BROOKSVILLE — Joining in a new fundraiser for Friends of Chinsegut Hill Inc. feels great-hearted and tastes even heartier.
Launched in August, the Pick-Two Luncheon on the Hill and tour, at $15 per person, helps pay for care and preservation of the county's historic treasure while satisfying the palate of the pickiest gourmand.
Self-schooled chef, history aficionado and property manager Natalie Kahler is the architect of the luncheon and tours — sustenance for the midsection and the mind — served up each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The expanded schedule comes on the heels of well-attended quarterly dinners and monthly luncheons, with Kahler at the stove and as many as 160 partakers at each event.
"Food is always a great attraction for people," Kahler acknowledged.
At every sit-down, she pairs food with historically storied place mats. In the "dining hall," transposed to a linen-and-crystal dining room, the current plate placards reproduce a sextet of song lyrics and scores discovered among treasures in the restored Chinsegut Hill manor house, north of Brooksville.
The songs range from the Suffragette anthem to a ditty favored at tea parties there by the late Margaret "Weenie" Rogers, founder of the original Rogers' Christmas House Village in downtown Brooksville.
"They show history related to the present," Kahler said, "history as stories."
A diner might imagine that Kahler's fare pays homage to the hill's colonial era: seasonal pumpkin in soups, corn in quiches, candied and fresh ginger in her gingersnaps. Ingredients may hark to an earlier era, but Kahler has never met a recipe she couldn't tinker to a higher level.
"I like being her taster," said Friends president Lisa Callea, who volunteers in the dining room.
"Phenomenal, crazy good," said Cindy Gustafson, a recent first-time luncheon guest among a trio of Brooksville diners who dipped sampling spoons into the Mexican street corn soup and the spicy pumpkin soup with bacon.
"Where can you get samples and taste before you order?" surprised table mate Victoria Bedford declared.
The menu varies weekly, offering a choice of two dishes among salads, soups and quiches. Flavored teas and warm-from-the-oven cookies are included. And count on a surprise side, perhaps Prohibition pickles or herb-toasted crostini.
A recent Wednesday welcomed 28 diners.
"Our goal is 50 per day, 150 a week," said Kahler, 45, who stirred the pots beginning at age 11 for her family of a dozen in rural Pennsylvania.
At Chinsegut Hill, she said, "quantity cooking is a hobby and my creative outlet. I do my best thinking when I'm cooking."
Kahler, who also is a member of the Brooksville City Council, has a lot to think about as Chinsegut Hill manager: enticing new visitors to the local landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, fueling a yearly budget of $100,000-plus; adding period features to seven rental cabins; caring for spacious old-forest grounds; enlisting volunteers as museum docents, housekeepers, gardeners, skilled trades workers, office staffers, even kitchen helpers.
Site rentals contribute most of the dollars, about $75,000 annually, to the not-for-profit Friends. Rentals include seven four-bedroom modernized cabins, a classroom/meeting hall, a dining hall with a fully equipped kitchen and the grounds. Uses include conferences, retreats, corporate events, weddings, myriad celebrations, club gatherings and outdoor group pursuits such as bird watching and photography. Fees are "very affordable," half the cost of hotels, Kahler said.
Dining events such as the luncheons can help with those rentals, Kahler believes, as they introduce to new visitors the varied opportunities for utilizing the historic site and discovering that learning history is an engaging and tasteful pursuit.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]