IN THREE YEARS of exploring Wisconsin, I’ve learned a few things:
Wisconsinites are crazy about their Packers.
Wisconsinites love their brats.
Cheese is, indeed, big in Wisconsin.
And, finally, Wisconsin residents love their beer.
Not necessarily in that order.
I base this on observations such as green and gold brat buns sold at an Appleton grocery store where staff wear Packer attire on game day; liquor stores directly connected to grocery stores, walk-in beer coolers at convenience stores and an abundance of bars everywhere, seemingly packed on game day; a decrease in highway traffic during Packers games; frequent homemade roadside signs advertising brat fries; and busy specialty shops focused on selling cheese.
A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.
Now an exhibit, “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat,” at the History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton (that’s in eastern Wisconsin south of Green Bay) confirms my observations and conclusions about Wisconsin.
In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter “speared” a catfish instead by thrusting a “spear” at the shadowy fish lurking below the water’s surface. You best know your fish.
The informative and interactive exhibit—try spearing a sturgeon—explores the origins of iconic Wisconsin food traditions.
Visitors uses post-it notes to list favorite foods reflecting their ethnicity.
“From sauerkraut to egg rolls, each food has a story to tell about our regional values and community-making,” so notes a line in the wealth of exhibit information. I’ll admit that I didn’t read all of the info. I am more a visual and interactive learner in a museum setting. But I appreciate the depth of research summarized here.
A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.
That said, join me on this photographic tour of “Food.”
Via museum magic, you can press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.
Smell the cheese.
Test your cow knowledge on this interactive screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed “America’s Dairyland.”
Test your knowledge of cows.
See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin’s “soul food.” Cheese, brats, beer, fish fry… Add your own answer.
Define Wisconsin “soul food.”
A portion of the exhibit focuses on place, like burger joints and supper clubs, etc.
Reminisce about supper clubs and burger stands.
Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.
Identify old kitchen tools…
Celebrate the food traditions of Wisconsin:
Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.
Red Dot potato chips were produced by Red Dot Foods of Madison, Wisconsin, and were once a top potato chip brand.
Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, region is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.
In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.
Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement. One of the Appleton Police Department’s major objectives in 2014 is to combat domestic violence.
The exhibit on the right focuses on supper clubs. Visitors are invited to write characteristics defining a supper club. Answers included, among many others, pickled beets and herring at salad bar; dim lighting; cocktail hour; tavern in front, buffet in back; and old fashion jukeboxes.
Supper club/bar signage close-ups.
The Pig Fair…
A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that’s Reddy Kilowatt there on the wall.
And then afterward, grab a cold one. It seems only fitting to honor Wisconsin’s love of brats, beer, cheese and Packers. Cheers.
The impressive and historic History Museum at the Castle.
FYI: The “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat” exhibit continues through the fall of 2014 at the Castle. There’s much more to see here, including exhibits on local history and a permanent Harry Houdini exhibit. Houdini claims Appleton as his hometown.
Don’t miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.
The castle itself is a lovely complex built in 1923 as a Masonic temple and today is on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here to learn more about the History Museum at the Castle.
© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling