The Orange County Historical Museum is set to unveil its new heritage cooking exhibit on Feb. 4, titled “What’s Your Flavor?”
The exhibit is set to feature a diverse group of North Carolina artists. Courtney Smith, exhibits and programs coordinator for the Orange County Historical Museum, said heritage cooking is a twenty-first-century idea about cooking methods that have been passed on from generation to generation.
It will be organized into five flavor groups: sweet, salty, savory, tangy and spicy. The ingredients will be further organized chronologically and will examine ingredient usage over time in Orange County.
“For example, under sweets, obviously you've got to have sugar, but also honey, and tree syrup and butter,” she said. “And then under tangy, you have things like vinegar.”
Smith said the topic was chosen by the Town of Hillsborough Tourism Board after taking local interest into consideration.
But she wasn't sure at first what direction the exhibit would go in.
“I started getting worried because, you know, grandma might teach you the recipe or teach you how to bake the bread, but you can't put grandma in a display,” she said. “The question then became, what are we going to put in the display cases?”
The board presented cooking artifacts such as jam jars, meat grinders and skillets to Smith. From these items, she said she got the idea to work with local artists.
“I pitched the idea to the board of working with these artists to have them design the display cases and create works of art inspired by the artifacts,” she said. “I thought that would be much more visually interesting."
For artist Jermaine “J.P.” Powell, who specializes in working with plates, the exhibit was a great chance to experiment with fine china.
“That circular shape was very iconic to me, so I used that shape to resonate with cooking,” he said. “It was a nice relationship between my art piece and the utensils they have for the exhibit.”
Artist Tom Stevens, who studied children’s literature at UNC, painted a landscape inspired by the book “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak.
Stevens took inspiration from an image in the book of a cityscape from a child's point of view.
"It's all composed of boxes and milk cartons and kitchen utensils,” he said. “And when I looked at the artifacts, it reminded me of this, and I decided to make a more whimsical piece of art.”
His work substitutes some pieces of Sendak’s original illustration for local people, places and things.
“One of my artifacts was a teapot,” he said. “There's a neighbor who has, in her yard, a teapot tree. She changes out these teapots every time. So some of them are very, very hyperlocal.”
Artist Carlos González García was inspired by crystal salt shakers. González García’s piece plays on the shape of salt grains.
Under a microscope, a grain of salt is square, González García said. For the exhibit, he created a monochromatic round mosaic that was made out of individual, smaller squares.
To González García, heritage cooking is reminiscent of traditional Mexican dishes.
“Heritage cooking would be something very traditional to Mexican food, which is using very organic natural ingredients to make special recipes, like pozole,” he said. “Pozole’s real famous and depends on each state. It changes how they make it.”
Smith says the exhibit celebrates not only one’s heritage, but family as well.
"It is nice to take a moment to celebrate family and to celebrate the traditions that have been handed down,” she said. “Tasting and enjoying and sharing anytime you sit down to share a meal is such a bonding, uniting experience.”
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