Food at the Smithsonian—and corn casserole


We spent Thanksgiving weekend at the home of my sister, who lives just outside Washington, D.C.

One of the advantages of being retired is that we can travel home on Monday, instead of Sunday when traffic is heavy on the Ohio Turnpike and there are often restroom lines at the service plaza (for the women at least!).

Since we weren’t traveling on Sunday, we visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. (Another great thing about visiting Washington is that almost all the museums are free–your tax dollars at work!)

The museum has a nice exhibit about American foodways, called “Transforming the American Table 1950-2000.”

Julia Child’s kitchen

The highlight of the exhibit, for us and probably for many other visitors, was Julia Child’s actual kitchen. It was brought from her Cambridge, Mass. home and rebuilt inside the museum.

Next to the kitchen, which is protected from the too-curious by Plexiglas, is a mini-theater where videos of Julia Child’s television shows were playing, starting with the best known, The French Chef, which ran for 10 years on PBS. She also had four later series, Cooking with Master Chefs, In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, Baking with Juliaand Julia Child & Jacques Pépin Cooking at Home.

When I was a teenager, my younger sister just loved watching Julia Child on TV. I couldn’t figure out why, because she was too young to cook, until I watched it one day with her when I was about17. Julia was just so delightful! I would have gotten hooked too if I’d had time to watch TV.

At the Smithsonian, we could have sat for hours watching clips of Julia whipping up treats alone or with one of her guest master chefs.

Is new always improved?

A exhibit section called “New and Improved!” talked about attitudes towards progress and better living in the 20th century, but raised questions about the long-term effects of mass production of food and of consumerism.

“Resetting the Table” showed how American food changed over 50 years through the influence if immigrants, world travelers and activists. If you were around in the 1950s, you probably ate Chinese and Italian food – and Mexican if you lived in the West or Southwest.  But who knew from Thai, Indian, Korean, sushi  or vegan?

A display of “Food on the Go” showed how snack foods and take-out had changed over the half-century.

At the exhibit on American wine I learned something very interesting. There was a variety of grapes called Norton that were native to Virginia, but they were all uprooted during Prohibition. Winemaker Dennis Horton brought some Norton cuttings to Virginia from his native Missouri in 1988 – and bottled his first vintage from the grapes in 1992.

If you find yourself in Washington, D.C., check out this worthwhile exhibit!

I wanted to include a quintessentially American recipe with this piece, and what could be more American than corn? This simple casserole is best with fresh corn, which of course is not readily available in winter, but frozen corn will work almost as well. Serve it as a main dish for a light vegetarian supper or as a side dish.