A Taste of History at Isaac’s Café

By Kathy Hart

I not only love to cook but I also  love to learn the origins of food, the traditions and people who made it part of their everyday lives, and the early cooking methods used to achieve those historic dishes. This past weekend took my research and my culinary travels back in time.

Bernheim is steeped in a rich history. Much of that history happened long before Isaac Bernheim purchased what is now Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest back in 1929. Long before the first European explorers sailed to the Americas, or the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, there were indigenous peoples inhabiting this area. I imagined that hundreds of years ago, the area that is now Bernheim was inhabited by the Shawnee Tribe, a somewhat nomadic people who were dedicated to their families and to the meals that were prepared and held a reverence for the land and animals that sustained them. Their connection and deep understanding of the natural world allowed them to thrive in this area. We find evidence of this through artifacts that are still encountered today as folks hike through the hills of Bernheim and surrounding areas. Thanks to Volunteer Naturalist Ken Johnson, you can check out additional research material on display in our Visitor Center.

The Shawnee’s deep understanding of the natural world led to what is known as the Three Sisters. A combination of beans, corn and squash. They would plant these crops together using the sturdy corn stalk for beans to climb and grow, planted along with squash, using its umbrella like leaves to hold in moisture for the benefit of all three plants. They also utilized persimmons (which Inperpretive Programs Manager – and my sister – Wren Smith and I picked just steps away from the Café) and the many varieties of nut trees in the area to round out their rich and diverse diet.

Stop by Isaac’s Café for a taste of history. Our Meatless Monday special : Three Sisters’ Casserole: a rich blend of fresh off the cob corn, kidney beans and summer squash topped with crispy polenta along with a side of Edible Garden green beans and a slice of fresh baked Bernheim persimmon bread. Just $6.95!

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