Patterson Homestead Program Manager Katie Nowack serves tea in Victorian period clothing.

Afternoon teas bring history to life, highlight historic recipes

Here’s an interesting way to learn history: through food!

“Traditional recipes really bring us back to our roots, it’s a very neat experience to taste food your grandparents and great-grandparents would have preferred,” says Katie Nowack, who enjoys blending her love of history with her love of cooking. “It’s also incredibly important for children to learn about historic food-ways because so many young people don’t understand where their food comes from or how it got to their plate. By teaching people where food comes from, and how to make it, I think you can really inspire people to make new and unique food choices.”

Nowack, program manager for the historic Patterson Homestead in Dayton, says the great thing about historic food-ways is that people had the same motivations for cooking in the past as we do today.

“First, it was for survival,” she says. ” However, after that goal has been met, people develop tastes for certain foods and cooking styles. People have almost always wanted to make good food!”

Nowack says cooking was traditionally the heart of the home.

“The fireplace was front-and-center of the home, and it was the main area where the family gathered for food, entertainment and schoolwork,” she explains.

These days, she says those interested in creating recipes from the past can begin with the internet.

“There are a lot of historic cooking groups online and the majority of them are very willing and happy to offer advice or help,” she adds. “I would also go to the library, there is an amazing resource of cookbooks that have been around for centuries that can be found there.

Sometimes, she adds, you’ll need to make allowances because historic recipes didn’t standardize ingredient measurements.

Invitation to tea

Thanks to Nowack and her crew, visitors to the Patterson Homestead can sit down to a 1863 Victorian meal.

Their monthly afternoon teas allows guests to travel back in time for a yummy seasonal celebration complete with lace tablecloths, fine china and dainty teacups and servers dressed in Civil War attire.

At the moment, staffers are preparing for an Irish tea in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. It’s slated for Sunday afternoon, March 2.

In her role as host at the teas, Nowak introduces guests to the Patterson Homestead and shares family history.

“Dayton History staff and volunteers bake everything on site in our kitchen and we use period recipes to do so,” explains Nowack, who says cookbooks — or “receipt books” — were very popular for American women since the beginning of our country and were widely circulated and readily accessible today.” We like to use books such as “The Cook’s Own Book” and “The Kentucky Housewife” but we also supplement with some modern recipes and techniques.”

Nowack says items are selected that would have been available to a family like the Pattersons in the Civil War era such as jams and jellies in winter months.

Three courses

The first course consists of breads, muffins, scones; the second includes sandwiches and savories like cucumber tea sandwiches, or small pinwheels or wraps. For dessert there are pies, cakes, cookies or bars.

After the meal, guests are welcome to tour the homestead at their leisure. Costumed interpreters can answer questions.

“Our Irish tea will feature a lot of cultural foods — potatoes, bread puddings, things that you expect from a traditional Irish meal,” Nowack said. “We will also talk about the Irish in Victorian America, and the evolution of St. Patrick’s Day in the United States.”

Nowak says many people don’t realize that Dayton’s famous Patterson family has Irish and Scottish roots. “Colonel Robert Patterson’s family came from Ireland by way of Scotland and ended up in the Northeastern part of the United States, Julia Johnston’s family comes from Ireland. While they may not have been as celebratory of the holiday, they definitely knew their roots and really where they came from.”

Q. What’s the goal of the tea?

We want our guests to understand that the Patterson story is not just that of National Cash Register; it’s about a hard-working homestead family that gave back to their community and strove to be a great example of ingenuity and philanthropy for their city. John H. Patterson is representative of the innovation that really is at the heart of Dayton’s history.

Q. How did you become interested in cooking?

A. I’ve always liked baking. I remember helping my grandmother bake in her old farmhouse. I’ve always loved that from simple ingredients you can make something really creative. I actually got more into cooking and baking as I became more active in living history and working at historic sites. You really come to appreciate modern conveniences as you’re shoveling coals in an open hearth in summer weather.

Trying basic historic recipes also makes you feel pretty accomplished. I know that I can go out into the kitchen garden, grab some herbs, and create a scone or bread or pie with a few simple ingredients, and that’s a pretty great feeling!”

Q. How does cooking bind a family together?

A. Cooking is a great project to do together as a family because you are each working together toward a common goal. When you work together to make something, it really makes you closer. When the whole family chips in, a lot of great memories are formed. You are also teaching your children how to cook and work together at an early age, which they will take with them as they grow and have families of their own.

Q. Can you tell us a little more about the Patterson Homestead?

A. It’s the childhood home of John H. Patterson and was built by his grandfather, Colonel Robert Patterson, after he moved his family from Kentucky to Ohio in 1804. After the Colonel’s death, the farm passed on to his son Jefferson Patterson. He married Julia Johnston (from Johnston Farms in Piqua) and they raised their family in the homestead. The home was used by the Pattersons full-time until the 1870s, when it became a family summer home and retreat.

By the 1950s, the Patterson family donated the homestead to the City of Dayton. The City owns the homestead still, but Dayton History manages the site. Today, the homestead is a house museum, but is also a site of educational experiences. In addition to the teas, we offer tours to school groups and individual groupsand it’s also available for weddings and events.

Q. What are the things that most interest you about the Patterson family and their home?

A. I think their individual stories interest me the most. I love learning more about each family member, particularly the matriarch, Julia Johnston. Her personality really shines through in personal anecdotes and family letters. Once you start to see who they were as people, you are really able to work on interpretations that would be true to the family and to the site.

I love all of the little architectural elements of the home. You can see where the family added on to the house, and it’s telling of a growing family that wanted to change with the times.

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