Food’s role in MOV explored

PARKERSBURG – A Ritchie County couple talked with people Sunday at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History about the role food played in the lives of early settlers in the Mid-Ohio Valley as they signed copies of the book they wrote on the subject.

Martha and Richard Hartley have spent the past 25 years researching the food that early settlers in western Virginia prepared and ate. They put their findings – gathered from more than 230 reference sources and detailing little-known facts and anecdotes about the struggles and triumphs of the early settlers in what is now West Virginia – in their book “The Frontier Table – A Treatise & Source Book on Western Virginia Foodways History – 1776 – 1860.”

“We are really pleased with the publicity that has been generated for our book,” Martha said. “We now have a website for the book.

“We have had inquiries, well wishes from friends and local people have talked to us telling us they were glad it was out. To actually have it finished and done, it is nice. People seem interested in it.”

The book shares information about crops that were planted and harvested, about food and food equipment which was available for purchase or barter, and about the cultural influences on the peoples coming into western Virginia. The book’s illustrations include historical sketches and prints from the western Virginia region by early artists.

Patrick Hall, of Smithville, was one of the people who got a copy of the book for the Hartleys to sign Sunday in the museum’s lobby. He has known the couple for years in Ritchie County from being involved in 4-H.

“I am sure what they had to say in this book is something I would be interested in,” he said. “I love food and I am a cook myself.

“This is an opportunity to learn a little bit more from my area. My family lines have been in West Virginia since the late 1700s. Some of this will put a little to my family history as well.”

On Saturday, the Hartleys will be on Blennerhassett Island participating in the mansion tours.

At 12:45 p.m. and 2 p.m., the couple will be accompanying the docents on a tour of the mansion and speaking to visitors about the food and the history on the island, bringing in facts and stories about what role food played in the mansion and its inhabitants.

“The Blennerhassetts had a chance to serve anything money could buy or that they could grow,” Martha said. “They were at one end of the societal ladder.

“A lot of people living in log houses on either side of the river did not have that much variety in their menu. If they could plant a good crop of corn and bring it to maturity, then they could grow and hunt and gather other things for their diet.”

Richard talked about what people might see on a table and why it was there.

“Everything was balanced and we are going to point out some of those things,” he said.

In the mansion kitchen, they will look at the different equipment in the kitchen and the type of cooking they did.

“I hope this experience with the book allows people to reflect on the own past, their own heritage and their own culture,” Richard said. “Maybe it is digging out or renewing something food related that was important in their own family and still being able to pass that on to their children and grandchildren.”