I am Helena’s great great-great-granddaughter. My grandmother Halka Pattison (Helena’s great granddaughter-Ralph was her grandfather) passed away a couple of weeks ago, and since then I have been feeling very reflective and thinking about my family and ancestors. I know a fair amount about Helena and I have actually visited her estate in Orange County, but it was when I was very young. All I remember were the orange trees and a beautiful organ.
I would love to know more about her day-to-day life in California. I have some recipes passed down to me from my grandmother, but I don’t know if they’ve been in the family for a long time or not. One of my favorites is what we call “Polish Chicken”-it is chicken and carrots cooked in a lemon-based gravy. I would also really love to know more about the plants grown at Arden. We have little violets growing in our yard that my mom says have been passed down and transplanted many times over the years and were originally from that estate. I also know she loved roses-but what else did she grow? I have a great interest in heirloom plants and I would love to know more about ones tied to my family.
My mother and her sisters have several heirlooms that belonged to Helena. They are just getting the chance to look through my grandmother’s belongings and take note of the many beautiful things she had, so I don’t know much about them yet or who will end up with what (they are still dividing everything up amongst the four of them).
Thank you for your time, I hope to hear from you soon!
Thank you so much for your message, and my deepest condolences to you and your family on the passing of your grandmother, Halka Pattison. I will relay the sad news to the members of the Helena Modjeska Foundation board of directors. Although I never had the opportunity to meet her, I have had the pleasure of meeting Felicie, her daughter, Amber, Ralph Pattison, Marylka, and of course, Betsy Chronic, who re-created the beautiful lion leg table that your great great-great-grandmother had at her home at Arden. I probably also met you when you visited Arden. Are you Felicie’s daughter?
Our website has a reading list if you would like to do more about Helena. The book by Theodore Payne, “Life on the Modjeska Ranch in the Gay Nineties,” would have information about what else was grown on the property. He was their gardener at Arden for approximately two years. Helena certainly grew herbs and vegetables to be used in the dishes that were prepared at Arden. Helena doesn’t mention too much in her autobiography about the foods that were prepared, although she does reference a barbeque that was held at the ranch. There is a mention in the book, “Fair Rosalind – The American Career of Helena Modjeska” by Marion Moore Coleman, of Helena longing for her mother’s delicious kutja when she attended a Christmas Eve dinner in Anaheim at the home of their friends, the Langenbergers. Kutja is a very sweet dish made with bulgar, honey and walnuts. Most of my Polish friends never liked it, as it was too sweet, but I made it about ten years ago for a volunteer holiday potluck, cutting back on the amounts of honey and sugar. My Polish friends liked my version it, and you can find the recipe in most Polish cookbooks.
We know for certain the Helena grew lavender, as she would make Lavender Wands for her guests, as a sachet. You can find directions on making lavender wands on the Internet.
Your mother, and her sisters, have been very kind and generous over the years in providing the foundation with images of some of the heirlooms that belonged to Helena. Once your family has determined what is in the collection, do you think they would be willing to share photos of the items, with a bit of provenance? Several of us on the foundation board do research as to where some of Helena’s things may have ended up, and knowing about what she had gives us a greater insight into the amazing woman that she was, that we can then impart to our docents for teaching the public about Helena.
Oh, one more thing: On April 27, my husband and I attended the Kosciuszko Foundation Dinner and Ball in New York City, and we had the great honor of being seated with Ann Taylor, who is the great-granddaughter of Helena’s nephew, W.T. Benda, the famous illustrator and mask designer. In fact, this year’s ball invitation was a beautiful image by Benda. She and her family live in Connecticut, and she expressed an interest in being in touch with other family members. Would it be all right if I gave her your email address so that she may contact you?
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions.