Local food culture is alive and vibrant in the Treasure Valley.
The proof: Persistent popularity of farmers’ markets, CSAs, groups like the Treasure Valley Food Coalition and the existence of all those neighbors and relatives you have who can expound on pickling, beekeeping, heirloom tomatoes, home-brewed beer and all things edible.
Archivists at the Boise State University Special Collections and Archives spend their days curating a collection of Idaho culture and history. Idaho food lore has always been part of that diverse mix.
“When we receive collections of Idahoans’ personal papers, they often include things people saved. Like recipes,” said digital archivist Jim Duran.
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For decades, the archive has amassed photographs, records and remnants of food-related happenings. The archive is free and open to anyone who wants to have a look at a photo of Ernest Hemingway at the dinner table, learn more about the history of Bar Gernika or peruse the pages of the 1906 recipe book printed by one of Boise’s iconic service groups, the Columbian Club. There you will find recipes for Mrs. Ridenbaugh’s potato stuffing, Mrs. Ustick’s sauce for fish, Mrs. Collister’s codfish chowder and Mrs. Hayes’ honeycomb pudding with molasses and butter.
“We’re here to help students with their research, but we don’t limit (our collections) to students,” Duran said.
Here are a few treasures from Boise State’s Idaho food culture collection:
1. The glamorous world of Clara Spiegel: Spiegel was a wealthy Chicagoan who married into the family made famous by its catalog and mail-order business.
A novelist and big game hunter, Spiegel was one of the first visitors to the newly-opened Sun Valley resort in 1936. She built a home in Ketchum in the 1950s where she co-founded Ketchum’s Community Library and became friends with Ernest Hemingway. The BSU collection includes her “hostess diaries” with seating arrangements for one particular dinner in the fall of 1958.
Hemingway was at the head of the table. Spiegel’s notes include his dining preferences. “Ernest does not eat any meat Pate or dairy products nor egg yolks, or ginger.”
The diners enjoyed green turtle soup, steak and a meringue with frozen strawberries. There was wine. Spiegel set the table with Waterford crystal.
The archive also includes correspondence detailing Spiegel’s liquor requirements for her 1968 African safari lasting 25 days: 144 bottles of Tiborg beer, three bottles of Hennessey brandy, five bottles of Beefeater gin, two bottles of Martini vermouth, dry, five bottles of Smirnoff vodka 80 proof, two bottles of White Label scotch, 10 bottles of Beaujolais red, 20 bottles of assorted dry whites (because white is best with game, she noted) and scores of assorted mixers. Spiegel also inquired about the availability of rum.
With her list, this note: “I realize that the above list sounds as if we’re a couple of lushes, but tell Count Meran [safari leader] not to be alarmed. We really don’t drink much but like to have what we want available.”
She had food requirements as well: “I am on a diet and can’t eat salad, which we wouldn’t have anyway or anything stringy or rough or nuts or seeds.”
2. The world’s longest sandwich: The mid-1970s were kind of a golden age for Boise State. The college had just become a four-year university, and the campus was energized. In April 1975, Boise State broke the Guinness world record for the longest submarine sandwich.
Working with student leaders, Troutner Construction Co. built a brick oven at the edge of Bronco Stadium that was massive enough to bake a giant sourdough bun made by Albertsons. The sandwich, which served 1,000 people, stretched more than 400 feet — from one end of the football field to the other. Albertsons also donated 600 pounds of ice cream to make an ice cream cone that stood 15 feet tall.
The Broncos were ambitious but also community-minded: The event raised money for Easter Seals.
3. Helen Olsen’s “Recipe for a Domestic Stew”: Helen Olsen was an Idaho writer born in Parma in 1914. She and her husband, Cloyd, ran a fruit orchard in Canyon County. She also worked for the J.R. Simplot Comany in Caldwell and served as clerk for the school district. But all the while, she wrote.
Her work appeared in publications, including “Country Gentleman” and “Ford Truck Times,” but also “The Catholic Home Journal” and “Cosmopolitan.” In 1952, “Gourmet” magazine published her poem “Recipe for a Domestic Stew.” The Boise State collection includes a version, typewritten on a single page:
RECIPE FOR A DOMESTIC STEW
Apologize, my boy, and let
her think it a surrender.
Long simmering has never yet
made any female tender.
Olsen died in 2003.
4. Idaho food boosters: The archive has a fine collection of photographs featuring politicians with some of Idaho’s finest fish, fruit and spuds. The collection includes commercials made by the Idaho Potato Commission in the 1990s with then-Gov. Cecil Andrus promoting potatoes. It includes photographs of young Sen. Frank Church with Idaho trout and potatoes as well as Sen. Len B. Jordan with Idaho trout, apples and french fries.
5. Cooking with Ted Trueblood: Trueblood, an Idaho outdoor writer, advocate and conservationist was born in Boise in 1913 and died in Nampa in 1982. He was a prolific writer on outdoor subjects and contributed to “Field & Stream” magazine for 40 years. The BSU collection includes his articles on cooking in the great outdoors without high-tech gear. Among them was “Cook Camp Meals in Minutes” from the summer of 1958.
“Been eating cold beans out of a can? Here are some tricks that put you in the banquet class,” reads the subhead.
Trueblood suggests suspending cooking pots over a fire with a crane made of sticks; baking biscuits in a folding reflector oven and contending with wind by digging a pit for the cooking fire and shielding it with rocks.
When it comes to that fire, Trueblood recommends hardwoods. Hickory is “at the head of the list,” he wrote. But in the West, where there are few deciduous trees, chokecherry and alder make better cook fires than any conifer. Mountain mahogany and juniper are good in the desert. Lodgepole and white pine provide “clean, uniform heat, but the coals don’t last.”
Finally, “Tamarack, cedar and yellow pine make good kindling, though the last, especially, will pop badly and throw sparks in all directions.”