If there was two things that area historian David Weber loved, it was food and history. Weber, who passed away in 2021, spent close to four decades with the Drake Well Museum.
To honor him, and raise funds for the David Weber Research Internship, the museum held an authentic 1800s feast Wednesday night.
All the dishes prepared came straight from cookbooks put together by churches in Titusville from 1876-1903, and the food was exactly what would have been eaten by those who lived in the area during the oil boom.
“Tonight you are going to taste food from Titusville’s earliest days,” said Associate Director of the Friends of Drake Well Erin Wanninger.
When guests entered Drake Well Museum Wednesday night, amidst the historic artifacts and informative displays was everything needed for a proper feast. Tables for 50 were set up using white table cloths, colorful floral centerpieces, fine silverware and even a violinist playing music for all to enjoy.
“David also loved music,” said Weber’s sister, Melody Chisholm, even though she said he wasn’t the most musically gifted. However nice the museum looked for the feast, the centerpiece of the event was the food.
“David was a picky eater, but he never turned down a meal,” said Chisholm, “He would have loved that meal. He would have enjoyed the food and all the people gathered there. What was important to him was not just the history, but the people of our community.”
When Drake Well Museum and Park heard that David Weber had passed away, they knew they needed to do something to honor his legacy. Weber, who had an accomplished career chronicling the history of the Oil Region, first started his career working at the museum during the summer while still in college.
Throughout close to 40 years, Weber helped the museum doing any job that needed done. The hope is that with this new internship, as Wanninger said, “the intern chosen will continue the work that David was doing.”
Needing to raise money for the internship, the museum looked to a speaker who had recently spoken at the museum. The topics of his talk contained two of David’s favorite things, history and food. All proceeds from the meal went toward the research internship program.
As a part of the Wisdom and Wine lecture series that Drake Well Museum put on in March, the museum brought historian Bill Moore to the museum to give one of the talks. Moore, a family historian, for years had researched and written about oil era families.
One day, while perusing Ebay, something he does often, Moore came across an 1870s Titusville Methodist Church cookbook. Even though it was expensive, Moore said to himself it would be worth it if he could find out what Ida Tarbell ate for breakfast.
All the recipes in the books were submitted by community members and Tarbell’s mother was one of the largest contributors. Moore ended up purchasing three editions of the Titusville Methodist Church’s cookbooks, which were published in 1867, 1877 and 1891.
He also purchased a 1903 Titusville Presbyterian Church cookbook.
Going through the cookbook, Moore wondered what these dishes would taste like. After making a few dishes, he was surprised to find out that the food indeed tasted good. Moore ended up compiling a cookbook of his own, including more than 800 recipes from the old oil days. With every recipe is the story of who submitted it.
The Wednesday night feast included meals selected by the Drake Well board with the help of Moore. Following a typical oil era feast, the meal included four courses, a soup course, vegetable course, meats course and dessert. Even the drinks served were era appropriate.
The first course served was the soups. Guests got to try two different soups, a black bean and tomato soup from 1903, and a mushroom soup from 1903.
Next came the vegetable course of creamed spinach and Delmonico potatoes, both from 1903. The meats course featured stuffed ham and corned beef, both made from recipes out of the 1876 cookbook.
The meal ended with a dessert course of confectionary cake from 1876, a sponge cake with cream from 1903 and molasses and orange cookies also from 1903.
The meal was cooked by local catering company Stewart’s Premier Catering. Speaking about preparing the food, Co-owner Donna Stewart said preparing the meal was “interesting and challenging.”
The recipes were made for cooks who knew what they were doing and Stewart found it “challenging in the sense of not having the measurements to use, only a list of ingredients.”
The recipes included temperatures, but not length of times needed for the preparation.
“Some ingredients were a little different than we typically use in today’s kitchen but with luck and lots of searching I was able to purchase what was needed,” Stewart said.
When every course was served, Moore gave a description of what everyone was eating, where the recipe came from, and a short history about the family that contributed the recipe.
“David would have been absolutely thrilled by the entire evening,” said Chisholm. “The food was wonderful, Mr. Moore’s thoughts and descriptions were entertaining, and I thought Erin and the Drake Well Team did just a wonderful job putting everything together.”
Weber’s influence was all over the event. There was a display of Weber’s works and accomplishments, along with photos and artifacts of his.
The evening started off with remarks from Carole Hall, a friend of Weber’s and the secretary of the Drake Well board. Hall’s speech talked about what Weber meant to the museum and the community, speaking about “David’s passion for oil history.”
With the internship in place, and many of Weber’s prized possessions — including his famous hat, gloves and wrench — donated to the museum. Chisholm said she is grateful that Weber’s legacy and influence will always be there.
“Drake Well was one of his happy places. David will always be there and will permanently be a part of the museum,” said Chisholm. “My brother was one-of-a-kind and there is no way he can ever be replaced. Having a research internship in his name will hopefully help someone step up and fill part of the void he left behind.”
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.