Exploring Montana's Past Through Food

Sep 14, 2018

1923 Pie Eating Social
Credit Henry B. Syverun, Syverun Scrapbooks / Montana Historical Society

As the saying goes “…you are what you eat,” but what you eat can be history.

Two researchers will be in Sidney, Montana this Saturday to meet with residents in the hunt for clues into the history of Roosevelt and Richland counties through the food of that area.

The daylong - “A Taste of the Past: Gathering Montana’s Food Heritage” - event is part of the project is funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mary Murphy, a Montana State University history professor,  said studying the food of Richland and Roosevelt counties is a lens they’re using to focus on the area’s history.

“So when you think about growing food, preparing food, preserving food, consuming food, that involves every living person in the state and territory and before it was a territory,” said Murphy.      

She will be joined at the event by Molly Kruckenberg, research center program manager at the Montana Historical Society.

Kruckenberg said they specifically selected Richland and Roosevelt Counties to research because of the cyclical boom and bust nature of oil, agriculture and depression in those areas.

“This is not a new trend in those particular areas,” said Kruckenberg. “So it will be interesting to see how these most recent boom and bust compare to previous ones and what we see from ‘new’ food ways in the areas compared to ‘old’ food ways. And so it’s just interesting to talk about community in flux and how food was interpreted or felt about in those communities.”

MSU’s Mary Murphy is particularly interested in the interplay between women and food.

“And for me because I teach women’s history, I am very interested in the way food functions as a means for women to demonstrate their skills, to get a claim for their best recipe,” Murphy said. “People in the community came to know what a woman’s specialty was.” These would be on display at the county fair or a local picnic.

“Food becomes the tie that binds us together,” Murphy added.

Eventually items and stories Murphy and Kruckenberg gather will become part of an online exhibit about the food history of the area. The two will return to Sidney in the spring for a public program on the food history and culture of Richland and Roosevelt.

The event on Sept. 15, 2018 will be held at the Pella Lutheran Church from 9:30 a.m.  to 4:30 p.m.