Feasting on History
To the uninitiated, the invitation to dine at a fixed hour in an airport hangar may not be all that appealing. Imagine having 700 people, mostly adults, show up at the same time to dine together in one very large room. The idea may have echoes of a campus dining room or, in this instance especially, a military mess hall. Without the institutional rules in place, one might easily expect chaos. Not so. Those who have been to at least one of the 21 annual Feasting on History fundraisers to benefit the Historic Cold Spring Village Museum know better. It’s as exciting as it is unique. And probably the best organized event of its kind anywhere.
Here’s how it works.
All guests must register and pay ahead of time (online, phone, email etc.) even if it’s right up to the afternoon of the event. Parking is provided on the airport grounds. Early arrivers queue up at the entranceway to the huge hanger, waiting until the door opens at 6pm sharp.
Just inside is the registration desk where reservations are verified, and you get your table assignment if you have a group attending. Otherwise, it’s open seating. As you proceed to the dining area, you file past a treasure trove of memorabilia from the wartime 1940s. Ahead you can hear the din of many simultaneous conversations while familiar big band music plays overhead. The vaulting ceiling inside the hangar lets you know this is not going to be an ordinary dining experience. You’re in a very big building, a museum packed with mid-20th century military machines that’s been transmogrified into a restaurant, complete with chefs and linen.
Several World War II planes, an F-16 Fighting Falcon, a pair of helicopters, even a Soviet MiG-15 and the wartime jeeps have been rolled out of the way. The vacated floor is large enough for 60+ tables with chairs to accommodate hundreds of guests. And still ample space remains for mixing and mingling—and even for swing dancing if time allows.
To find a table, you enter the main floor beside a tower that acts as a lookout over the entire hangar. At each seat there’s a large plate, a linen napkin and utensils. From this point on you are free to browse and to graze to your heart’s (or stomach’s) content. Start with greens… or start with a brownie. It doesn’t matter. The only rule is to enjoy yourself among the array of good food with good companions.
To make it happen, each year over 40 of Cape May County’s favorite restaurants, wineries, breweries, and distilleries donate a wide variety of their food and beverages as gifts to the museum. Each donor gets a station (or more if warranted) along the inside perimeter of the dining area. The stations are intermingled. On one wall you might find vendors offering skewered chicken or short ribs, cheesecake, and beer; along another wall you can pick up a glass of wine and load your plate with pasta and a sampling of salmon, beef sliders and fancy cupcakes. The choices seem limitless particularly because the menu selections are left to the donors’ imaginations, with most supplying more than one item to try.
In effect you are participating in a grand smorgasbord, but without the sameness that comes from a single kitchen and a single chef’s menu. Each restaurateur brings what he or she wants to impress the diners with and that leads to a lot of table chatter as guests compare notes and share suggestions about what to try next and where to find it. Occasionally there may be a duplicate offering which gives diners the chance to compare the recipes served by different restaurants. Not all seared scallops are created alike.
After the first hour or so, high atop the tower, there’s a call for the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a welcoming from host and HCSV Executive Director, co-founder, Anne Salvatore. There’s a brief greeting by the event sponsor; then swiftly both the feasting and the big band music resume. Some guests are praising the cheesecake and asking about coffee; others are still having salads or vegetarian fare.
Throughout the two-hour event, a courteous staff and an abundance of volunteers keep things neat and tidy and even add to the fun of it all. After you’ve had your fill and it’s time to leave you may be able to get a “doggie bag” to take home some leftovers. They’ll go well with your memories of an extraordinary culinary event.
In 1973 Dr. Joseph Salvatore and wife Patricia Anne set in motion a long-term plan to create and operate a living history museum, known today as the Historic Cold Spring Village. According to the HCSV website, their objective was “to provide visitors with a sense of stepping back in time to a South Jersey rural community of the 1800s.” Fifty years and multiple accolades later, they are still “preserving history and improving our understanding of the past.”
The first Feasting was held on May 22, 2001 to coincide with the 2001 season of the Village. Originally, the event was going to be held on the grounds; however, at the last moment it was changed to NASW Aviation Museum due to a forecast of severe storms. The evening began without a hint of rain and many attendees were disappointed with the change. At 6:30 a downpour began that didn’t let up for the rest of the evening.
The Village was vindicated and from that time until the present, “Feasting has been held at the Aviation Museum. Always held on a Tuesday in May, the dates changed over the years due to the responsibilities inherent in the spring school visits, conflicts with local government meetings and the choice by restaurants to do the event prior to Mother’s Day. Since 2005, Feasting on History has been held on the first Tuesday in May.”
In 2023, Feasting on History proceeds were dedicated to the JSG Legacy Fund museum projects that can include barns, buildings, equipment, and supplies that are responsible for sustaining and nourishing not just our farm horse Levi and the other farm animals, but the preservation of the antique buildings, their valuable contents, and the 30 acres of land that comprise the Village.
From the archives of Historic Cold Spring Village