Linking history through food

Jul. 12, 2014 @ 05:52 PM

Pork, pickles and peanuts — they’re three foods that helped shape the history of North Carolina, and on Saturday visitors to the Duke Homestead had the chance to honor those legacies, and take part in some of the uniquely Durham aspects of history.

Julia Rogers, historic interpreter and museum educator for the Duke Homestead, said choosing those three foods as a focus for Saturday’s festival was easy because they’re three North Carolina is known for. Having a barbecue competition added another piece of heritage.

“It’s the perfect thing to do in the summertime,” Rogers said.

The festival harkens back to the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, and many of the main attractions on the homestead add to that time.

“We have a general goal of telling history, but being able to reach out in the community and expand what we have,” she said. “It’s our chance to tie in the old with the new.”

Visitors to the homestead Saturday got a taste of what life was like when tobacco was the major cash crop. They also had the chance to see how those that shaped Durham’s history lived.

There were demonstrations on how to pickle foods like onions and watermelon rinds. Some volunteers were even making pig’s feet pie.

Being able to take a step back and look at the history, not only of the Duke family, but also of Durham and the production of tobacco also lends itself to the future of the economy, as it still is one of the top 10 crops in the state.

“Your history is your collective identity,” Rogers said. “Durham would not be Durham without the Duke family ... They started here on a farm..”

She said the homestead shows this history of rural farmers and how farming families in rural North Carolina lived decades ago.

“They looked like the vast majority of North Carolinians,” she said. “This is a part of what your family most likely experienced.”

It’s also about having fun with the history of the area.

“It’s just cool stuff, we do this because we genuinely really enjoy it,” Rogers said.

Sarah Patrick, 19, was the reigning Tobacco Queen before she passed on the crown Saturday afternoon. One of the main draws for her when it came to competing in the Tobacco Queen pageant was the opportunity to wear the tobacco-leaf dress that is made for the Harvest Festival in the fall.

“It was a little itchy,” she said. “You have to have someone follow you around spraying you with water.”

She said it was bittersweet having to pass on the crown, but it comes with the territory.

“This place especially, the history of tobacco in Durham is hugely important because without the Duke family, and without the tobacco industry here, Durham wouldn’t be the big city it is today,” Patrick said. 

Patrick said being able to participate in the festival is a way to honor a legacy that helped Durham grow into the city it is today.

At the end of the day, Rogers said working with the homestead and educating visitors is all about the community we live in.

“We’re here for the community. And if anything, as we grow the one thing we want to be is a space that the community can come to, and I think that’s most important,” she said. “We’re here to tell the history of our community. Part of that mission is being a community space.”