By Shawn Wade
Bureau of Land Management
If interpretation is to be effective, it must first be relevant. The story has to be relevant to the visitor as well as the interpreter and appropriate to the setting and interpretive event. If anything is missing from the equation, the interpretation becomes weak, dull and confusing. As interpreters we struggle with putting the pieces together to successfully connect our audience to the relevance. Planning for our past event I was able to piece together the equation with a personal connection.
The Bureau of Land Management’s National Historic Trails Interpretive Center hosted its annual “Holiday on the Homestead” event in December. The Event celebrated traditional holiday activities during Wyoming’s frontier past. Visiting children had the opportunity to design a snowflake, communicate via sign language, send a message by telegraph and mail a letter via Pony Express as part of the event’s hands-on activities.
Interpretive relevance struck a particular chord with me as we prepared for the event. I began to reflect on my own heritage, recalling that my family homesteaded in Wyoming in 1913. I thought back to holidays past and one theme seemed to linger in my mind. I was raised, like my homestead ancestors, frugally and within budget. Strict adherence to economy prevailed. In many ways, life on a Wyoming ranch had not changed in 60 or 70 years. The holidays, however, afforded the one time of year for special treats.
Like many families, central to my family’s holiday traditions were age old recipes that were prepared each year. The recipes were integral as gift exchanging or other holiday observances. One of my family’s favorite recipes is my grandma’s ginger cookie recipe. Although my sisters carry on the cookie tradition using modern electric appliances rather than wood fired stoves, the tradition has changed very little. The ginger cookie evokes strong images and memories of holiday mornings for me as a child on the old homestead ranch. Nothing can ignite a long-forgotten memory like food. I can smell and taste ginger cookies just thinking about them.
I was honored to be able to share this story with visitors to our annual Holiday on the Homestead event. A search of family records revealed a narrative written by my great aunt. Her vivid description of life in a prairie homestead shack further reinforced a recurrent personal theme. Holidays were times of celebration, tradition and sharing with others. After procuring a copy of the recipe, I was able to work with a local bakery that prepared several hundred cookies for the event. The recipe was closely followed. The recipe card, hand-written in the pen of my grandmother, calls for a “scant amount of shortening.” The bakers found humor in deciding what “scant” meant. Holiday on the Homestead was well attended and seemed to be enjoyed by all. As a special treat, each visitor received a ginger cookie as a part of the homestead message. Some guests indicated that they appreciated the personal connection to the past. For them, interpretive relevance was as palpable as the ginger cookies that they enjoyed.
Old Benshoof Family Recipe
1 cup sugar
1 scant cup shortening
1 cup molasses
1 cup sour milk
4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
Flour enough to roll out*
Bake in moderate oven and remove while soft
*modern note: Add flour until the dough is malleable and doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.