FRANCONIA — Food has often played a part in Mennonite Heritage Center exhibits and programs, but the new "Food: Our Global Kitchen," and "Food Heritage of Eastern Pennsylvania" displays takes it farther.
The opening reception for the new exhibits will be held 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 28.
"There is certainly merit to events like our Apple Butter Frolic which are great fun with the sampling of traditional foods and demonstrations, but such events/exhibits do not always connect the dots between the realities of the hard labor of 18th and 19th century farm families or the loss of prime farm soils to development in our region in the mid-20th century. Working on this exhibit has meant trying to connect some of those dots," Sarah Heffner, MHC's acting executive director, wrote in a blog post on the center's mhep.org website.
The "Food: Our Global Kitchen" display is leased from the American Museum of Natural History, Joel Alderfer, MHC's collections manager, said.
Information in the display includes a comparison of the price of groceries and the amount of calories in those groceries in various countries around the world; different ways to grow the same crops; the future of farming; and leaks in the food pipeline that showed in information from 2009 and 2010 that about one-third of the food in the world is lost or wasted, he said.
"They present a lot of data here," Alderfer said, "to get the visitors thinking about some of these global food issues that we're facing."
The exhibit is not a typical one for a local history museum, but the themes affect everyone, he said.
"As Mennonites and local citizens, we're concerned about food production and food use, food justice issues, the distribution of food," Alderfer said.
Food is a universal concern, he said.
The "Food Heritage of Eastern Pennsylvania" display, created by MHC, starts with the 17th century Lenape people and includes displays covering the five centuries up to the present day, he said.
"In the 18th century, meals, especially in the winter, were simple and not varied much," Alderfer said.
Dried foods and salted meats made up a lot of those meals, he said.
"For the most part, people didn't starve here in early Pennsylvania, but there wasn't a lot of food and there wasn't variety, especially in the winter," Alderfer said. "We wouldn't be satisfied with it today."
By the early 19th century, most Pennsylvania German farms had a multi-functional building, known by various names, including bake house or wash house, and, more recently, summer kitchen, that included things such as a bake oven, smokehouse and cooking fireplace, he said.
"It was a building apart from your main kitchen where you could do the dirtier, sloppier work of larger scale food processing — your butchering, your canning, your drying," he said. Water was also heated in the building to do the laundry, he said.
"Those summer kitchens, or outbuildings, are disappearing. No one has a use for them anymore," Alderfer said.
The ones that still remain are either deteriorating or being torn down, he said.
"For active farms that still have them, they just don't really serve a purpose," he said.
In the late 19th and into the 20th century, it was common for local farmers to take their products to farmer's markets in Philadelphia or surrounding areas, he said. That was followed by people who were not farmers themselves, but bought products from local meat processors and farms which were then sold on door-to-door routes, he said.
There is also information in the displays about the traditional Sunday dinner, he said.
Even people who didn't live on a farm often had gardens and canned and froze food from it, he said.
"This was common until the mid-20th century around here, and even later for some families," Alderfer said.
Display items also include information about current day food sharing programs, community gardens, community supported agriculture (CSA) farms and hydroponic growing.
There are also children's activities, such as matching the names of animals with pictures of the animals or collecting and counting eggs, Alderfer said. Adults and children are invited to leave a posted note about favorite meals or food memories.
Admission to the Mennonite Heritage Center, located at 565 Yoder Road, Harleysville, is by donation. The July 28 opening reception for the two new food exhibits will include refreshments featuring food from various centuries, MHC said in a release.
"Our Global Kitchen" will be on display through Jan. 4, 2020, Alderfer said. "Food Heritage of Eastern Pennsylvania" will be on display for at least one and a half years, possibly two years, he said.
Other programs accompanying the food exhibits are:
• Traditional Foods Potluck, in partnership with Indian Valley Public Library, 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20. Participants are asked to bring a dish from ethnic cookbooks at the library. Preregistration is required and seating is limited to 50 people.
• Community Harvest Home service 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27 in the Nyce Barn on the MHC campus. Nate Stucky, director of the Farminary Project at Princeton Theological Seminary, will be the speaker.
• Mennonite Community Cookbook Potluck 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8. Bring a dish/recipe from the cookbook as your admission. Preregistration is required and seating is limited to 50 people.
• Historian and storyteller John Ruth will present "This Very Ground, This Crooked Affair" 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20 at MHC and again 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24 at Indian Valley Public Library.
This year's Apple Butter Frolic will be 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5.
Additional information about Mennonite Heritage Center exhibits and programs is available at www.mhep.org.