Historical Breakfast at the Gorgas House Museum

On Monday, April 29th, the Gorgas House hosted its first Historical Breakfast event with over 100 students attending. The purpose of the event was to give students a fun, immersive experience while learning about the history of The Gorgas House Museum as the first dining hall on campus.

Built in 1829, the original purpose of the Gorgas House building was to be where the students ate on campus. From 1831 to 1847, The Gorgas House, or “the Steward’s Hall” as it was then known, served three hot meals a day to students and faculty at The University of Alabama. The dining hall area could seat up to 100 students.

As the director, my goal for this event during finals week was twofold: celebrate the students who have been connected to UA Museums throughout their time here at UA and give students who have never been inside of the Gorgas House a reason to experience it before they graduated. By incorporating historical food and recipes, students weren’t just fed, but were transported back in time to experience what student life might have been like in the 1830s and 40s.

Gingerbread was served at the Gorgas House’s Historical Breakfast.

My student workers and I did extensive research to figure out what food might have been served during this time. Resources show that the most common meat eaten at UA would have been pork, so we highlighted that with ham and bacon. Thanks to the help of the wonderful staff at Hoole Special Collections here on campus, I was able to find two recipe books dating to the correct period. It took a bit of time to sort through all the recipes to find ones that would be suitable. While lemonade with “essential oil of sulfur” might have been authentic, it wasn’t what I was hoping to serve. Additionally, some recipes were terribly vague. The gingerbread said to cook for “30 or 60 minutes”. The raspberry water recommended adding sugar “to taste”, and the grits called for “a piece of butter the size of a hickory nut”. With the incredible help of Crimson Catering, we were able to provide a full meal for students to experience.

In addition to eating the food, students were able to take home a short recipe book if they wanted to recreate any of the recipes they tried. My hope is to continue events like these, with students adding on to their cookbooks each time.

UA Students pose for a selfie as they eat breakfast together on the Gorgas House lawn.

While eating, students were also encouraged to look around the house, and play some of the games that were available. During the 1830s and 40s, some of the most popular games were dominos, Crazy Eights, Go Fish, and Rummy. It was so fun to peak into the sitting room and see students from all backgrounds, majors, home countries, and more learning how to play these games together. At one point, students who are incredibly talented on the piano held a small “concert” on the 1875 Haines Brothers square piano upstairs with an audience of about 15 peers.

The event was much popular than we had expected, with some of the food running out in just 10 minutes. At one point, the line of students waiting to get in the house went out the front gate. Even so, students were so excited about the event, asking when it will be held next. I would love to see this become an annual or bi-annual tradition, growing each year. My hope is to continue the work that has been done to keep the Gorgas House as a central part of the UA experience and for students and faculties alike to build lasting memories.

– Written by Sonya Harwood-Johnson

Watch this short video to see more of the Gorgas House Museum’s Historical Breakfast.