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Key Ingredients: Tennessee by Food

Key Ingredients: America by Food is a provocative and thoughtful look at the historical, regional, and social traditions that merge in everyday meals and celebrations. Through a selection of artifacts, photographs, and illustrations, Key Ingredients provides a lively cultural history in which food and food traditions are used to explore cultural settlement and expansion, regional identity, immigration, social change, and community life.

The cultural meaning of food is demonstrated by its highly elaborated role in our lives — food production, distribution, preparation technology, service and consumption are all central features in our economic, occupational, and public and private lives.

Tennessee's table reflects our state's unique historical narrative and its multiracial legacy. The landscape, the evolution of industry, and the people and their customs, have led to Tennessee's indelible contribution to a region and nation of consumers and their culinary culture. Our state's rivers, mountains and pastures provide a basis for food customs rooted in generations past and celebrated still. Changing circumstances and industrial innovations, such as the TVA rural electrification projects, which connected households to new markets and preparation technology, had an impact on Tennessee food ways. Since the 1970s, Tennessee has seen increased immigration of foreign-born people, leading to ethnic markets and diverse local eateries in most counties across the state.

These topics — patterns of cultural settlement, changes in food technologies, and the evolution and continuity of food customs — are among the many that the Key Ingredients host sites explored as they linked their local history to the exhibition through programming and events.

Humanities Tennessee toured Key Ingredients to nine sites in Tennessee from June 2003–April 2004, and provided each host site with an organizational assessment; professional development workshops for docent training, collection management, collaboration, and diversity; a program bureau presented by scholars from a range of disciplines, such as Southern Studies, ethnobotany, social history, and animal sciences; and opportunities for companion programming assistance.

Natchez Place, Inc., Franklin.
The host's companion programming included two Humanities Tennessee's program bureau presentations, an exhibit about the history of local, African-American cooks, and an historical recipe book. Key Ingredients was exhibited at the Williamson County Library.

Ramsey House Plantation, Knoxville.
The host presented weekly farming and cooking demonstrations, gave tours of its heirloom garden, and hosted two program bureau presentations.

Obion County Museum, Union City.
The sponsor hosted two community cook-offs, two program bureau presentations, and developed a companion exhibit that featured the county's Century Farms.

American Indian Affairs of Tennessee, Henning.
The host sponsored a series of events, including a frybread cooking demonstration and an afternoon of Choctaw social dancing. The exhibition was shown at the Lauderdale County Chamber of Commerce in Ripley.

Paris-Henry County Heritage Center, Paris.
The museum hosted a series of food-related events for several months leading up to the exhibit, and also developed a companion exhibit that explored the history of local grocers.

Nashville Public Library, Nashville.
The library hosted cooking demonstrations for beaten biscuits and for turnip greens, as well as a program about creating family cookbooks. Companion programs also included an exhibit of historical recipe books from the library's collection.

Cades Cove Preservation Association, Maryville.
The CPAA developed a companion exhibit and hosted a series of presentations about mountain foodway traditions, including beekeeping and berry collecting.

Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum, Rogersville.
The host's companion programming focused on an exhibition of photos related to the many local mills, both past and present, as well as an exhibit of area china collections.

Robertson County History Museum, Springfield.
This host developed a companion exhibit with images and artifacts from two local eateries and a flourmill. The Museum also hosted a program bureau presentation and issued a historical/contemporary recipe book.