The Fairfax County Park Authority has hundreds of volunteers who do everything from removing invasive plants to monitoring dog parks. One volunteer at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon has been making an unusual contribution to the park since 2010: fake historic food.
“I think my first project on the farm was peanut butter cookies,” Pat Zalubski recalls. “Sometimes my faux food looks so real, people want to pick them up and eat it. The docents at the park have learned to pull the cookies out of reach for this reason.”
Zalubski creates food tableaux for Frying Pan’s Kidwell farmhouse. Built around 1895, the house was restored to its 1930s appearance. Park staff and volunteers (including Zalubski) give free tours of the house to the public, explaining how farm families lived during the 1920s – 1950s.
Zalubski creates various faux food items to show what farm families might have eaten during different seasons and holidays. She wants visitors to feel as if they’re magically stepping back into history – as if the family cook is still there, but temporarily out of sight. “It should look like the person just walked away for a minute,” Zalubski says.
Creating this magic takes a lot of ingenuity. For example, the cake roll pictured above was made with two round oatmeal containers, some sponge packing material, packing tube paper, and acrylic paint.
“A lot of times, I actually go out and buy the food item I am trying to make so that I can get the color correct,” she says. “When making a purple-leaf cabbage, I placed a purple cabbage leaf next to it to get the correct color.”
Zalubski is also a stickler for historical accuracy. She researches old recipes to make sure the food items she creates look like the ones farm families could have made using the ingredients they had back then. “For example, you can buy a faux food cake on the internet, however, it will not look like the simple cake the farm wife would have made,” she explains.
Zalubski also makes sure that the containers she displays the faux food in look authentic as well. “Usually, I am looking for old, worn-out dishes with chips or cracks which are generally inexpensive and perfect for the Kidwell farmhouse’s Depression-era food displays,” she says.
Although it’s clear from her work that Zalubski is an amazing artist, she does not have an art degree. In fact, Zalubski learned to create faux food by trial and error. “There are not too many books or classes on the subject,” she says.
Author Lois Kirkpatrick is the marketing coordinator at Frying Pan Farm Park.