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Mt. Aventine kitchen ready for cooking, interpretation |

Mt. Aventine kitchen ready for cooking, interpretation

The Friends of Chapman State Park recently received a mini grant for a historical food program called “The Culinary Story of Mount Aventine and Southern Maryland Cuisine.”

The money, awarded by the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium, will be primarily used to host a series of three lectures by Joyce White, an expert in Maryland culinary traditions, over the summer and help interpret the recently restored kitchen at Mt. Aventine, a 19th century manor house overlooking the Potomac River at Chapman State Park in Indian Head.


“We are interpreting the kitchen area from two perspectives: from the first private occupant, Nathaniel Chapman, and the last private occupant, Margit Bessenyey,” said Sheryl Elliott of Swan Point, a member of the Friends’ board of directors and curator of the kitchen exhibit and culinary program.

With grant funds, Elliott had signs made describing various aspects of the kitchen such as one entitled “Hearth Cooking,” which explains how hearths, or fireplaces, were used when the original house was built in 1810. The original one-and-a-half story cut stone cottage was greatly expanded with two-story additions in 1840 and 1860. The original hearth attached to the cottage was eventually filled in so it is being creatively interpreted with a small amount of brick and lintel showing and a large picture of a similar hearth beneath.

“We snaked a camera in [the bricked-in hearth] to see if we could take the bricks out and expose the original hearth. But, unfortunately, it’s all filled in with gravel,” Elliott said.

Along with the “hearth,” there are shelves of early cooking accessories put together by Elliott and other Friends members based on a document entitled “1761 Inventory of Kitchen Serving Wares of Mr. Nathaniel Chapman.” The items include things such as a chocolate pot, saucepan, plate warmer, tea kettle, frying pans, dripping pan ladles, brass and tin candlesticks and “34 pieces Delftware,” a popular Dutch pottery.

The newer aspect of the kitchen dates from the 1950s when the aforementioned Hungarian countess Margit Bessenyev owned the property from 1954 to 1984. The main feature from that period is the metal, high quality St. Charles cabinets with stainless steel countertops. The mansion was no longer occupied as a residency after the countess died.

“The cabinetry in the kitchen all dates to when the countess was here — it’s all kind of state-of-the-art 1950s cabinetry,” said Linda Dyson, president of the Friends board. “We need a working kitchen because we have functions here. So, we’re leaving that in place and interpreting the 1810 kitchen.”

“We’ll have a lot of people around here who remember 1950s cabinetry, like me,” she added with a laugh.

The kitchen restoration started a year ago, and, as of late March, it is ready for interpretation.

Maryland food historian Joyce White is scheduled to present two programs over three dates, repeating one of the culinary history presentations. One is the “Taste of Maryland” and the other is “Dining in Colonial Maryland.” The programs are tentatively scheduled for June 3, Sept. 9 and Oct. 7, pending board approval. For updated information, go to www.friendsofchapmansp.org.

“[White] gives programs demonstrating foods and how foods were made and cooked, and shares recipes and so forth,” Elliott said. “She has a nice Powerpoint that goes along with her demonstrations.”

Elliott said she’s also been reaching out to local restaurants to generate some interest in doing other food-oriented programs for both adults and children. The intention is to create more programs to attract more visitors to the antebellum mansion along with hosting events.

“We would like to see this as the gateway to Southern Maryland,” Elliott said. “We think this is a very important, historic property and house. I think it can serve the overall tourism effort of Charles County very well.”

“We’re always being discovered,” Dyson added.

Twitter: @Darwinsomd

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