Throw Your Own Reynolda Summer Garden Party

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Throw Your Own Reynolda Summer Garden Party

By: Alexis Slater, WFU ‘16 | @WakeReynolda

Take these steps to re-create a fabulous garden partyoriginally held by the Reynolds family on July 6, 1923in your own backyard!

Unidentified event that appears to be a family gathering, circa 1916. Katharine Reynolds, in a white dress, is sixth from the right.

Step 1: Wear white.

Step 2: Have a Guest(s) of Honor.

Unidentified event held on Reynolda grounds, 1915

Katharine Smith Reynolds Johnston was honoring three men with the party: her architect Charles Barton Keen, who had temporarily relocated with his family from Philadelphia to Winston-Salem to fulfill his many commissions, her minister D. Clay Lilly, whom she'd convinced to leave the largest Presbyterian church in Lexington, KY to head her little chapel on the estate, and (for reasons unknown) the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. Friends of the honored guests would have been invited by formal invitation, as well as prominent local families and friends of the Reynolds family.

Step 3: Choose a Scenic Location.

Greenhouse with fountain in the foreground, 1919.

The garden party was held throughout the formal Reynolda Gardens. People would meander throughout the gardens, stopping at each “garden room,” or teahouse where there was a host stationed. Mary Martha Lybrook Spitzmiller in her oral history described sharing hosting duty with Mary Reynolds Babcock, who was stationed at the playhouse: “and the guests were to come in through the greenhouse—through the conservatory out into the garden. And the orchestra was playing over where the tea houses are.”

Step 4: Decorations are Key.

The gardens would have been in full bloom. Japanese lanterns were strung up along the cryptomeria allee to illuminate long tables of food brought down from New York on a refrigerated railroad car. The tea houses and paths were also lit by permanent electric lamps.

Step 5: Avoid the Macarena (Choose Music that Everyone Will Enjoy).     

Music program for Garden Party , 1923


Katharine Reynolds Johnston would have had a live orchestra providing the evening’s entertainment. For this 1923 party, she chose a wide variety of pieces ranging from Tschaicovsky’s [sic] Chanson Sans Paroles to the Bacarolle, Les Contes d’ Hoffman by Offenbach. Paul Whiteman’s group, Romance of Rhythym, was stationed in one of the garden’s teahouses. Whiteman was often referred to as the “King of Jazz,” and a few months after the party he commissioned George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Listen to our Gilded Age playlist on Spotify:


Step 6: Dress to Impress.

Nancy Reynolds at Greenhouse during Gardens construction. Katharine Reynolds is standing behind in the lighter dress, wearing no hat, 1913

Women would have worn gowns, likely one of many with outfit changes throughout the day to match the time and events of the day. They would likely accessorize with gloves and a fabulously elaborate hat and perhaps a parasol!

Men would have worn suits, probably made of a lightweight material so that they did not become too hot.

Step 7: Get Creative with your Food and Drinks.

Food: We don’t have a menu in the archives from this party, so we leafed through the menus we did have and contemporary recipe books to put together a menu appropriate for a Reynolda summer soireé.  

  • Pear and Cheese Ball Salad

  • Fried Chicken

  • Cornbread

  • String Beans

  • Asparagus

  • Apple Snow Cake

Drinks: Punch bowls carved from frozen chunks of ice with roses frozen inside.

Was there alcohol? Probably. Nancy Reynolds said this about Reynolda during the Prohibition era: “And of course we had Prohibition in North Carolina. You could have, I think, one bottle a week. So all friends that did not drink would get their bottle for my father and he’d pay them back, so he’d have something to serve on an occasion like this. He had a wine cellar in Baltimore, and we’d transport it every time we went to Baltimore. There’d be one bottle in every suitcase.”

Step 8: Alert the Neighbors (Unless You Own the Neighborhood).


Recipes below:

  • Pear and Cheese Ball Salad

    • Cheese Balls

      • ½ lb cheese

      • 1 pint bread crumbs

      • salt/pepper

      • 2 eggs

      • Fat for frying

  • Chop ½ lb. cheese; add to it 1 pint bread crumbs; salt and pepper; add 2 eggs. Form into balls; dip in beaten eggs and crumbs and fry in hot fat.” (From The Perry Home Cookbook, 1920)

  • French Dressing (From a Lady of Good Taste)

    • ½ c vinegar (wine, cider, or malt)

    • ¾ ts salt

    • ¼ ts white pepper

    • 1 ½ c olive oil

    • Garlic

  • Mix the ingredients by shaking hard in a bottle. Remove garlic after ingredients are well-mixed. Optional to add a dash of sugar or syrup.   

  • Served with sliced pears and leafy greens--whatever is growing in your garden or in season.

  • Fried Chicken (serves 10)

    • 10 pieces chicken breast

    • ~5 c bread crumbs

    • 5 eggs

    • 5 c oil for frying

    • Wash the chicken breasts and slice into finger sized pieces.

    • Roll the chicken pieces in the egg to cover, then drop them into the bread crumbs and roll around until coated. Set aside.

    • Heat up a frying pan with the oil. When a small bit of chicken is dropped in and begins to sizzle, it is hot enough to cook with.

    • Place a few chicken pieces at a time into the frying pan and cook for 3-4 minutes either side until golden to medium brown. (From The Easiest Way in Housekeeping and Cooking by Helen Campbell, 1903)

  • String Beans (from A Lady of Good Taste)

    • String Bean Salad

      • Beans cut in julienne strips

      • Chopped parsley

      • Chopped green onions

      • Tart french dressing

        • ½ c good vinegar (wine, cider, or malt)

        • ¾ ts salt

        • ¼ ts white pepper

        • 1 ½ c olive oil

        • Sliced garlic shaken in dressing and removed

  • Cut the beans in the thinnest slivers and boil them. Drain and while they are hot add the dressing and lightly cover with chopped parsley and onions. Chill before serving.

  • Asparagus (from A Lady of Good Taste)

    • 1 bunch asparagus

    • ½ c chopped hazelnuts

    • ½ c butter

  • Steam asparagus until cooked through.

  • Chop hazelnuts, brown in butter; pour this over the asparagus.

  • Cornbread (from A Lady of Good Taste)

    • Corn Meal Muffins

      • 2 cups cornmeal

      • 2 tb flour

      • ½ ts salt

      • 1 ts baking powder

      • 1 tb butter, melted

      • 2 eggs, beaten

      • ½ c sweet milk

  • “Mix the dry ingredients and combine with the mixed liquids. Pour into greased muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees 15 or 18 minutes” --M.C. (Marjorie Carter?)

  • Apple Snow Cake  

    • Cake

      • 1 c sugar

      • 1 egg

      • ½ c sweet cream

      • ½ sweet milk

      • 2 c flour

      • 1 ts lemon extract

      • 2 ts egg baking powder

    • Apple Snow:

      • 1 c granulated sugar

      • 1 large sweet apple, pared and grated

      • 1 egg white

      • 1 ts lemon extract

  • Stir together sugar, egg, and cream, then add sweet milk, and flour sifted with lemon extract and egg baking powder. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until the cake is cooked through--about 25 mins.

  • Beat together ingredients for apple snow. Place atop cake.


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