Community Food Lifestyles

Museum event celebrates the food of Aiken County

(Featured photo Jason Tufts of the Village Cafe prepares a pilaf dish July 15 at the Aiken County Historical Museum. Ron Baxley Jr.,/Augusta Good News)

AIKEN – Agriculture was the star at the “Celebrating Aiken County Foods” event at the Aiken County Historical Museum Saturday, July 15.

“We are very excited to be putting on this event,” said Ian Mini, the museum’s interim site and events manager. “This is my first event with the museum, and it’s an honor to bring a community-oriented and educational event to the people of the CSRA and for free.”

Held in cooperation with the Aiken County Farmers Market and the City of Aiken, the event coincided with the South Carolina-based  “The Food We Celebrate” temporary exhibit inside the museum, which is also known as Banksia. Many vendors who usually sell their wares on Saturday morning at the farmers market moved over to the museum grounds for the event and for an important historical recognition.

King George Lavender Co. of Barnwell, S.C. sold lavender-related products at the event. Ron Baxley Jr./Augusta Good News

 “Historically, the caretaker’s family who worked for Richard Howe (the Winter Colonist who built Banksia in 1931) were given permission to grow a garden on the grounds while Banksia was shuttered during the off-season,” said Lauren Virgo, Aiken Historical Museum executive director, who also had her Aiken Historical Cookbook on hand to sell. Historically, the gardens were to the left of Banksia.

Winter colonists refers to the wealthy individuals from Mid-Atlantic or New England states who built a smaller home in Aiken which they would call a cottage. Often these homes were more like mansions. Families such as the Whitneys, Astors, Rutherfords, Vanderbilts and Hitchcocks spent their winters in Aiken’s milder climate.

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“An addition to the garden story — the caretaker was J. Herbert Williams. His sons told me that story via an oral history recording. They said that Mr. Howe was very friendly with their father and let him plow up the lawn to grow vegetables that the family sold on Whiskey Road and Laurens Street,” said Virgo. “They called these small farms ‘truck farms.’ Then, the family would reseed the lawn and return it to its pre-garden appearance before the Howes came back for the Winter Colony season.”

The Farmers Market vendors Saturday included King George Lavender, Woodland Valley Farm, Billue Family Farm, Otis Padgett, Holston Skyland Farm, NOLA Coffee, Foley Farm, Becker’s Best Farm, Ehrhardt Grown, Trusty Farms, Promised Land Bee Farm, Boondock Farm and the Aiken Historical Museum store.

Many of these vendors discussed how to grow plants and vegetables in addition to making their sales. The crowds grew as the event progressed.

Artifacts related to Monetta, S.C., being a big asparagus producer, were part of the exhibit on loan from the S.C. State Museum to the Aiken Historical Museum. Ron Baxley Jr./Augusta Good News

Various farms/businesses provided crops for the sample room in the museum during the event including boiled peanuts by Crescent Moon Peanuts, squash by Skyland Farms, sweet potatoes for sweet potato bars by Hollie Farm, and others. Groups of 10-20 individuals at a time would sample the items there.

Also, Jason Tufts, the Village Café’s general manager since 2021, gave cooking demonstrations. He made a pilau or pilaf with pre-cooked chicken, rice, fresh herbs and what appeared to be a little arugula. Small cups of the dish were distributed to the guests as Tufts explained the process of making it. He also discussed how he grew up with cooking in his youth and how that influenced him his entire life.

Inside the museum is the touring exhibit which will be on display through Aug. 27. Pieces in the exhibit run the gamut from a recovered moonshine still to historic aprons. Some of the more unique items include tools used in the packing of asparagus in Monetta, S.C. which was shown in posters to have once been the known as the “asparagus capital of the world.”

Correspondent Ron Baxley Jr. is a veteran journalist who has worked with multiple news organizations in his career. Have headlines delivered to your inbox by subscribing to the Augusta Good News’ newsletter here.

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