Through the dive into dining culture at Lippitt House Museum in the #TasteofProvidence series, it becomes clear that the customs and traditions surrounding food contribute to a sense of community. When I first began exploring the topic of dining culture, I imagined it would stay within the walls
of the museum itself, but the research soon showed me how ubiquitous many of the stories surrounding food were for Providence and the country as a whole. The way people adapt to what is available, the way they celebrate special occasions with food, or the way they come together for meals: all of these bind communities together and are significant in understanding the circumstances of the time. The impact of these elements is felt by a wide swath of peoples, from mill owners to factory workers, though not always in the same ways.
We asked our Lippitt House Museum community to share some of their food related memories and traditions, some of which we’ve compiled, in hopes of highlighting similarities that exist in our dining culture today and that which we can find at Lippitt House.
Carol grew up on a dairy farm with no shortage of vegetables and milk. The seasons largely dictated what was available, with her father and mother carefully preserving certain foods so they would last into the winter. While Mary Ann Lippitt had meticulously organized luncheons for 18 carefully selected people, guests in Carol’s house were for the most part spontaneous drop-ins, including aunts and uncles. The food at these gatherings was whatever was available, leading to an eclectic menu of cookies, crackers, and tuna sandwiches. On special occasions, she recalls the “good” china and silver plate that was polished in preparation for the meal. The Lippitt family too had an extensive silver cabinet, carefully cleaned.
Naydine has fond memories of special occasion meals as well. For her, holidays and dinner parties were opportunities to bring out the good china, and no table setting was complete without flowers. Naydine also recalls how she responded to food pressures during the pandemic, stocking up on essentials such as flour, sugar, and yeast—the same ingredients which residents of Providence strategized around during WWI voluntary rationing.
The prevalence of food is felt in almost every community: urban, rural, working class, upper class, and across centuries food continues to be a centralizing factor in social ties. The memories shared here are different from the experiences of the members of the Lippitt family over one hundred years ago, but there are familiar echoes that reappear, even from a century ago, in our lives today.