WKU Department of History gives students taste of history in bake off

WKU History Department held its “Great History Bake Off” as a part of its “Epic Battles in History” series, containing dishes from different time periods and locations.

Jack Boyles, Staff Videographer

Molly Dobberstein, News reporter

The WKU Department of History hosted a “Great History Bake Off” Thursday to showcase dishes from different time periods, all in an effort to educate and connect students through the use of food.

Dishes included types of Jell-O, Irish soda bread, bourbon balls and anzac biscuits, all baked by history professors and staff on campus. Students were invited to try the foods and rank them best to worst for awards.

“Various professors from the history department shared dishes from the period and place that they study,” Audra Jennings, head of the history department, said. “We had folks from the Middle Ages through the 1970s and even 80’s.”

Kathryn McClurkin, a history professor, focuses her studies on Ireland. McClurkin shared this passion through her dish, Irish soda bread. 

Attendants at the WKU history department’s “Great History Bake Off” event mill about room 3020 of DSU sampling historical dishes prepared by professors on Thursday evening, Sept. 22, 2022 at WKU in Bowling Green, Ky. (Arthur H. Trickett-Wile)

The four main ingredients are flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. McClurkin said the recipe came from the time of the Irish potato famine, when many ingredients were hard to come by and a substitute for main foods was needed. 

“It’s a really quick mix, you could make this whole thing, from beginning to end, in an hour,” McClurkin said. 

The recipe McClurkin used was passed down to her from her family. Variations can be made – McClurkin added raisins for sweetness.

The lone survivor from a plate of bourbon balls prepared by a WKU history professor is seen on Thursday evening, Sept. 22, 2022 during his department’s “Great History Bake Off” event in room 3020 of DSU at WKU in Bowling Green, Ky. (Arthur H. Trickett Wile)

History professor Eric Reed brought bourbon balls made with a recipe given to him by Wes Berry, another member of the history department. 

“I’ve made these before, they’re so simple,” Reed said.

Reed said the main ingredient of his bourbon balls recipe is vanilla wafers. He grinds them into a powder to create the base of the dish.

At the end of the competition, two prizes were awarded, one being the “apron of shame” for the worst dish and the “lamp of wisdom” for the best overall dish. Professor Jennifer Walton-Hanley walked away with both awards for two different Jell-O dishes she brought.

WKU Department of History chair Audra Jennings (right) awards her colleague Jennifer Walton-Hanley (left) two prizes for best and worst in show on Thursday evening, Sept. 22, 2022 at the “Great History Bake Off” event held in room 3020 of DSU at WKU in Bowling Green, Ky. (Arthur H. Trickett-Wile)

“Coming out of World War II there was a big push to go back to normalcy […] and this is the era of Jell-O,” Walton-Hanley said. “Of the three things I have here, the Watergate cake is probably the one that tastes the absolute best.” 

Hanley said the “Watergate cake” got its name from its secret ingredients that nobody could figure out. Out of her three recipes, the Watergate cake made with pistachio Jell-O was the biggest hit amongst students. 

Jennifer Walton-Hanley, a history professor at WKU, cuts into one an historical desert dish Thursday evening, Sept. 22, 2022 in room 3020 of DSU at WKU in Bowling Green, Ky, for her department’s Great History Bake Off event. (Arthur H. Trickett-Wile)

News reporter Molly Dobberstein can be reached at [email protected].