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S. Ariz. museum feasts on Smithsonian exhibit

By Andrea Rivera

Arizona Daily Star

Published: Monday, April 11 2011 7:10 a.m. MDT

This March 30, 2011 photo shows a portion of the introductory kiosk for an exhibit organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service at the Oracle Historical Society in Oracle, Ariz. The exhibit, located at the Acacia ranch house, is a display that documents the tradition of food in the U.S. from regional customs to its current evolution.

Arizona Daily Star, A.E. Araiza, Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. — Oracle's "hidden little museum" landed a Smithsonian traveling exhibit that will be on display through May 1.

The "Key Ingredients: America by Food" exhibit is the current main attraction at the Oracle Historical Society and Acadia Ranch Museum.

"It's a fun look at food in America," said Oracle resident Emily Duwel, project director for the exhibit while it's at the museum.

Through artifacts, photos and illustrations, the exhibit traces the evolution of food in America.

A recent visit to the museum yielded these morsels:

—Every state has at least one food associated with its identity. Arizona's food: lettuce. California has salmon, Utah has cherries and Nevada has beef.

—We can thank the French for canned food. Sealing food in airtight containers was a French innovation brought to America in 1819 by William Underwood.

—TV dinners first showed up in U.S. homes in 1954.

—The first true full-service supermarket - Piggly Wiggly - opened in 1916 in Memphis, Tenn. Piggly Wiggly still operates today.

—It is said that nachos were first served at a State Fair of Texas concession stand in 1964.

"People will connect with something because (the exhibit) really does include the whole United States," Oracle resident Chuck Sternberg said.

Sternberg supervised the restoration of all 12 rooms in the Oracle Historical Society and Acadia Ranch Museum, which is north of Tucson off State Route 77 in Pinal County.

It took five years to complete the renovations.

"This is my favorite building in the area," Sternberg said of the Acadia Ranch building. "As it has changed owners and as it became more famous, they kept adding more things on."

Built in 1882, Acadia Ranch Museum was first a sheep ranch and later a resort for people suffering from tuberculosis.

It was deeded to the Oracle Historical Society in 1978.

Renovations included replastering the walls, fixing leaks and refurbishing the floors.

Sternberg refers to Acadia as the "hidden little museum" in Oracle.

The Arizona Humanities Council selected Oracle — and five other rural areas — to host the Smithsonian traveling exhibition. Duwel had to apply to bring the exhibit to the museum.

She hopes the exhibit will bring renewed attention to the Oracle Historical Society and Acadia Ranch Museum.

Duwel also hopes the exhibit spurs fundraising efforts.

Companion events are scheduled during the exhibition's run. A local exhibit, "Let's Have a Picnic," was created to be shown with the Smithsonian show and includes photos of Oracle families dining picnic-style.

Prehistoric ceramic vessels found in the Oracle area also are on display.

Charlotte Poole lives just a couple of blocks from the museum, but didn't give it much thought until she heard the Smithsonian exhibit arrived in March.

"I love it," she said. "It's the reason I became a member."

Now she's serving as a docent for the exhibit.

One of her favorite parts of "Key Ingredients: America by Food" are the Cheesehead hats from Wisconsin.

The foam hats are included in the exhibit to show how food — in the case of Wisconsin, its dairy — can shape the identity of a city or state.

Poole likes that the exhibit shows visitors where food comes from and how it's distributed.

"People see food in grocery stores and it's all processed, and they don't know where it comes from. This covers the journey of the food to the sharing of it," she said.

Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

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