Explore Culinary History Tours in Washtenaw County

Sep 25, 2017

Visit a local farmer’s market, broaden your palate, and taste some history!

The new Washtenaw Heritage Foodways Story Map blends historical time periods with points of interest across the county and representative recipes of many cultural ethnic groups present in our community over time. Find out more about historic recipes by exploring this online story map and keep reading to learn a few fun facts about the different food traditions of our region.

Washtenaw County’s early story represents a wide variety of cultures ranging from the First Peoples of the Huron River Valley to settlers of origins across Europe. Such diversity remains visible in our community through the presence of these blended identities as well as other distinctive cultural groups such as African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans and more recent immigration by people from East Asian and Middle Eastern heritages. Each group is defined by how they are similar to their own, as well as how they are unique from others. These differences give strength to our community, and are celebrated in a myriad of ways through cultural festivals, traditions and beliefs, arts, engineering, architecture, natural and planned landscapes, and spoken word as well as song.

Domestic Cook Book Published in 1866

But what is the biggest connector across cultures, what ties communities together and welcomes new faces around the table? FOOD!

This new online resource highlights the local food traditions of Washtenaw County from a culinary history lens. It includes stories of local ethnic history, and features the foods of the many different peoples of Washtenaw County. It was compiled by local historians Melissa Milton-Pung and Melinda Schmidt, and based on original research in the much-loved cookbook archive at the University of Michigan’s Longone Culinary History Collection. This web-based map highlights more than a dozen recipes and nestles them within a backstory rooted in a variety of historic eras and groups, ranging from traditional Native American foods to the Abolitionist Movement, as well as Home Front life during World War II and recent social protests that marked the 20th century.  Most recipes can be made with locally grown foods found at Washtenaw County farmers markets.

Check out this Story Map and other Washtenaw County’s Heritage Tours by visiting www.ewashtenaw.org/heritagetours or click HERE to go directly to the Heritage Foodways tour. And, if you snap a pic of one of these fantastic sites for yourself, use the hashtag #VisitAnnArbor to share it with us.

BONUS! Try These Three Historical Recipes 

Baked Pumpkin or Squash with Wild Rice, 1700s-1800s

The diets of First Peoples (also known as Native Americans) varied seasonally and were dependent on availability of local sources. Both men and women would collect food throughout the year, such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, and fish. Look for Midwestern wild rice, Michigan berries, vegetables, maple syrup, and pumpkins at local farmers’ markets or co-ops. Some local farms also sell game meat, and during the fall hunting season many Michigan families provide venison to family and friends. These recipes have been passed down in oral tradition, and do not include measurements. While this lack of specific direction is strange for us, recipes including measurements are a recent phenomenon. As each generation taught the next to cook, their children learned measurements through personal experience.

1 pumpkin or squash, seeds and pulp removed
Broth or water
Wild rice

Bake the vegetable by placing the pumpkin or squash face-down on a baking sheet and roast in a 400°F oven until fork-tender.  Cook wild rice in water or broth, and place cooked rice inside the pumpkin. [General rule of thumb is two cups of liquid to one cup of uncooked rice.]  Serve the stuffed vegetable whole.  Variation:  Add chopped cooked meat to the rice. This recipe pairs well with game dishes.

Source: Humes, Marguerite J., Celebrating 300 Years of Detroit Cooking 1701-2001. Detroit Historical Society Guild, Detroit, MI, 2001.


Elizabeth Chandler’s Honey Tea Cake, 1830s-1840s
As part of her protest again slavery, abolitionist Elizabeth Chandler participated in the free-produce movement, which boycotted goods made with slave labor. Sugar was a common item boycotted by activists, causing Chandler to create a tea cake recipe sweetened with honey. Chandler most likely utilized local Michigan honey as a replacement for sugar in her recipe. 

8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup honey
½ cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 cups pastry flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar (to avoid a sharp aftertaste, substitute 1 tsp baking powder)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Cream the butter and honey together until smooth.  Add the sour cream and beat well.  Beat the eggs to a froth and combine with the batter.  Sift the flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar (or baking powder) three times (to ensure a light cake), then mix these dry ingredients into the batter.  Stir well, but do not beat too hard, or the soda will be over activated before baking.  Pour into a well-greased 10-inch square pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Source:  Hardin, Tanya; Horne, Mallory; and Miles, Tiya. Food for the Fight: Abolitionist Women’s Recipes.


Civil Rights & The Rise of Soul Food: Okra, 1960s-70s

After the Civil War, many African Americans migrated north bringing their culinary knowledge to established black communities or founding their own. Decades later, as African Americans formed Civil Rights groups; traditional southern food remained part of their identity. With the mainstream popularity of Soul Music in the 1960s, African American food was also dubbed Soul Food. Within Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor has historically been a magnet for social change. In 1970, the University of Michigan campus was the location of several strikes held by The Black Action Movement in response to the administration’s rejection of civil rights requests. Many faculty and students were on strike for 13 days. They won many of their demands and effected policy changes.

1 pound small okra pods, topped and tailed
2 cups water
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Wash the okra and cut it into ½ inch rounds.  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan.  Place the okra rounds in the saucepan, lower the heat, and cook for 5 minutes. When the okra is fork-tender, remove from heat, add the salt and pepper and the lemon juice, drain, and serve hot.  Serves 4 to 6 people.

Source: Harris, Jessica B. The Welcome Table. New York: Fireside (1996).

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Oh so interesting!! Thank you for sharing.

By on 2017 10 03

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