'Walking food tour' offers taste of local history


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Parts of the parking lot between Bluebird Diner and George’s are sinking.

Beneath the blacktop lurks the remnants of an inaccessible brewery — one of several historic sites throughout the Iowa City area. However, the caverns are not causing significant problems, because the progress is slow enough for the city to easily fix any sagging.

Anecdotes like this are the cornerstone of University of Iowa Museum Studies student Rachel Wobeter’s Walking Food Tour of Iowa City this Saturday.

“People are naturally captivated by food,” she said. “We all have to eat and genuinely like eating.”

Tour goers will visit local eateries Devotay, Pullman Bar and Diner, Clinton Street Social Club, and John’s Grocery for free food and beer samples. The tour suggests a $15 donation, but it is free to attend.

UI student Ethan Schultz said he thought the tour sounds interesting and will be a likely participant.

“It could add a new perspective to a place I’ve already grown familiar with,” he said.

Wobeter first thought up the idea while on a similar walking food tour in New York. She thought the model might work well in Iowa City.

“I’d always wanted to do [a culinary tour] myself but didn’t know how it would happen until this came along,” she said.

Members of the tour can look forward to information regarding breweries, hotels, grocery stores, and restaurants.

“People are going to get an idea of what the food culture was like in Iowa City 150 years ago,” Wobeter said.

With the exception of John’s, none of the buildings designated for sampling stops existed during the time period on which Wobeter will focus. However, the snacks and beer offered will be generally time period appropriate or inspired.

“Obviously, the free food [interests me the most], but you also get the historical perspective: the idea that people were here before enjoying Iowa City in a different time period,” Schultz said.

Another unique feature of the tour will be the stop at Brewery Square. Wobeter will lead participants beneath the old Union Brewery to explore the “beer caves” three stories underground. These caves are not normally available to the public eye.

“[Breweries] were a driving economic force in Iowa City … I think people will enjoy the them,” Wobeter said.

Beer was integral to early Iowa City life, UI Old Capitol Museum Education and Outreach Coordinator Kathrine Moermond said. Remains of the three historical breweries still exist underground.

“It’s an important part of Iowa City history which has been, no pun intended, covered up,” she said. “Beer was a trusted beverage, when water wasn’t always [as] trusted.”

Wobeter’s research into historical advertisements also revealed a fixation with snacking on oysters. A popular bar food, they had to be brought to Iowa from the East Coast by stagecoach.

The tour is rooted in the ongoing The Land Provides: Iowa’s Culinary Heritage exhibit hosted by the Old Capitol Museum.

“We hope to show that [Iowa food] has a colorful background of tastes,” Moermond said.

Stressing the personal relationship between people of the time period and their food, the exhibit and tour hope to promote awareness of Iowa City’s rich culinary history. For instance, Moermond compares the personalized homemade butter of the time period — many households had a unique image press — with the plain sticks we buy now.

“I think [a personal relationship with food] has been lost,” she said. “We forget where our food comes from, and what to do with the waste.”

Regardless of where you buy your butter, you should find something to salivate over on the walking tour.

“You never look back at [the history] of where you’re living,” Schultz said.

Walking Food History Tour of Iowa City
When: 1-3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Starts at Old Capitol Museum
Admission: Free, but $15 is the suggested donation.

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