Saturday, July 3, 2010

Idaho - July 3,1890

"Free 'Tater's for Out of Staters" read the sign outside of the Idaho World Potato Exposition when James and I were traveling through Blackfoot in 1993. Well, how could we pass that up? After visiting the museum which featured everything potato, including Mr. Potato Head, we were treated to a lunch of a baked potato, and the only payment we had to procure was demonstration our Arizona drivers' liscenses. You can't beat that for kitsch, unless it is a giant potato statue!

I also remember seeing some beautiful scenery and waterfalls all throughout our drive across Idaho, and some surreal landscapes at Craters of the Moon National Monument. This was my only foray into "the Gem State".

Idaho: A Guide in Words and Pictures
I've been thinking since I began this project that I should probably read at least one Works Progress Administration (WPA) Guide. The Federal Writers' Project WPA Guides were a project of the New Deal during the Great Depression to put writers to work. One guide was written for each of the 48 states in existence at the time. These guides include information on the flora and fauna, government, education, legends, history, and travel, among other things, for each state. Whenever I looked at a catalog record for one of these guides, however, my eye would be drawn to the page count, which is usually in the 500+ range. Given that I am trying to read 52 books in as many weeks I have, until now, passed on reading one of these guides. I was delighted to see that the guide for Idaho had a page count of only 300. It turns out it was the first such guide published, perhaps after it was published the WPA decided to start including other things. This guide is a real treasure trove of information, and I was surprised, too, to see the relatively sensitive treatment of the history of the Nez Perce tribe in something that was written in 1937. Likewise I was surprised to see lawyer Clarence Darrow's name show up twice. Short on photographs, which I imagine cost a lot to publish back in the day, exquisite descriptions of plants and animals were how these writers earned their bread and butter. While this book generally sings Idaho's praises, there are some instances in which the authors included less-than-favorable information about the state

"In the emphasis it has placed on education, in its scorn of illiteracy, and in its resourcefulness in stretching dollars to their farthest reach, Idaho had been educationally progressive. It is is still one of the most backward States in the care it gives to those unfortunates who do not fall within the normal curriculum. In progressive Eastern States the less extreme cases of emotional instability are not incarcerated until efforts have been made to restore them to serviceable citizenship; but Idaho  is a young State and has not yet got around to a more charitable and enlightened view of neurotic persons."

One thing that kept me on guard reading this book, written almost three quarters of a century ago, was that references to historial time periods such as "the 'seventies" meant something quite different to the first readers of this book, than they do to me.

On a final note, I always include any mention of libraries or librarians in books or movies. I was pleased to see this volume praised a worthy librarian thusly:

"If a town can be summarized by a single quality, than perhaps the most notable characteristic of Blackfoot is the fact its indefatigable librarian made of this city not only probably the most book-concious one in the State but also lifted its taste in reading far above the usual levels. This circumstance is all the more remarkable when the books in this small library are compared with those in other public libraries in Idaho, and when it is remembered that all the books in all the public libraries in the State do not add up to more than half a million."

Latter Days
When party-boy Chrisitian makes a bet with co-workers that he can seduce one of the Morman Missionaries who recently moved into his  Los Angeles apartment building he is just as surprised as Elder (Aaron) Davis is when they fall for each other in the film Latter Days. As we watched this movie which I had seen before, but James had not, he commented, "so this is an Idaho movie that doesn't take place in Idaho?" Most of the action does take place in California, but when Aaron is discovered kissing Christian he is sent back to his Pocatello, Idaho home in shame. He is devastated by the lack of support or love his family demonstrates for him, whom he mentioned earlier in the film that he missed...and liked. His church rather callously excommunicates him for his "alternative lifestyle" to which he responds that the Mormans, with their historically polygamist marriages were the founders of "alternative lifestyles." Ultimately his parents send him to an institution for "curing" gays. This is a movie about self discovery, and finding family.

Our feast today is based on a recipe from the Idaho Potato Comission brochure that we picked up in the aforementioned Potato Museum for Idaho Potato Crepes. We have held on to the brochure all this time, but this is the first we have made a recipe from it:

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese
3 T flour
2 eggs
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground pepper
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (the recipe calls for swiss, we used sharp cheddar)
4 c. grated potatoes
3 T heavy cream
4 T chopped green onions
butter or margarine
The recipe also calls for (optional) mushrooms. Unable to figure how they would enhance this at all, we opted out.

I topped mine with plain yogurt and honey. An absolutely sublime meal.

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