Heritage French Fries?

maryrandolphKnown as Virginia’s best cook, Mary Randolph published a recipe book called The Virginia House-wife in 1824. She was known for combining “knowledge of English cooking with native Indian [and African] food influences”. In this blog post, a Monticello culinary historian recreates one of Randolph’s recipes: fried potatoes. Mary Randolph was the first person buried in Arlington Cemetery. She was a descendant of Pocahontas and relative of Thomas Jefferson. For more information about her, click here.

A Spoken Dish!

aspokendish logoA Spoken Dish is a storytelling project dedicated to celebrating and documenting food memories and rituals from people across the South. “The goal of A Spoken Dish is to document the palate of a changing South; one that demonstrates the diversity of our communities by way of what lands on the supper table,” producer Kate Medley said. Learn more and watch videos here!

Nelson Farm Memories: Then + Now, with Margaret Henderson, Nelson County

This film was directed and produced by Laura Bell as part of the Virginia Food Heritage Planning course at the University of Virginia, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning in Spring 2012.

Farm Memories: Then and Now, with Margaret Henderson – Nelson County

by Laura Bell

When Margret C. Henderson mentioned that her parents were sharecroppers for, “a white man,” there was an obvious distain in her voice. Margret noticed my puzzled expression. I was surprised that sharecropping would be common in Nelson County in her lifetime. She responded, “That’s just the way it was.” After some research, I learned tenant farming in Virginia was common well into the 1930’s. Framed as a means to offer freed slaves a ‘start’, the tenant system was often more domineering and unfair than one might imagine. Virginia farming changed dramatically after the Civil War. Due to post war poverty and social change, thousands of former slaves and white farmers lacked the farmland, seeds, and livestock needed to begin farming. Many land owners divided their plots of land and entered into labor contracts with tenant farmers. Sharecropping remained common in the South until the Great Depression.

The date was Monday March 12, 2012, and Alex Howle, Katelyn Kresse-Smith and I had piled in Katelyn’s car for the drive to the JABA day care center in Nelson County, Virginia. Constance, who works at JABA, was the first to grant us an interview. After displaying some nervousness and curiosity about the project, she began talking about her life in Nelson. She described the life of a child on a sharecroppers farm. Her family raised chickens, beef, and pork with a medley of vegetables.  Because crops are temperamental and money must be paid to the tenant, a large family had great difficulty providing materials beyond what was produced on the farm.  To meet needs, it was necessary for the children to work hard. Margret said she hated farm work as a little child tied to a weeding row, but now she appreciated her food and life heritage. If they didn’t have to learn to preserve foods and prepare for the future, she might not have learned how to can from her mother.  After a grain crop was ready to harvested, the planter or landowner took the crop to market or to a mill. The resulting money, or food product, (after deducting the tenants required amount), was used by the farmer for things like food and clothing . She explained that after grains were ready to be harvested, her father would take them to the local mill where the grains were kept on ‘reserve’ so that they could be retrieved whenever the family needed them.

She seemed surprised that I should care what she ate and why. She admitted her farm fresh healthy eating was superior to much of the processed foods she has today, although when asked why other people do not choose a farming lifestyle, she had no hesitation in saying, “You don’t have to. You don’t have to.” Margret’s conclusion is a bludgeon of reality that threatens to destroy the new idealized interest in farming. Although she acknowledged that living on a farm and growing your own food was healthier and was all in all a good life, it is also hard work with unstable and sometimes few returns. In reality, how many people are willing to work so hard for only the possibility of a return?  Unfortunately, this is the situation in which the U.S. finds itself, and until drastic changes occur, farms similar to the one that Constance grew up on will continue to struggle to persevere.

For more about the Virginia Food Heritage Planning course, visit http://ien.arch.virginia.edu/courses/food-systems-resources.

Farm Memories: Then and Now, with Margaret Henderson – Nelson County

by Laura Bell

When Margret C. Henderson mentioned that her parents were sharecroppers for, “a white man,” there was an obvious distain in her voice. Margret noticed my puzzled expression. I was surprised that sharecropping would be common in Nelson County in her lifetime. She responded, “That’s just the way it was.” After some research, I learned tenant farming in Virginia was common well into the 1930’s. Framed as a means to offer freed slaves a ‘start’, the tenant system was often more domineering and unfair than one might imagine. Virginia farming changed dramatically after the Civil War. Due to post war poverty and social change, thousands of former slaves and white farmers lacked the farmland, seeds, and livestock needed to begin farming. Many land owners divided their plots of land and entered into labor contracts with tenant farmers. Sharecropping remained common in the South until the Great Depression.

The date was Monday March 12, 2012, and Alex Howle, Katelyn Kresse-Smith and I had piled in Katelyn’s car for the drive to the JABA day care center in Nelson County, Virginia. Constance, who works at JABA, was the first to grant us an interview. After displaying some nervousness and curiosity about the project, she began talking about her life in Nelson. She described the life of a child on a sharecroppers farm. Her family raised chickens, beef, and pork with a medley of vegetables.  Because crops are temperamental and money must be paid to the tenant, a large family had great difficulty providing materials beyond what was produced on the farm.  To meet needs, it was necessary for the children to work hard. Margret said she hated farm work as a little child tied to a weeding row, but now she appreciated her food and life heritage. If they didn’t have to learn to preserve foods and prepare for the future, she might not have learned how to can from her mother.  After a grain crop was ready to harvested, the planter or landowner took the crop to market or to a mill. The resulting money, or food product, (after deducting the tenants required amount), was used by the farmer for things like food and clothing . She explained that after grains were ready to be harvested, her father would take them to the local mill where the grains were kept on ‘reserve’ so that they could be retrieved whenever the family needed them.

She seemed surprised that I should care what she ate and why. She admitted her farm fresh healthy eating was superior to much of the processed foods she has today, although when asked why other people do not choose a farming lifestyle, she had no hesitation in saying, “You don’t have to. You don’t have to.” Margret’s conclusion is a bludgeon of reality that threatens to destroy the new idealized interest in farming. Although she acknowledged that living on a farm and growing your own food was healthier and was all in all a good life, it is also hard work with unstable and sometimes few returns. In reality, how many people are willing to work so hard for only the possibility of a return?  Unfortunately, this is the situation in which the U.S. finds itself, and until drastic changes occur, farms similar to the one that Constance grew up on will continue to struggle to persevere.

Gardens, Quinces and Nelson County, with Elizabeth Ferguson

This film was directed and produced by Alex Howle as part of the Virginia Food Heritage Planning course at the University of Virginia, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning in Spring 2012.

Gardens, Quinces and Nelson County, with Elizabeth Ferguson

by Alex Howle

Elizabeth Ferguson is a native and life-long resident of Nelson County Virginia.  Now, as an aging African-American woman, she recalls being raised by her mother and grandparents.  Her earliest food memory involves the raising of gardens and livestock.  She, her mother, and grandparents raised most of their own food from a garden.  They preserved the fruits and vegetables from the garden by canning in the summer for the rest of the year.  They also raised livestock, some of which was used for meat.

Figure 1: Quince, The Simple Green Frugal Co-op http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/2012/01/quince-paste.html

When asked if she knows of any fruit or vegetable that once grew in Nelson County when she was a child but is now either rare or no longer grown, Mrs. Ferguson recalls the quince.  Her grandfather had a quince tree when she was growing up.  She describes the fruit as being like an apple, but the size of an egg.  Her grandmother used to make preserves and jelly with the fruit, but she does not see it much anymore.  In fact, there are many, including this filmmaker, who do not know what it is, and have never even heard of it.

Mrs. Ferguson continues to by saying that the families in Virginia who did have quince trees had quite a few in their yards.  So, the quince was relatively common in Nelson County.  However, it is now longer as prevalent.  What happened?  She recalls a particularly dry year, after which most of the quince trees died out and she has not heard much about them since.Having only ever heard the name, but not knowing anything about the fruit itself, I set out to learn more about the quince and its connection to food heritage in Nelson County.  The quince is a small deciduous tree that originated in Southwest Asia.[i]  It is a relative to the apple and pear, hence its resemblance to both.[ii]  The fruit is bright and golden when ripe, but is rarely eaten raw because it can be hard and sour.[iii]  The fruit is high in pectin, which makes is better for use in preserves.[iv]  Its strong fragrance also ideally suits it for use in jams or jellies.  In fact, the word marmalade derives from the Portuguese word for quince, “marmelo.”[v]  The fruit is also commonly roasted, baked, or stewed.[vi]

Figure 2: Champion Quince http://quincefive.org/index1.html

In North America, the quince is now rare because of its susceptibility to fireblight disease.[vii]  The U.S. now produces only about 200 acres of the fruit commercially.[viii]  The quince is primary used today as a dwarfing rootstock for pears.[ix]  But in Central Virginia, the quince is beginning to back a comeback.  Vintage Virginia Apples has planted more than ten varieties of the quince, including the Champion, which is one of the few varieties that is sweet enough to eat, the Crimea, which has a pineapple and citrus fragrance, and the Havran, which bears a fruit that can reach more than two pounds.[x]  The strong fragrance and delicious jelly of the quince may someday soon be well-known again in Virginia due to the efforts of Vintage Virginia Apples and the people who understand the heritage of the quince.

The quince has a long and illustrious history both in American and abroad.  The acknowledgment of the heritage of the quince helps provide a wider glimpse into the history of Virginia, the United States, and the global environment.  The quince, though rare in Virginia, lives on in the memories of those who know its smell, uses, and taste, and will continue to live in the imagination of those to learn about it and, perhaps, seek it out in the future.  By actively reintroducing the quince into the food culture of Virginia, Elizabeth Ferguson’s food heritage can be preserved.  So, go out and eat a quince!

Links:

Vintage Virginia Apples:  http://www.vintagevirginiaapples.com/quincemenu.htm

Endnotes:


[i] Quince. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quince. Accessed April 9, 2012.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] “Marmalade” in Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper apud Dictionary.com

[vi] Quince. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quince. Accessed April 9, 2012.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Quince Varieties. Vintage Virginia Apples. ©2001 Vintage Virginia Apples. Site updated on: 7/17/2007. http://www.vintagevirginiaapples.com/quincemenu.htm. Accessed March 9, 2012.

For more about the Virginia Food Heritage Planning course, visit http://ien.arch.virginia.edu/courses/food-systems-resources.

Figure 2:  Champion Quince
 http://quincefive.org/index1.html

Gardens, Quinces and Nelson County, with Elizabeth Ferguson

by Alex Howle

Elizabeth Ferguson is a native and life-long resident of Nelson County Virginia.  Now, as an aging African-American woman, she recalls being raised by her mother and grandparents.  Her earliest food memory involves the raising of gardens and livestock.  She, her mother, and grandparents raised most of their own food from a garden.  They preserved the fruits and vegetables from the garden by canning in the summer for the rest of the year.  They also raised livestock, some of which was used for meat.

When asked if she knows of any fruit or vegetable that once grew in Nelson County when she was a child but is now either rare or no longer grown, Mrs. Ferguson recalls the quince.  Her grandfather had a quince tree when she was growing up.  She describes the fruit as being like an apple, but the size of an egg.  Her grandmother used to make preserves and jelly with the fruit, but she does not see it much anymore.  In fact, there are many, including this filmmaker, who do not know what it is, and have never even heard of it.

Mrs. Ferguson continues to by saying that the families in Virginia who did have quince trees had quite a few in their yards.  So, the quince was relatively common in Nelson County.  However, it is now longer as prevalent.  What happened?  She recalls a particularly dry year, after which most of the quince trees died out and she has not heard much about them since.Having only ever heard the name, but not knowing anything about the fruit itself, I set out to learn more about the quince and its connection to food heritage in Nelson County.  The quince is a small deciduous tree that originated in Southwest Asia.[i]  It is a relative to the apple and pear, hence its resemblance to both.[ii]  The fruit is bright and golden when ripe, but is rarely eaten raw because it can be hard and sour.[iii]  The fruit is high in pectin, which makes is better for use in preserves.[iv]  Its strong fragrance also ideally suits it for use in jams or jellies.  In fact, the word marmalade derives from the Portuguese word for quince, “marmelo.”[v]  The fruit is also commonly roasted, baked, or stewed.[vi]

Figure 2: Champion Quince
http://quincefive.org/index1.html

In North America, the quince is now rare because of its susceptibility to fireblight disease.[vii]  The U.S. now produces only about 200 acres of the fruit commercially.[viii]  The quince is primary used today as a dwarfing rootstock for pears.[ix]  But in Central Virginia, the quince is beginning to back a comeback.  Vintage Virginia Apples has planted more than ten varieties of the quince, including the Champion, which is one of the few varieties that is sweet enough to eat, the Crimea, which has a pineapple and citrus fragrance, and the Havran, which bears a fruit that can reach more than two pounds.[x]  The strong fragrance and delicious jelly of the quince may someday soon be well-known again in Virginia due to the efforts of Vintage Virginia Apples and the people who understand the heritage of the quince.

The quince has a long and illustrious history both in American and abroad.  The acknowledgment of the heritage of the quince helps provide a wider glimpse into the history of Virginia, the United States, and the global environment.  The quince, though rare in Virginia, lives on in the memories of those who know its smell, uses, and taste, and will continue to live in the imagination of those to learn about it and, perhaps, seek it out in the future.  By actively reintroducing the quince into the food culture of Virginia, Elizabeth Ferguson’s food heritage can be preserved.  So, go out and eat a quince!

Links:

Vintage Virginia Apples:  http://www.vintagevirginiaapples.com/quincemenu.htm

Endnotes:


[i] Quince. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quince. Accessed April 9, 2012.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] “Marmalade” in Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper apud Dictionary.com

[vi] Quince. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quince. Accessed April 9, 2012.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Quince Varieties. Vintage Virginia Apples. ©2001 Vintage Virginia Apples. Site updated on: 7/17/2007. http://www.vintagevirginiaapples.com/quincemenu.htm. Accessed March 9, 2012.

Connections to the Land, with Doris McCray – Louisa County

This film was directed and produced by Laura McCoy as part of the Virginia Food Heritage Planning course at the University of Virginia, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning in Spring 2012.

Connections to the land and the “stuff that goes way back”: A story of one woman’s food

by Laura McCoy

As I pulled into the drive at her house, I found Doris McCray and her son Glen working in the backyard.  She called me over, and I started to wade through the wet grass.  As it turns out, Doris was watching her son with his newest project—an espalier for the grapevines, which she has been growing there since 1958.  They are “red, white, and blue” grapes, as she likes to call them—Fredonia, Concord, Niagara, and Brighton.   We spent the next quarter of an hour touring her garden, in early bloom on a mid-March morning: the asparagus, apples trees, collards, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, sugar snap peas, cabbage, onions, and strawberries.  Doris’ garden is important to her; she loves being outside, the land, and having “room to roam.”

Growing up on a dairy farm in Louisa County, Virginia, with her grandmother in charge of several farming families, Doris learned a lot about food and farming, and staying connected to the land.  Doris’ family grew most of their own food and even raised a few hogs.  She remembers shelling butterbeans and selling them to women in Gordonsville, Virginia, and the cream her mother made from their own cows’ milk, on top of freshly picked berries and homemade biscuits.

Doris and her son, Glen, in the back yard garden
Espalier for the grapevines, built by Glen McCray, Doris’ son

Her grandmother’s word was always law, but one of the most important lessons she learned is “waste not, want not,” a saying that has resonated with Doris throughout her life.  Throughout her life she has been very involved in educating her grandchildren, as well as school children about where food comes from, and how it is grown.  Through this, and through her lifestyle as an adult she has maintained the linkages to her roots.

Doris defines heritage food as the “stuff that goes way back,” the traditional foods that were used back then, and still today.  Doris has preserved her food heritage by making the lessons she learned as a child common practice in her own home and life.  Doris and her husband Lloyd raised hogs the first few years they were married, along with cows and chickens.  The tradition of hog raising also goes back to Lloyd’s father, from West Virginia.  Even when they were not raising their own meat, Doris and Lloyd bought hog meat from a neighbor, ensuring their food came from a local, natural source.  She is proud of what she grows because she knows what is in the foods she raises, and that is what is important.  Her food tastes better because of it.  Doris believes that it is “important to let people remember that we have been connected to the land forever.”  That connection to the land and to place and to our food is critical, and is what Doris is all about: teaching people to remember our roots.

Doris shows the Brussels sprouts in her garden

Doris shows old tools and knives. She often brings them to school groups and Boy Scout troops to show them how things were made and how these tools were used in the past.

For more about the Virginia Food Heritage Planning course, visit http://ien.arch.virginia.edu/courses/food-systems-resources.

Doris shows the Brussels sprouts in her garden

Connections to the land and the “stuff that goes way back”: A story of one woman’s food heritage in Louisa County, Virginia

Doris McCray in her garden

by Laura McCoy

As I pulled into the drive at her house, I found Doris McCray and her son Glen working in the backyard.  She called me over, and I started to wade through the wet grass.  As it turns out, Doris was watching her son with his newest project—an espalier for the grapevines, which she has been growing there since 1958.  They are “red, white, and blue” grapes, as she likes to call them—Fredonia, Concord, Niagara, and Brighton.   We spent the next quarter of an hour touring her garden, in early bloom on a mid-March morning: the asparagus, apples trees, collards, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, sugar snap peas, cabbage, onions, and strawberries.  Doris’ garden is important to her; she loves being outside, the land, and having “room to roam.”

Growing up on a dairy farm in Louisa County, Virginia, with her grandmother in charge of several farming families, Doris learned a lot about food and farming, and staying connected to the land.  Doris’ family grew most of their own food and even raised a few hogs.  She remembers shelling butterbeans and selling them to women in Gordonsville, Virginia, and the cream her mother made from their own cows’ milk, on top of freshly picked berries and homemade biscuits.

Doris and her son, Glen, in the back yard garden

Espalier for the grapevines, built by Glen McCray, Doris’ son

Her grandmother’s word was always law, but one of the most important lessons she learned is “waste not, want not,” a saying that has resonated with Doris throughout her life.  Throughout her life she has been very involved in educating her grandchildren, as well as school children about where food comes from, and how it is grown.  Through this, and through her lifestyle as an adult she has maintained the linkages to her roots.

Doris defines heritage food as the “stuff that goes way back,” the traditional foods that were used back then, and still today.  Doris has preserved her food heritage by making the lessons she learned as a child common practice in her own home and life.  Doris and her husband Lloyd raised hogs the first few years they were married, along with cows and chickens.  The tradition of hog raising also goes back to Lloyd’s father, from West Virginia.  Even when they were not raising their own meat, Doris and Lloyd bought hog meat from a neighbor, ensuring their food came from a local, natural source.  She is proud of what she grows because she knows what is in the foods she raises, and that is what is important.  Her food tastes better because of it.  Doris believes that it is “important to let people remember that we have been connected to the land forever.”  That connection to the land and to place and to our food is critical, and is what Doris is all about: teaching people to remember our roots.

Doris shows the Brussels sprouts in her garden

Doris shows old tools and knives. She often brings them to school groups and Boy Scout troops to show them how things were made and how these tools were used in the past.

Ice Houses: Remembering a Time Without Refrigerators, with Aretha Marshall – Louisa County

This film was directed and produced by Natalie Roper as part of the Virginia Food Heritage Planning course at the University of Virginia, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning in Spring 2012.

Tricking Nature and Remembering a Time Before Refrigeration: Ice Houses in Louisa County, Virginia

by Natalie Roper

Read this story as a PDF, with images

It’s hard to imagine life without refrigerators or freezers. Today I went to the refrigerator for eggs, butter, milk, turkey, lettuce, water in a Brita (filtered water is a whole other story), salad dressing and yogurt. Come to think of it, the only things I ate that were not from the refrigerator were pita chips.

For 92 year old Aretha Marshall, however, a time without refrigerators is an easily accessible memory that she holds dear. On Saturday March 17th at 11am I drove around Bumpass, VA trying to follow a GPS, which had no jurisdiction over the area. I had been warned of this but I mistakenly depended on it anyways. A little late and a little flustered, I pulled onto a dirt road, knocked on the wrong house, and then finally the right one, and met Aretha and her daughter Patricia. We sat outside on the beautiful, windy day and I just listened. Aretha recounted in vivid detail how it was growing up on her family’s farm. She described what sounded like paradise, “wild berries would come up out of the clear blue and we would bring them home in buckets and make pie”[1]. And then Aretha, excited and proud at the same time, sort of yelling despite her hearing aid, exclaimed, “And we had an ice house!” I had never heard of an ice house, only an ice box, which I’ve since found out came much later. Aretha’s excitement was contagious and I listened eagerly as she recounted this icehouse. They had a pond and when it froze over with ice several inches think they would break the ice and harvest it for the winter. But harvesting ice did no good if there was no way of preserving it and protecting it from the summer heat. She described a large hole in the ground that had a top on it. Ice houses take advantage of the constant ground temperature of about 55 degrees if the hole is dug deep enough and insulating the ice using straw or sawdust helps keep the cold consolidated[2].  As Marshall recalls, “we would break that ice and put a layer of straw and a layer of ice, a layer of straw and a layer of ice, until it got up to the top”[3]. To Marshall’s pride and my surprise, “Right there under that ground, ice was there from the winter and all summer”[4].

As George Washington’s journal shows, he was very involved in the design and best practices of his icehouse at Mount Vernon. In writing to his friend Robert Morris in frustration that his ice was already gone, he learned the importance of straw as insulation that Marshall explained. Morris had learned that “the closer it is packed the better it keeps and I believe that if the walls were lined with straw between the ice and stone it would preserve it much”[5].  Icehouses date all the way back to the 17th century but it wasn’t until the 1830s that people other than the most wealthy began harvesting and saving ice for food preservation[6].

According to Howell Living History Farm, as ice harvesting and preservation became more accessible, structures and advice began to be published in farm journals. The structures were varying in size, materials, and grandeur. However, they all seemed to remain constant on three key features: a deep hole in the ground, insulation of some kind, and a top to keep out heat. Architects like our own Thomas Jefferson became infatuated with the design and look of his icehouse at Monticello but simpler versions like that which Marshall described in Bumpass, VA still do the same trick. A trick that we take for granted to today. A trick that Olmert in Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies calls “faintly devious because we can cheat Nature, providing ice in seasons when non should exist at all”[7]. A trick that we might [8] all but forget if it weren’t for the important stories of people like Aretha Marshall. In reflecting on hearing her mother’s story, Patricia Marshall exclaimed that “when things are handed to you, you lose ability to think, think, think, how, how, how”[9]. But in this time where people had to be resourceful and creative to trick nature, “it was a time was a time, I believe, when God taught us to use this brain”[10]


[1] Marshall, Aretha. Personal Interview. 17 March. 2012.

[2] Michael Olmert, Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies (New York: Cornell University Press, 2009), 209.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Michael Olmert, Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies (New York: Cornell University Press, 2009), 207-208.

[6] Larry Kidder, Ice: The Winter Harvest that Lasts All Year, http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/footnote.html (Spring 2003:Date Accessed April 2012)

[7] Michael Olmert, Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies (New York: Cornell University Press, 2009), 206.

[8] Journal page on the construction of ice houses. Digital image. Hathi Trust. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t1sf3km1d&gt;.

[9] Patricia Marshall. Personal Interview. 17 March. 2012.

[10] Ibid.

For more about the Virginia Food Heritage Planning course, visit http://ien.arch.virginia.edu/courses/food-systems-resources.