Milk Preservation Techniques, with Ethyle Giuseppie and Nathan Vergin

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

Preserving Milk the Old Way – with Ethyle Giuseppie and Nathan Vergin, Greene County and Albemarle County

by Nan Janney

Two interviews. Two generations of milk preservationists, seventy years apart.

Ethyle Cole Giuseppie

During my interview with Ethyle, we spent an hour talking, and at least another one driving round Greene County visiting the places that meant the most to her.  Her birthplace, – a log cabin she still owns and rents out — the church she still goes to, and the new PVCC satellite campus that she had just donated $500,000 to help build.  As she was driving us around, we talked a lot about the foods her family used to grow and subsisted upon.  Her parents had over 100 apple trees; the thin-skinned, green kind and she could still place the site of the orchard, even though the area has transitioned back into forest.

At some time during the 1940’s when Ethyle was in her twenties, she bought her first farm for $8,000. During World War II, the Women’s Land Army (WLA) was formed after many male farm workers joined or were drafted into the military.  As part of the Emergency Farm Program, millions of women were recruited, trained and placed on farms. [1]  It is unclear clear whether Ethyle was a part of this recruitment effort, but it is likely she was influenced by the new opportunities for women farmers.

Ethyle’s stories were full of richly detailed food memories; like when she was 10 and rode on horseback to the mill with sacks of corn to be processed; about her step-brother for whom she cared while her parents worked out in the field.  How he would sit on her lap, and eat right out of the same plate.  The bond was firm, so that he only liked to eat the kinds of food she liked, even as an adult. The food, those two ate together, was a life-long connection.

But, the part I loved the most was the part she seemed to remember with the most endearment, the memory of her mother preserving milk by letting it go sour.  She pined over the memory of the smell of it, the way it made home-baked bread taste, and how her mother used to add fresh milk to the pitcher everyday, on top of the previous day’s milk.  She was convinced that all of the “germs, that bacteria” found in this kind of milk product are what has made her live so long and remain in such good health at 94.

Leaving the interview in the past seemed slightly incomplete, because one of the purposes of discussing heritage, at least in the terms of our class, is to find an applicable use for it now.  I doubt there are many people who would leave milk on the counter to sour anymore.  For one, the old fashioned process of souring milk means the milk has to be raw; and two, politics has gotten in the way of people being able to buy heritage, or raw, milk.   We just do not need to sour milk that way anymore unless we have a particular taste for it. What we need is to understand that there are natural processes within our food system that may work as well or better than chemical or –in the case of sour milk– cultured interventions.  Finding out if someone was still making sour milk – and how and why– seemed like a logical next step.

Nathan Vergin

I walked into the barn as Nathan was finishing one of the daily milkings. The pump was on, which luckily proved to be no competition for Nathan’s booming voice.  His family came in very quietly a short while after the interview began. It was going to be a family interview, as long as I promised not to focus the camera on his wife, Elizabeth.

I could have talked with Nathan all day.  He has a Joel Salatin-esque quality about him. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, given that he is a former intern of Polyface.  He’s smart and engaging, passionate about his farm and the work he does, confident in the quality of his product, and eager to talk about the state of our food system.  He would be a great spokesperson for the raw milk movement and small dairy farmers, in general.

He showed me batches of sour milk that were a couple of days old, letting me taste one of them, which had a wonderful, sour cream-like taste.  He said that most people bought sour milk nowadays to make pancakes, or bake scones and bread. He continued making a heritage food for a few people, because they liked it.  He had a relationship with them, thus made the time – no small investment on a dairy farm – to honor their request.

We discussed the inherent risks involved in our food system. No matter the process, there are always going to be some risks.  He said that large-scale industrial processing techniques are killing the life out of our food.  Through irradiation, ultra-pasteurization and other techniques — processes that extend the shelf life of food to some unnatural science fiction-like point — our food had become sterile.  And at that point, why would we want to eat it?

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

Heritage Mills, Interview with Don T. Payne – Albemarle County

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

The Payne Family: Memories of Winemaking & Moonshining

by Lucas Lyons

Don Payne is a member of the Payne family, whose roots in Central Virginia have been traced back as far as 1845.  The Payne’s were millers, farmers, and even homemade wine makers and Don has documented much of their family history and the rural history of Central Virginia through his two books A Legacy of Rural Virginia, Part I & II.  Through his research, extensive interviews with family members and hours sifting through dusty files at local historical societies, Don has become something of a magnet for stories, anecdotes, and knowledge of Central Virginia folkways in days past.

In my interview with him, some of the most interesting stories revolved around the production and consumption of fine, fermented beverages.  Don’s grandmother, Susie Payne, was a noted winemaker in Fluvanna County and produced a well-known wine called Peach Hen.  To this day, Don has never figured out how she made this wine in the jug itself instead of in a separate crock, transferring it to a jug after filtering out the “musk.”  Her Peach Hen was well known in the area and her living was supplemented by some sells of the product to locals.

As a youngster, Don particularly remembers snowy winter days when his Uncle Tom Payne and Ed Harlow could not perform their usual carpentry work and would come to this grandmother’s house to cut wood for her.  In his young mind, Don figured that these were just some of the best men he’d ever met to come out and cut wood for free all day for his grandmother.  As he got older, he figured out that the two men made such frequent visits to his grandmother’s smokehouse on these particular days that they were “nipping on homemade wine all day.”  Surely, this wondrous homemade beverage was consumed only to keep the cold off of the men on these snowy, frigid days.[1]

Susie Payne certainly did not have a monopoly on alcohol production in the Payne family.  In the 1920s and 1930s, Don’s Great Uncle Jack only dabbled in farming, his main income coming from foraging honey and especially selling homemade liquor.  Don remembers him as a tall, good-looking man who habitually wore a wide-brimmed fedora hat and bibbed overalls.  Supposedly, the chief of police in Charlottesville at that time was one of his biggest customers and even brought his squad car to Fluvanna County to pick up a keg of homemade whisky now and again.  Don recently searched around the branch where his Great Uncle Jack’s still once stood and found a mason jar, a pool of stream water that was still dammed, and even a metal hoop from a whisky keg.  The freezing stream water was used to cool the still after the hot evaporation process, creating the slow drip characteristic of moonshine stills as the liquor cooled and condensated.  The fire keep the moonshine still heated and operated had to be tended at nighttime by Uncle Jack’s helpers—usually a couple of young men who lived close by.  Yet, frequent encounters with ghosts in the area scared off Jack’s help regularly.  Much more detailed stories like these can be found in Don Payne’s book series, A Legacy of Rural Virginia.


[1] All information in this story is based on an interview with Donald Payne at the Jefferson Area Board for the Aging , Charlottesville, VA on 2 March, 2012.  I was assisted in this interview by Hannah Magnum & Sarah Culver, two University of Virginia students.

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

The Payne Family: Memories of Winemaking & Moonshining

by Lucas Lyons

Don Payne is a member of the Payne family, whose roots in Central Virginia have been traced back as far as 1845.  The Payne’s were millers, farmers, and even homemade wine makers and Don has documented much of their family history and the rural history of Central Virginia through his two books A Legacy of Rural Virginia, Part I & II.   Through his research, extensive interviews with family members and hours sifting through dusty files at local historical societies, Don has become something of a magnet for stories, anecdotes, and knowledge of Central Virginia folkways in days past.

In my interview with him, some of the most interesting stories revolved around the production and consumption of fine, fermented beverages.  Don’s grandmother, Susie Payne, was a noted winemaker in Fluvanna County and produced a well-known wine called Peach Hen.  To this day, Don has never figured out how she made this wine in the jug itself instead of in a separate crock, transferring it to a jug after filtering out the “musk.”  Her Peach Hen was well known in the area and her living was supplemented by some sells of the product to locals. 

As a youngster, Don particularly remembers snowy winter days when his Uncle Tom Payne and Ed Harlow could not perform their usual carpentry work and would come to this grandmother’s house to cut wood for her.  In his young mind, Don figured that these were just some of the best men he’d ever met to come out and cut wood for free all day for his grandmother.  As he got older, he figured out that the two men made such frequent visits to his grandmother’s smokehouse on these particular days that they were “nipping on homemade wine all day.”  Surely, this wondrous homemade beverage was consumed only to keep the cold off of the men on these snowy, frigid days.[1]

Susie Payne certainly did not have a monopoly on alcohol production in the Payne family.  In the 1920s and 1930s, Don’s Great Uncle Jack only dabbled in farming, his main income coming from foraging honey and especially selling homemade liquor.  Don remembers him as a tall, good-looking man who habitually wore a wide-brimmed fedora hat and bibbed overalls.  Supposedly, the chief of police in Charlottesville at that time was one of his biggest customers and even brought his squad car to Fluvanna County to pick up a keg of homemade whisky now and again.  Don recently searched around the branch where his Great Uncle Jack’s still once stood and found a mason jar, a pool of stream water that was still dammed, and even a metal hoop from a whisky keg.  The freezing stream water was used to cool the still after the hot evaporation process, creating the slow drip characteristic of moonshine stills as the liquor cooled and condensated.  The fire keep the moonshine still heated and operated had to be tended at nighttime by Uncle Jack’s helpers—usually a couple of young men who lived close by.  Yet, frequent encounters with ghosts in the area scared off Jack’s help regularly.  Much more detailed stories like these can be found in Don Payne’s book series, A Legacy of Rural Virginia.


[1] All information in this story is based on an interview with Donald Payne at the Jefferson Area Board for the Aging , Charlottesville, VA on 2 March, 2012.  I was assisted in this interview by Hannah Magnum & Sarah Culver, two University of Virginia students.

Interview with Ida Knight – Albemarle County – Interview Story

By Sarah Culver

From even the brief time I had the opportunity to talk with Ida Knight, it is apparent that her life growing up on a family farm in Halifax, North Carolina was a rich one. She valued the time she was able to spend outdoors gathering food and other crops with her siblings, which is a surprisingly fond memory of her childhood chore of picking cotton. Her description of the food and livestock her family raised, preserved, and prepared was simple, conveying the impression that this was simply the way it was, with no fuss about it.

One of my favorite moments in the interview was when she was talking about her favorite food as child, shelled butterbeans. I asked if her mother prepared this in any particular way, to which she responded, “Oh no, nothing particular…” and then launched into a detailed description of the process. She would often listen in detail the many crops her family produced, and how little they had to rely on store-bought goods for sustenance.

Her story is definitely one of plenty, which is interesting given the historical context, as the entirety of her childhood took place during the Great Depression. Although she enjoyed her childhood on a farm, life and love took her away to live in Baltimore and Charlottesville for long periods of her life, where she said she felt less of a connection to her food. She continued to cook for her family for most of her life, until their insistence that it was too much work for her standing in front of the stove. She spoke with pride how she was sure her children learned to cook (even the boys!) and how one of her great-granddaughters is learning to cook with her today.

Food Heritage as a Way to Share Passion, with Fred Wiliamson – Albemarle County

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

Food Heritage as a Way to Share Passion, with Fred Williamson – Albemarle County – Interview Story

by Hannah Mangum

My interviewee was Mr. Fred Williamson, who is a homesteader in Crozet, VA. His passion is making Hard Cider using an antique cider press. Through our interview we were introduced to the art of Hard Cider Making and gained an appreciation for his craft through his passion.

Mr. Williamson first showed us how his hard cider press worked, the various parts of it, and how each mechanism worked to mash up local apples into a pulp. The pulp is then strained and the juice collected for making Hard Cider. He also described the types of apples that he uses, and gets his various apple varieties from Henley’s Orchard in Crozet, VA.

Finally, Mr. Williamson described the cider making parties that he hosts throughout the year with friends and family. He started by inviting the other homeschooled families that he knew when homeschooling his own children, and slowly grew a network of families to invite. Now, he ends up inviting sixty to seventy people to his parties.

This piece of local food knowledge matters because of the passion and community it invokes in those who participate in antique hard cider making. Hearing Mr. Williamson’s dedication and interest in his craft made me want to participate, learn, and enjoy his craft. It also ties into the history of Central Virginia, and the importance of hard cider in our local area. Mr. Williamson’s story about Johnny Appleseed and people in colonial times being able to trust hard cider but not water (which could be contaminated) reminded us of its history.

Finally, his craft illustrates how an interest in local food heritage can bring people together. From what he tells us of his parties, they are very beloved get-togethers that create memories and bonds within their community. At the end of our interview he told us that his kids want to continue the tradition of antique hard cider making as a result of their fond memories with the craft.

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

Food Heritage as a Way to Share Passion, with Fred Williamson – Albemarle County – Interview Story

by Hannah Mangum

My interviewee was Mr. Fred Williamson, who is a homesteader in Crozet, VA. His passion is making Hard Cider using an antique cider press. Through our interview we were introduced to the art of Hard Cider Making and gained an appreciation for his craft through his passion.

Mr. Williamson first showed us how his hard cider press worked, the various parts of it, and how each mechanism worked to mash up local apples into a pulp. The pulp is then strained and the juice collected for making Hard Cider. He also described the types of apples that he uses, and gets his various apple varieties from Henley’s Orchard in Crozet, VA.

Finally, Mr. Williamson described the cider making parties that he hosts throughout the year with friends and family. He started by inviting the other homeschooled families that he knew when homeschooling his own children, and slowly grew a network of families to invite. Now, he ends up inviting sixty to seventy people to his parties.

This piece of local food knowledge matters because of the passion and community it invokes in those who participate in antique hard cider making. Hearing Mr. Williamson’s dedication and interest in his craft made me want to participate, learn, and enjoy his craft. It also ties into the history of Central Virginia, and the importance of hard cider in our local area. Mr. Williamson’s story about Johnny Appleseed and people in colonial times being able to trust hard cider but not water (which could be contaminated) reminded us of its history.

Finally, his craft illustrates how an interest in local food heritage can bring people together. From what he tells us of his parties, they are very beloved get-togethers that create memories and bonds within their community. At the end of our interview he told us that his kids want to continue the tradition of antique hard cider making as a result of their fond memories with the craft.