The Fairfield Museum’s newest exhibition focuses on the foods that make Fairfield and the surrounding region special. From the Ground Up: Fairfield’s Foods opens this Thursday, Oct. 3, with a free public reception from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibition features everything from kitchen tools to photographs of farms and vintage recipes. It explores how local foods are woven through traditions and how they shape a community’s identity.

One of the items on display in the exhibition is a vintage potato ricer with the date June 15, 1886 stamped onto it. The object, from the Museum’s collections, is a two-handled iron potato ricer. The two handles are hinged at one end, and attached to the upper handle by two metal strips and a round disk. The handles have an open work pattern. The lower handle about 1 1/2’’ from the hinge bows out into a circle. Into this hole is fitted a round metal container finely meshed at the lower half, and is removable. When used, the potato is put into the container and the metal disk is pressed down pushing the potato through the mesh to “rice” it. On the upper handle is stamped in capital letters on outside “FRARYS. PAT” and opposite on the other side “JUNE 15, 1886.”

The vintage kitchen tool actually holds an important place in Fairfield’s history, as the potato ricer is what led to the creation of the very first Fritos corn chips (when the creators connected several holes from a potato ricer and pressed corn meal through it). Henry Rousseau of Fairfield decided to join the Fritos business after World War II and became a successful businessman. According to his widow Mary Bullard Rousseau, who was also the great-granddaughter of Jonathan Sturges and lived in the Sturges Cottage before her death, her husband bought a rundown garage and started making the chips and testing them in the area. Mercurio’s was one of the first stores in Fairfield to give them a try. Her brother, Roger Bullard made decals from which signs were painted on the side panels of delivery trucks. Mary said, “He did the painting right in our garage, and my grandmother, Mrs. Henry Sturges, would ride around Fairfield in the trucks for the fun of it.” Mr. Rousseau would go on to become a director of Frito-Lay Inc. of Dallas and president of Frito-New York. All this from a lowly potato ricer.

Locals can see the ricer and many more historic artifacts, photographs, paintings and objects at the Museum’s From The Ground Up: Fairfield’s Foods exhibition. The public is invited to enjoy snacks provided by Fairfield’s new BD Provisions and hard cider served by Spoke + Spy Ciderworks at the opening reception. The Museum is located at 370 Beach Road.

The Fairfield Museum relies on funding from individuals, corporations, and foundations. The Museum is especially grateful for support from the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts, the State of Connecticut, Town of Fairfield and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free.