I had never had been at South Dakota State Historical Society annual conference before they asked me to come and be the second day’s keynote speaker, but I’m very glad they did. It was really a well organized and the prep, the information, the vendors, the meals was all really top rate. They’ve been doing this annual meeting since around the 1980s. They shift responsibility between the various departments of the historical society so each department does it every 5 years or so. This year it was done by the department that does their museum and the theme was Everybody Eats. This year’s conference was on April 29-30, 2016.
The conference starts with a fundraising event on Thursday night and then with a full day on Friday with a reception following and a slightly shorter day on Saturday. Lunch is provided both Thursday and Friday and it was very good. The sessions were held in a room with theater style seating (with writing arm rests). I’d like to commend the organizers both for starting and ending sessions on time, but also having networking breaks of a decent length to talk to people.
One small grumble was that the room was really cold Friday morning and really hot Friday afternoon. I normally dress in layers and expect anything from conference session “weather” but this was unusually severe at both ends.
The vendor “room” ran on either side of the hallway right outside the main session room compelling you to walk by them every time you left. That window shopping should have supported them being there which in turn supports the conference. Vendors were there all day both days and there was a nice mix and number of them.
Speakers were on a single track and had a nice variety all focused on various aspects about foodways in South Dakota. The day opened with Jay D. Vogt, Director of the South Dakota State Historical Society, giving a brief rundown on the variety of South Dakota foodways. Wanda Goodman, Media & Industry Relations Manager, South Dakota Department of Tourism followed up with a rundown of South Dakota food events. Opening activities ended with Conference Moderator Brad Tennant giving a brief overview of the conference.
The keynote speaker the first day was Susan Evans McClure of the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The Smithsonian has been working on more food into both their displays and their programming because food is an entry point to history that people can understand. She talked about their restoration of the Julia Child kitchen and individually related artifacts like a Mr. Peanut from the fence surrounding the Planter peanut plant. Another interesting bit I didn’t know was that spam was part of the lend-lease program. I knew it was involved in World War II, but I didn’t know it was part of that program. The Smithsonian has created a new section completed focused around food, FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000. Follow them on Twitter under the hashtag at
Next was Jerome Kills Small talked about Harvesting Foods and Medicines in the Siouan Homelands. He told stories of his life, about things that you could find on the prairie to eat, and how different cultures used similar things just using different names. He runs a daycamp every year teaching children about native life. He has lots of bear grease, he said he’d send me some. I hope he does.
Over lunch Jay Smith, State Museum Director, gave us a run down on the South Dakota State Historical Society Museum. It was a preview of the reception that night.
After lunch Bernie Hunhoff, founder of South Dakota Magazine spoke on “Coffee Please – Restaurant Stories of a Roaming Editor.” He told stories of mom and pop coffee shops and small restaurants across the state and some of the interesting people who run them.
Catherine Lambrecht presented “South Dakota’s Heirloom Recipes.” Lambrecht is one of the founders of the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance. Their major project is an annual conference, but an early project was promoting heirloom recipes by creating a category of them at the state fairs. Recipes for the winning dishes are available on their website. Lambrecht told stories of her experiences of families sharing these recipes and their great diversity. Greater Midwest Foodways has been a real leader in reclaiming Midwest as a legitimate focus of study.
The final speaker of the day was filmmaker Troy McQuillen on the Aberdeen Railway Station Canteen documentary. While a lot of information has been presented about the North Platte Canteen in Nebraska, but this South Dakota one was equally impactful. The unique part of Aberdeen was they offered pheasant sandwiches. The unusual dish started as way to use a food supply available for free but word spread that it was something special. The documentary included interviews with 4 women who served in canteen, people who hunted pheasants even out of season & even former boy scouts who did running for the restaurant. I knew the story going in, but by 30 minutes in had me and quite a few people tearing up. Really didn’t care for the last 15 minutes, but I liked it enough to buy the DVD and got the recipe booklet. This is a four minute greatly condensed version.
The evening ended with a reception at the South Dakota State Historical Society Museum which let us see both their permanent exhibits and their current temporary exhibits “Play Ball! The National Pastime in South Dakota” and “South Dakota Environments: A Window to Past Times.”
I was the Saturday keynote presenting “In the Pioneer Kitchen With Laura.” This was a brand new presentation and looked specifically at pioneer cooking in South Dakota as Ma and Laura would have practiced it. For this presentation, talking about eating greens, I actually picked, ate, and photographed dandelions.
Ken Stewart was next covering “Brewing in South Dakota, 1861-1941” looking at brewing beer, near beer, and soda before and after Prohibition. He had tracked down photos of breweries in addition to their stories and made a tour of those sites today to see what was left.
Kevin Gansz of Siouxland Heritage Museums “Cruisin’ Cuisine: The Drive-Ins of Sioux Fall” looked at the culture of the drive-in, how it suddenly popped up, became dominant, and disappeared within a decade. He had put together a display about the local ones for the Siouxland Heritage Museum tracking down their spread, how they fell, and what traces remain of them today. It was hard to find a lot of stuff for the display because much of what was produced for drive-ins was meant to be thrown away, lots of staff rotated through they didn’t stay taking photos, and people just never had any idea they would disappear like it. Most of the early drive-in were small mom and pop operations, they would be sourced locally, and often jointly advertised with their suppliers. The fast food industry has changed a lot over the decades, Americans spent $6 billion on fast food in 1960 and $117 billion in 2015.
The lunch on the second day featured the annual awards presented by the South Dakota State Historical Society and then a serving a of Cookies and Cream ice cream from the South Dakota State University Creamery. Howard Bonnemann who has long run the creamery showed us highlights of the history of ice cream in general and the creamery in particular. The SDSU creamery is very well known in the area. Although there is some debate, the creamery claims the title of inventor of Cookies and Cream ice cream.
The conference ended with Jay D. Vogt giving some closing remarks and giving us the topic for next year.
I truly enjoyed this conference. It was one of the most enjoyable I’ve been to in awhile and I strongly recommend it if you’re looking for an interesting, enjoyable history conference. They have one every year.
Find the details here on the archive of their website.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.