This spring our local history museum, the Fenton, and a local historical society of Busti, NY partnered up for the second year in a row to host a Victorian Dinner. These are some of my favorite things: fundraisers for good causes, local history, and delicious, local, real food. The dressing on the salad was that Victorian costumes were encouraged, my dream event, save if there was yoga, then it would have been over the top, but it was still quite fantastic without, reasons why below.
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I love to get creative and dress up. The creativity comes into play by piecing costumes together with pieces that I already have and by borrowing from friends and family to pull it all together. This is an ethical decision to avoid plastic packaging and to not support fast fashion.
I knew instantly what I was going to wear for a Victorian costume. Years ago I bought a frilly white top from Zara (purchased before I knew about fast fashion) that I wore to my bachelorette Downtown Abby tea party and that would work for this event because the frills give it a perfectly Victorian feel. A friend had given me a hand-me-down long black skirt that initially I considered donating on, but I held onto it just for the Victorian Dinner and I am glad that I did, also, it grew on me so I’ll keep it for regular wear.
To perfect the look I knew I needed a hat. I spoke to a coworker about this because I had a hunch that she might be the perfect person to ask. She pulled through and delivered a magnificent hat complete with a red bird on it (Put a bird on it! Any Portlandia fans reading?) The hat was red, green, and black so it worked well with my long black skirt. Another coworker lent me a pair of black booties with buttons on the sides that fit the theme.
Others at the dinner wore their costumes and there were at least half a dozen big hats. One lady told me that she rushed around that day hot gluing fake flowers to her simple, black sun hat – I love it, another DIY costume maker! Even some of the men were in elegant three piece suits complete with pocket watches. Historical Halloween in May? Yes, please!
Farm to Table
The food was mostly local from the very first course which included apple cider which was pressed at the Busti cider mill last fall and kept frozen over winter, apple butter – homemade by our tablemates, and flour and corn meal ground at the Busti grist mill that went into the dinner rolls. Soup and salad followed. The soup was potato-corn chowder that had the ends of the bacon of a pig that the caterer had purchased and had butchered.
Mains included a pot roast beef and turkey and stuffing. At least the turkey was local as the event took place during turkey season here in WNY. Root vegetables and garden asparagus accompanied the meat. The meal was served family style and seating was unassigned. Not forgetting desert, although it would have been sensible to pass on desert after taking multiple servings of the first rounds, I am glad that I did not pass on it because it was scrumptious – pound cake with rhubarb compote from the garden pictured below. Make note of the lack of plastic, real cutlery, dishes and teacups.
After desert was served the owner of the cartering service, 3 C’s, spoke about the food, where it came from, and how it was cooked in a Victorian way. As mentioned above, most of the food was local. The meat was cooked simply without any exotic spices. Given the season of spring, the root vegetables would have been stored in the root cellar. There was no refrigeration or frozen food in Victorian times, so we were spoiled by having tomatoes, corn, and the apple cider at our tables.
Education & Entertainment
Before and after dinner a local troupe of musicians played period pieces on stringed instruments, speaking about the songs that they played and their history. Instruments included fiddles, guitar, banjo, and stand up bass. The music was enjoyable and made me realize how quiet it was during dinner when the band was not playing. Today we’re used to music in restaurants and bars, sometimes it plays too loudly and conversations can barely be heard; it was nice to have silence for polite conversation over dinner.
Two men spoke after dinner about local history. The first man, our tablemate and one of the organizers of the event, spoke about the Victorian era and what the local town where the event was held looked like at that time. It had a tannery, shoe maker (who got leather from the tannery), carriage maker, creamery, multiple churches, school, etc. It’s romantic to imagine a time when communities were entirely involved and mostly sustainable, when everyone knew everyone else and supported each other.
The second man to speak shared historic items from the Jamestown Police. He himself a former officer, had a box that contained an old whistle, a sheriff’s badge, a police officer’s hat, and a photo of the police force from last century. Both short talks were interesting and tied the event together.
Two sets of couples that sat with us at our table drove down for the event from about an hour away. They told me of other such historic dinners that they had attended throughout New York State, one a candle light dinner in an old mansion at Christmas time. It makes my heart smile to know that there are others out there that enjoy learning about and celebrating history. I’ll keep my ears to the ground for other such events and am already looking forward to next year’s Victorian Farm to Table dinner locally.