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Let’s Eat! Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food

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Presented by Tennessee State Museum at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, Nashville TN

Aug 09 2019
Feb 02 2020
Let’s Eat! Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food

The Tennessee State Museum will explore the rich and diverse history of Tennessee’s food through a new exhibition, Let’s Eat! Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food, set to open on August 9, 2019 at the Museum’s Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park location in Nashville and run through February 2, 2020.

The exhibition will be presented through eight sections that trace the state’s food from its Southeastern Indian origins to contemporary food festival celebrations. All are complemented by artifacts from the Museum’s collection, digital storytelling, graphics, and location photography.

“The Three Sisters” begins with the story of how Southeastern Indians cultivated crops during the Woodland Cultural Period, planting together beans, corn and squash – referred to as the “three sisters.” This section also highlights the role of strawberries and corn in Native American traditions, tells the story of the state’s Strawberry Festivals and highlights South Pittsburg, Tennessee, site of Lodge Cast Iron’s headquarters and the National Cornbread Festival. “The Buckle of the Barbecue Belt” looks at West European influences on Tennessee Food  – the introduction of cattle, pigs and chickens to North America – with visits to Ridgewood Barbecue, Memphis in May and the Kosher BBQ Fest.

In “A Love for Spices,” West African influences on the state are explored, along with the foods prepared by enslaved persons at the Hermitage. Visitors will be introduced to Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville and the Four-Way Soul Food Restaurant in Memphis.

“Making Do” looks at some of the dishes that emerged when Tennesseans had to feed their families from limited resources in their kitchens. Their stories live on in many foods we eat today. Visitors will learn about Florence Mathai and beaten biscuits, festivals that celebrate the wild pungent ramp, “slugburgers” from Pat’s Café in Selmer and renowned fermenter, Sandor Katz. In “Cooking for Others,” the exhibition introduces visitors to significant Tennessee cooks Melinda Russell and Rufus Estes and boarding house operator Mary Bobo.

Illustrative of the “evolutions” aspect of the show’s subtitle, the influence of immigrants figures heavily in the exhibition. In the “Immigration and Tennessee Food” section, the Museum takes visitors to several significant locations in Tennessee, including the Swiss Colony of Gruetli, the Hola Hora Latina Festival in Knoxville, the Global Café in Memphis, Varallo’s Chili and the Conexión Américas Communal Kitchen in Nashville.

Of course, there are plenty of farms and restaurants preserving iconic methods of food production statewide, and “Preserving Tennessee Food Traditions” introduces visitors to several, including Muddy Pond Sorghum, Helen’s Barbecue, Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, Boyette’s Dining Room, Vegan Soy Dairy and Book Publishing at The Farm and Cruze Farms Buttermilk.

Museum visitors will wrap up their adventure to the exhibition with a survey of food festivals throughout the state.

Let’s Eat! The Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food is a temporary exhibition at the Tennessee State Museum’s new location at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. It follows the presentation of Between the Layers: Art and Story in Tennessee Quilts, which opened on February 8, 2019 and runs through July 7, 2019. The exhibition will be complemented by a broad range of programming, including events at the Museum and digital content on the Museum’s website at There is no admission charge to the Museum.

Source: Tennessee State Museum


FREE Admission

    Official Website


Additional time info:

The Museum is closed on the following holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter.

* Event durations (if noted) are approximate. Please check with the presenting organization or venue to confirm start times and duration.


Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

600 James Robertson Parkway, Nashville, TN 37243
(Neighborhood: Downtown)

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