining without servants, psychedelic Jell-O preparations, and how to achieve better living through the use of the best brand of shortening ("It's Digestible!"). Each one is a snapshot into an era and a way of life that we have left behind. Each one illustrates the concerns and limitations of the day, while focusing on the vast improvements in ease of preparation and quality which have been made available.
For this contest, I outlined a number of potential approaches to inviting people into this way of understanding the people and life in the Merrimack Valley. We'll begin planning in early July, and the exhibit will run during the month of August. I'll keep you posted after that about what to expect, and about the joy I'm experiencing while working on the project.
Meanwhile, I have to decide what to make for tonight's guests, and for Sunday luncheon. Perhaps I'll go vintage.