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A great regional cookbook. December 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. On our way home from North Carolina, our friend Ben and I made the ritual late-lunch stop at Mrs. Rowe’s, a locally famous restaurant outside Staunton, Virginia. One reason we enjoy stopping there (besides the homestyle cooking) is that next door is a shop that sells pottery, wooden ware, artwork, books, crafts, soaps, and many other delightful things, all made in Virginia. There’s also an excellent assortment of regional foods, from smoked hams, seafood dips, and peanuts to grits, jellies, honey, and handmade candy. And this trip, there was a simply wonderful regional cookbook that—to OFB’s despair—ended up coming home to join the legions already bursting from our kitchen bookshelves.

Why did I feel that I just had to have yet another cookbook, you ask? (Or, at least, OFB asked.) Well, The Best of Virginia Farms Cookbook & Tour Book by CiCi Williamson isn’t just any cookbook. It contains recipes from family farms, local B&Bs, and great plantations, including the homes of Washington, Jefferson, and Lee. Not to mention historic recipes from one of my very favorite places, Colonial Williamsburg.

But the recipes, though authentic and delightful, aren’t the only reason I wanted this book. Every page is packed with little-known information about the ingredients used in the recipes (did you know that turkey farming, as opposed to turkey hunting, originated in Virginia?), tips, interviews with Virginia farmers and chefs, and “tours” of great places to visit such as the Museum of American Frontier Culture and the historic home of the Lees, Stratford Hall. There’s even an “interview” with Thomas Jefferson. If you live in or near Virginia or simply enjoy passing through the beautiful and historic state, as we do, you’ll find a wealth of places to visit, eat, and stay, all with contact information (including websites).

Getting back to those recipes, if you’re expecting grits and biscuits, think again. From Hope & Glory Pate, Steeles Tavern Manor Country Inn’s Lemon-Turkey Cutlets, Hungarian-Style Emu Goulash, and Georgetown Bison Fajitas to Martha Washington Inn’s She-Crab Soup, President John Tyler’s “Tyler Pudding” (actually a coconut pie), Shields Tavern Syllabubs, Wayside Inn Wine-and-Cheese Soup, and Hotel Roanoke Peanut Soup, the vast diversity of indigenous Virginia produce is on display.

Just to tempt you, here are two simple recipes featuring two of my favorite foods, lima beans and cornbread:

          Lima Bean Hummus

Unlike traditional chickpea hummus, this lima bean hummus is a beautiful pale green. 

2 cups fresh lima beans or one 10-ounce package frozen lima beans

1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup well-stirred tahini

5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

dash cayenne pepper

ground black pepper to taste

chopped fresh parsley, chives, or green onions (scallions) for garnish

Cook lima beans as package directs. (If cooking fresh lima beans, cook until thoroughly soft.) Drain, save cooking water, and allow to cool. In a food processor, combine all ingredients except garnish and reserved cooking water and puree. Add 1 to 4 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid to make an easily spreadable mixture. Refrigerate. Hummus will thicken upon refrigeration. Bring to room temperature before serving and top with your garnish of choice. Serve with warm pita bread wedges, a thinly sliced crusty baguette, or crackers. Makes about 2 cups.

           Custard-Filled Cornbread

“As this amazing cornbread cooks, a creamy, barely set custard makes a layer of filling in the middle—no crumbling allowed!”

2 eggs

3 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 cup flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream

Butter an 8-inch square baking dish and place it in the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and let dish get hot while mixing batter. Beat eggs with butter until well blended. Add sugar, salt, milk, and vinegar; beat well. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda. Add to egg mixture. Mix just until batter is smooth. Pour into heated dish, then pour cream into center of batter. Do not stir. Place dish in oven and bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm. Makes 9 servings.

Intrigued? Order your own copy from Menasha Ridge Press (www.menasharidge.com) for $19.95. Your money will be well spent: Not only will you get a fantastic cookbook and guide to Virginia’s best tourist sites, but “A portion of proceeds from book sales is channeled through the Publishing Partners to develop and promote agriculture education, agriculture tourism, and state products.” I love a cookbook that’s as much fun to read as it is to use. How about you?

            ‘Til next time,




1. Lzyjo - December 30, 2009

Oh, my, custard filled cornbread!! Sounds like a charming cookbook!!! My latest project is Civil War multiple choice questions, my head is ready to explode!! Williamsburg and all those old school guys “reminded” me LOL! btw, we finished that yummy cream of tomato soup yesterday!!! It came out really good! 😀 Thanks for the recipe!

Ha! I’m so glad your tomato soup turned out well, Lzyjo! I’ve been craving some more myself—better get the ingredients! It might be especially good with a custardy cornbread, but I only like white cornbread, wonder how that would work out?! One of my dreams is to spend Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg. Maybe one of these years! And where are you finding all these Civil War questions? I’d be a disaster, but OFB would ace them!

2. Jen - December 31, 2009

I have to say that neither lima beans or cornbread are among my favorite foods, but I’m very tempted to try both of these recipes! I love collecting regional cookbooks, and always get excited when I find one from one of the local churches, ladies clubs and auxilaries, too. I’m really curious about the Emu recipe! What could emu taste like, I wonder?? and what in the world are “sylabubs”?

Well, Jen, there was a whole chapter devoted to “ratites” (ostriches, emus, and rheas) in the book; I guess entrepreneurial Virginians have turned them into a mini-industry. Apparently all these big flightless birds are classed as “red meat,” but have far less fat than beef and the like. There are recipes for Conicville Ostrich Burgers, Teriyaki Ostrich, and Emu on a Stick as well as the Hungarian-Style Emu Goulash. And syllabubs are heavy cream drinks (with alcohol, of course) that were popular during the Regency period and in Colonial and Federal America as well. According to the book, they fell out of favor with the advent of ice cream.

3. Daphne - December 31, 2009

I’m not a lima bean fan either. I don’t like the texture of the bean. It might be fine in a hummus though. I love regional cookbooks. It takes me back to my youth. I lived in the Colorado mountains and we had a volunteer fire department. We would do fundraisers every year, usually selling crafts. One year we put out a cookbook. My mom did a lot of the organizational work and I helped out with assembly. We all did recipe testing. It was fun, but a lot of work. Things have changed though. Now taxes pay for the fire department. Their only fundraiser now is the annual yard and book sale. I don’t live there anymore, but am sad. It was a very good community builder.

Hmmm. Our local fire departments in PA are very much involved with the community, hosting bake sales, monthly breakfasts, pork and sauerkraut suppers, bingo, craft sales, fastnach sales, and the like. Guess I didn’t realize how lucky we are!

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