Looking Forward to Fire, Flour and Fork

When I first heard about Fire, Flour and Fork, I thought it sounded like a great way to celebrate Richmond’s diverse food scene from a food history perspective.  Planned by Real Richmond Food Tours, the weekend-long event spans tastings, dinners and educational sessions.  Now that the schedule of events has been released, I can’t wait to get my tickets!

For the Saturday sessions, my dream schedule would be:

10 AM – At the Counters | Nicole A. Taylor, Dr. Raymond Hylton and Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt | 10 a.m.
History books tell the story of segregation. Better still, “If We So Choose” is a documentary short film, produced by Athens, Georgia native Nicole Taylor, which introduces audiences to the people in Athens who not only lived through Jim Crow separatism but fought against it and won. Through the lens of a little-known protest demonstration at the lingo laden fast-food restaurant, The Varsity, new light is shed on unsung, young African American heroes. Turning the lens on Richmond, Dr. Raymond Hylton, chair of the department of  History at Virginia Union University and author Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt will share the story of the Richmond 34 and their sit-in at the Thalhimer’s lunch counter on Feb. 22, 1960. We’ll see the new trailer of The Richmond 34 by Bundy Films as well.

In light of the events in Ferguson, MO, it’s more important than ever for Americans to come together to discuss our shared history and the importance of the civil disobedience of the 1960’s to the Civil Rights movement.  When I visited Memphis last summer to study the history of barbecue, I learned much about how race has played into food history.  My mother, a lifelong Richmonder, has told me of the Thalhimer’s sit-in and other actions in the 60’s, and I’d love to check out the film and get a new perspective on Richmond’s role in the larger movement.

11:15 AM – “Queen Molly” and the Enslaved Women with whom she Worked | Leni Sorensen | Culinary Historian
Known as “Queen Molly” the woman who set the finest table in early 19th-century Richmond, Mary Randolph and the unnamed enslaved cooks in her kitchens produced food that set the standard for excellence in Southern cookery. Historian Leni Sorensen is cooking her way through the recipes in Randolph’s book, The Virginia House-Wife, first published in 1824. The book is considered to be the nation’s first truly regional American cookbook and the most influential of its time. “If I’m talking about food, I’m also talking about history,” Sorensen says.

I’ll admit, I’ve kinda got a thing for Mary Randolph.  I was born and raised in Virginia and have traced my Virginia ancestors back to the 1600’s, so I’m partial to learning about colonial cooking methods and recipes.  In my study of “The Virginia House-Wife,” I’ve come across Leni Sorensen’s work, and I’m excited to learn more about Mary and the enslaved women of her kitchen.  I’ve tried a few of her recipes (including her Tavern Biscuits, which are pretty much my favorite cookie ever), and want to try more!

2 PM – Apple Stack Cake | Travis Milton | Comfort
Travis Milton, chef de cuisine at Comfort, left his beloved Appalachia to cook and write, emerging as an authority on Appalachian food ways. Heirloom apples are just one of the treasures of Appalachia and Travis knows which varieties work best for making his trademark vinegars, applesauce, apple butter and of course, his version of his great-grandmother’s Apple Stack Cake. Only a few of the 1,600 known varieties of apples that once grew in the Appalachians and Southeastern U.S. have been conserved. Once you learn the secrets of Apple Stack Cake, you’ll want to plant your own heirloom apple tree. Demo

Come on, what Richmond foodie worth their salt (see what I did there?) wouldn’t want to attend a session with Comfort’s chef de cuisine?  Besides, Virginia has a long history of apple growing and processing, dating back to Jefferson’s Monticello, if not further.  That Apple Stack Cake sounds delicious!

3:30 PM – On a Roll | Drew Thomasson | The Rogue Gentlemen
There’s a reason Drew Thomasson, baker at The Rogue Gentlemen in Jackson Ward, and formerly pastry chef at D’lish, has a whisk, spatula and rolling pin tattoo on his arm–those tools are extensions of himself as he whips up the Parkerhouse Rolls, breads and croissants that have given him a following around town. This demo will whip you into baking shape just in time for the holidays. Demo

It’s not just the baking-themed tattoo that draws me to this session.  My first “real” job was at a local gourmet bakery, and baking is one of my passions.  I always love to pick up new tips and tricks, but have had trouble with breads and yeast-based baked goods (cookies, cakes and brownies are my specialty).  I’ve got a crowd to bake for at Thanksgiving, so hopefully I can pick up some good recipes and techniques.

You can purchase your tickets here – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fire-flour-and-fork-registration-12176238457?ref=ebtn

The event runs from Thursday, Oct. 30 with a reception at the “rarely-open” Eclectic Electric Appliance Museum to benefit Lewis Ginter Community Kitchen Garden, and concludes Sunday, Nov. 2 with “Queen” Molly Randolph’s Monumental Moveable Feast and tours of Monumental Church, and a tour of food-related art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Edible Food Fest in Orange

In spite of threatening weather reports all week, yesterday’s Edible Food Fest in Orange couldn’t have had a more gorgeous day for the food-packed festival.

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The Edible Food Fest, sponsored by regional food magazine Edible Blue Ridge, the local Blue Mountain Brewery and the Orange Downtown Alliance, showcased the central Virginia region’s finest foods, from farmers and food producers to local and regional restaurants.  Two Chef Demo tents and a “Chat Room” offered cooking demonstrations and discussions throughout the day.  I got to take in a demonstration of okra recipes by chef Curtis Shaver, of Charlottesville restaurant Hamilton’s at First and Main, as well as a discussion and tasting of “Ancient and Modern Grains” by Currey Fountain, of local catering company Beggar’s Banquet Catering.

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Chef Shaver covered two delicious okra recipes, a charred okra salad with arugula, feta, heirloom tomatoes and a mustard-based vinaigrette, and an okra “maque choux,” a traditional Creole side dish to which he added beautiful purple Red Burgundy okra.  (A caveat for the picture of his demonstration – it was taken before the demonstration began.  By the time he’d cooked up these two yummy okra dishes, the house was packed!).  The main point to remember with okra, he explained, is that it needs to be cooked quick and hot, or long and slow.  Quick and hot, like pan charring or grilling, especially after marinating, will help keep the slime factor down.  Long and slow cooking will let the slime from the okra mingle with other flavors and thicken stews or other thick types of dishes.  I can’t wait to try out these recipes with all the okra I keep getting from my garden.

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Currey Fountain’s discussion and tasting focused on the use of ancient and modern grains in menu planning.  She started with a look at her food restriction list, which, 15 to 20 years ago, used to cover about four or five broad categories.  Today, it’s four pages long and covers everything from gluten intolerance and/or sensitivity to Halal, Kosher and other religious restrictions, dairy intolerant, peanut allergies, etc.  Since so many of the clients of her catering company were mentioning dietary restrictions, Currey decided to make menu choices that would be healthy, delicious and also accommodate the numerous dietary choices and restrictions that are prevalent today.  She had brought pre-prepared dishes using grains such as millet and quinoa, and she prepared a yummy couscous dish during the session.

For lunch, I had a brisket sandwich from The Little Country Store, with sides of baked beans and coleslaw – so good!

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Of course, my boys had to try the handmade, apple cider donuts with cinnamon sugar from Carpe Donut, and they quickly pronounced them “delicious!”

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I also got to do a tasting of ciders from Albemarle Ciderworks.  I’d tried hard cider before, but never had a tasting of multiple varieties, and I hadn’t realized how different the flavor profiles of different varieties could be.  I also enjoyed the historical details about the ciders, like the fact that the Royal Pippin cider uses Albemarle Pippins, a descendent of Newtown Pippins from the North that Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello, and which the ambassador to England in the early 1800’s introduced to the Queen.  From there, they came to be known as Royal Pippins, as the Queen would order hundreds of pounds of them at a time to be shipped to England as her favorite apple to eat fresh.

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All told, we had a great day at the Edible Food Fest.  The event really touted locally-grown ingredients and local food producers, and yet it was accessible to all kinds of people (admission was only $7 a person and kids were free).  It really made me wish the Richmond area would put on an event like this to showcase Richmond area growers, food producers, restaurants, food trucks, etc.  I enjoy Richmond’s wide range of food events, but it sometimes seems like they are limited to only people who can afford to spend $40 or $50 on a beer or wine dinner, or $60 for a food tour.

I also realized that the Richmond region doesn’t have an Edible publication like Edible Blue Ridge.  There are Edible magazines throughout the country, and the magazine and its various imprints have won many awards for their coverage of local food scenes.  I’d love to work with anyone who is interested to try to bring about an Edible Richmond Region magazine.

Southern Season Richmond Grand Opening

I had heard many months ago that Richmond was getting a Southern Season store, and I was so excited to head over to check it out this past Friday.  The store opened July 31 on Staples Mill Rd. near Willow Lawn, and there are festivities galore going on for the first few weeks.  Of course, there are giveaway boxes throughout the store to win gift baskets, prepared meals, a Le Creuset cookware set and more.  On Saturdays, the store also does tastings of various Southern and local products.

The store has a huge gourmet kitchen, where it will offer numerous cooking classes such as Perfect Pies, Biscuits 101, Perfect Pasta, a Kids in the Kitchen series for children and classes featuring local chefs, such as Virginia Is For Food Lovers:  Rappahannock.  Classes run from $30-50, however the store also offers the option to become a volunteer (from my understanding, essentially a prep chef and “go-fer” for class participants) and attend the class in that capacity for free.  Other special events, like beer and wine events and farm-to-table dinners, are scheduled throughout the Summer and Fall.

The store itself is big, open and airy, and is separated into several distinct areas.  The wine and coffee bar at the front of the store offers the chance to buy a glass of wine or cup of coffee to sip as you’re shopping.  Southerly Restaurant & Patio serves breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch and dinner and has desserts and kids’ options.  They also prepare a $5 pancake breakfast every Saturday, and kids 7 and under eat free.

A section with cookware, tabletop and cooking accessories and implements runs the gamut from Le Creuset and gourmet cookware to artisan cutting boards to nifty little kitchen gadgets, like a sushi-making kit.  Candles and home decor, including Southern-inspired items, like pillows sewn with place names and sayings from different Southern states, offer a great shopping destination for gift-giving.

A full candy section, with Jelly Belly dispensers lining the back wall and a full-service ice cream bar in the middle, made my three year-old squeal with delight (then cling to my leg in tears as we tried to leave).  The wine department offers selections from around the world, as well as around the South.  They did have a number of Virginia wines, but I’d definitely encourage them to widen their selection.  Same with the craft beers.  They had good representation from local vendors, but there could easily be a lot more there.  Virginians love their homegrown wine and local craft breweries!  I did notice some Viking mead from Denmark that caught my eye – I can see a purchase of that in my future when “Vikings” on the History Channel comes back for Season 3 next Spring.

The wine department is right next to the cheese department, which makes good sense for party planners.  Cheeses from all over the world, as well as a full-service deli and prepared foods, make this a one-stop-shop if you’re planning an event.  A bakery stocked with Southern favorites like Hummingbird Cake and Apple Galettes rounds out the fresh food options.

The bulk of the store’s products line the wire racks and shelves in the center of the store.  A section of Virginia and local products showcases many vendors who will be familiar to those who receive the Virginia’s Finest catalog.  Herb and spice packets containing spice mixtures and blends, file/sassafras powder for gumbo and other Southern pantry essentials are reasonably-priced and high-quality.

After a good walk around the store, I can definitely see myself heading out here to pick up specific items I might need for recipes.  Southern Season is also a great gourmet shop, and I’d love to try my hand at volunteering for some of the cooking classes.  Stay tuned for more coverage of happenings at Southern Season!

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Smithsonian’s “Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000″ Exhibit

Earlier this week, my eight year-old son and I headed to Washington, DC so he could participate in an educational event at the National Archives (their Learning Lab’s “Constitution in Action” class, which I would highly recommend to parents looking for a free activity to keep your children engaged in learning over the summer).  My son was so excited to ride the subway into the city, and he loved looking at all the important and historical buildings there.  He loved the class, where he got to wear a protective jacket and gloves and handle actual historical documents.

After class, we walked to Chinatown and had lunch at Wok and Roll, an awesome but small Chinese and Japanese restaurant near the Verizon Center.  I had spicy salmon, spicy tuna and spicy crunchy shrimp rolls and my kid ate a whole order of gyoza and an entire California Roll (all that walking must have worked up his appetite!).

In the afternoon, we visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where an exhibition on food in America is currently on view.  The “Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000″ exhibit covers the many ways in which our food system has changed over the past half-century.  My son liked the school lunch table in the center of the exhibit, where lazy susan-like rounds offered information on how kids ate in school from the 1950’s to today.  Along the outside walls of the exhibit space, different food movements were showcased, from fast food and multicultural cuisine to the growth of farmers markets and the local food movement.  A special section on American wine production highlighted Virginia wines, as well as the agricultural aspect of growing wine grapes.

At the front of the exhibit space, Julia Child’s kitchen has been re-created, and clips of her cooking shows are on view.  Through her career spanning the 1940’s to her death in 2004, Julia Child introduced millions of Americans to the joys of home cooking, and to methods and foodways that inspired her.  A replica of her kitchen, along with items she donated to the Smithsonian, depict her life in food.

The exhibit has a companion educational website that allows visitors to prepare for their visit and offers additional information for further study.


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Charleston Fried Chicken for Sunday Supper

A good deal on a whole chicken at my local Food Lion + reading famed Charleston, SC gardener Emily Whaley’s “Mrs. Whaley Entertains” = delicious fried chicken for Sunday supper.

Seriously, the hardest part about making fresh fried chicken from scratch was figuring out how to cut up the fryer (and I found a YouTube video to help).

Once the chicken is cut up, you rub it with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder, then mix up two eggs and a cup of milk.  Dredge the chicken in the milk/egg mixture, then add to a paper bag containing one cup of flour and whatever spices you want (I used my homemade Cajun spice blend).  Shake up the chicken and you’re ready to fry!

The most important part of frying chicken is to make sure your oil is at the right temperature.  If your oil is at the point where it’s snapping and popping, you’re good to go.  Drop the chicken pieces into a cast-iron skillet or deep pot filled with a quart of cooking oil.  Cook about 8 minutes per side, turning once halfway through.  Remove with tongs and let the cooked pieces drain on paper towels while you cook the other chicken pieces.

There’s nothing like a juicy piece of fresh fried chicken on a hot Southern summer day!

ETA:  Totally didn’t even realize it was officially “Fried Chicken Day!”


Kinda Legit Lowcountry Shrimp Boil

My favorite farmer’s market, Lakeside Farmer’s Market, had baby red potatoes and fresh corn this weekend, and I knew I had a bag of shrimp in the freezer, so why not make a shrimp boil?  

Seafood boils, otherwise known as Frogmore Stew, have a long and storied history in the lowcountry of South Carolina.  Some stories claim that a local fisherman originated the recipe as a way to use the bounty of the sea and the vegetables he’d just harvested.  Another story places the development of the seafood boil with Richard Gay, the owner of a seafood restaurant on St. Helena Island, SC, who was tasked with feeding over 100 National Guardsmen.  Frogmore Stew was just the ticket to feed lots of men with minimal effort, and serving it on tables covered with newspaper eliminated the need for a massive cleanup.

To make my shrimp boil, which is only kinda legit since I omitted the kielbasa sausage, I started with a big pot of water.  I washed and dumped in the baby red potatoes.


I set the heat to high and let the potatoes come to a boil.  Once they were boiling, I added all the seasonings – the Chesapeake Bay style seasoning (I used Sauer’s, but Old Bay is fine too), and the shrimp boil seasoning mixture.  For the shrimp boil seasoning, I found a good copycat recipe of a famous Southern brand, which I halved since I was just cooking for the four of us and not a ton of people:

Copycat Seafood Boil Seasoning Mix

2 tbsp. mustard or ground mustard seeds

1 1/2 tbsp. coriander seeds or ground coriander

1 tbsp. allspice, whole or ground

1 tbsp. dill seeds

1/2 tsp. cloves

1/2 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes

4 bay leaves

While the potatoes were boiling in the seasoning mixture, I shucked my corn, removed the silks and cut each ear in half.


I dumped the corn into the pot and let that boil for about 10 minutes with the potatoes.  If you’re using sausage, you’d add it with the corn.  After letting that boil a while, I added the shrimp.  They only need to boil in the pot for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until they turn pink.  Then you’re ready to plate your shrimp boil, or to dump it out onto a newspaper-covered table!


Lowcountry Shrimp Boil

2 lbs. small red potatoes

Crab or seafood boil seasoning (I used the mixture above)

4 tbsp. Old Bay or other Chesapeake-style seafood seasoning (I used Sauer’s)

1 lb. kielbasa or other smoked sausage, sliced into 1 1/2 inch pieces

3 ears of corn, shucked, silks removed and cut in half

2 lbs. medium or large shrimp, in shell preferred




Virginia Summer Food History Events

School’s out, and in our household that means it’s high time for some historical adventures.  See my parents weren’t the type to just be content with going to the beach every year.  Oh no – from the time I was born until I graduated high school, our family vacations typically involved visiting historical sites up and down the East Coast.  In fact, my mother still has photo albums stuffed with pictures of me, my brother and sister standing in front of various obscure historical markers throughout Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Of course I plan to keep that tradition alive, especially considering that we live in Virginia, first British colony in the New World and home to a seemingly unending list of historical homes and estates.  Besides that, the foodways of Virginia are known throughout the country and around the world.  Here are a few of the food and food history events that will be taking place in Virginia this summer:

Jul. 19 & 20, 2014 – Surry, Virginia Pork, Peanut & Pine Festival – This down-home celebration of the three P’s of coastal Virginia has a parade, plenty of delicious food, a kids’ corner, arts and crafts vendors and plenty of fun.  $5 per person, 10 and under free.  Chippokes Plantation State Park, 695 Chippokes Park Rd., Surry, VA  23883.  Saturday, July 19 & Sunday, July 20, 10 AM- 5 PM.

Jul. 19 & 20, 2014 – 1771 Market Fair at Claude Moore Colonial Farm – Sit in the shade and savor roast chicken and spicy sausages, enjoy dancing and singing with the fiddler, test your watercolor and writing skills with Mr. Andrews at the Stationer.  Muster with the militia and re-outfit your home in furniture from the Cabinet Maker.  Only at Market Fair can you catch up on the latest news from the frontier and trade stories while enjoying local ale and porter at the Tavern.  Try hands-on crafts such as spinning and dyeing, and shop for goods from the finest merchants in the colonies.  $7/adult, $3/child aged 3-12, $3/senior, under 3 free.  Claude Moore Colonial Farm, 6310 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA  22101.  Saturday, July 19 & Sunday, July 20, 11 AM-4:30 PM.

Jul. 25 & 26, 2014 – Summertime Barrels, Bottles & Casks at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest – Cool off on a hot summer evening and sample various beverages, brews and spirits served at Poplar Forest during Jefferson’s time.  Special guided tours will highlight the meals and drinks that Jefferson and the plantation’s enslaved community consumed at Poplar Forest, followed by a cellar-side beverage tasting and light, seasonal snacks, including homemade ice cream.  $25/person, must be 21 or older.  Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, 1542 Bateman Bridge Rd., Forest, VA  24551.  Friday, July 25 & Saturday, July 26, tours departing at 6 PM and 7 PM both days.

Aug. 8 & 9, 2014 – 9th Annual Filipino Festival – Enjoy authentic cuisine such as lumpia, pancit, adobo, lechon, halo-halo and more with San Miguel beer or your favorite wine.  Some vegetarian dishes will be available and entertainment will be provided by several local bands.  The cultural program includes a fusion of dance, music, song, artwork and exhibits by local and regional Filipino talent.  $2 suggested donation.  Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 8200 Woodman Rd., Richmond, VA  23228.  Friday, August 8, 5-10 PM; Saturday, August 9, 10 AM-10 PM.

Aug. 9, 2014 – Edible Food Fest in Orange – A delicious celebration of the Earth-to-table movement and its unique roots in Central Virginia.  Demos by some of the restaurant-rich region’s leading chefs and expert talks on a variety of topics.  Vendors include Blue Ridge Pizza, Plantation Peanuts of Wakefield, Hudson Henry Baking Co., Croftburn Market, Rebecca’s Natural Food, Virginia Vinegar Works and more.  $7/person, 12 and under free.  Downtown Orange, VA  22960.  Saturday, August 9, 10 AM-6 PM.

Aug. 20, 2014 – Family Day at Wilton House Museum – Bring the family by for a tour of the historic house, geared for elementary and middle school aged children, followed by a lesson in colonial cooking.  $10/person.  Wilton House Museum, 215 S. Wilton Rd., Richmond, VA  23226.  Wednesday, August 20, 1-2:30 PM.

Historical Foodways Classes at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy., Charlottesville, VA  22902):

July 12, 2014 – Canning With a Jefferson Spin – Culinary historian Leni Sorensen will tantalize with stories of the cooks in Jefferson’s kitchen, who canned and preserved food for the Monticello household.  Using a historical recipe from Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife (1824) and green tomatoes from the Monticello garden, Leni will guide the class in creating a thick and spicy tomato marmalade of their own.  $28/person.  Saturday, July 12, 9:30 AM-12:00 PM.

July 26, 2014 – Mary Randolph Culinary Workshop – Curry chicken and rice was an international dish popular at elite 19th-century dining tables.  Culinary historian Leni Sorensen will demonstrate how to make Mary Randolph’s curry powder just as her cooks did in her 1824 Richmond kitchen.  The class will then prepare and enjoy the curry dish and fresh Monticello vegetables.  $28/person.  Saturday, July 26, 9:30 AM-12:00 PM.

August 7, 2014 – Let’s Go Cook – Join Monticello’s Eleanor Gould for a fun, hands-on, family-friendly cooking class.  Young cooks and their favorite grownups will begin by harvesting fruits and vegetables from the Monticello gardens.  The class will then help prepare both sweet and savory recipes that were favorites of the Jefferson family.  The reward will be to eat what’s been made and take home the recipes.  $18/adult, $8/child, under 5 free.  Thursday, August 7, 9:30-11:30 AM.