Thomas Jeffeson's Marinated Asparagus

April Harvest of the Month: Asparagus

Asparagus greets us every spring but requires a bit of patience if you wish to receive the benefits of its harvest. In fact, it takes two to three years for this bulb and stem species to produce the delicately flavored stalks we enjoy so much.  BUT, If you are patient, this plant can be productive for up to 20 years (Old Farmers Almanac).

Copyright ©2013 MDidea.com

Copyright ©2013 MDidea.com

History

Asparagus has been a delicacy since ancient times and has a long history of use in India and Asia as a botanical medicine.  The vegetable has been largely exalted for the saponins in its root system. Studies have shown that saponins have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Intake of saponins is also related to improved blood pressure, improved blood sugar regulation and better control of fat levels.

Did you know? Asparagus has a much faster respiration rate than many other vegetables, which means that is will lose water, wrinkle and harden faster than most vegetables.  In fact, like all vegetables, asparagus doesn’t instantly “die” when it is picked. Instead, it continues to perform metabolic activities [termed the respiration rate] such as taking in oxygen, breaking down starches and sugars and releasing carbon dioxide (Old Farmers Almanac). For a frame of reference, the respiration rate of asparagus is 5x greater than the rate for onions and potatoes; 3x greater than the rate for lettuce and tomato; and twice as fast as the rate for cauliflower and avocado [1]. Due to this fast respiration rate, it is important to wrap the ends of the stalks with a damp towel and refrigerate or freeze the asparagus.

Fun fact: the Romans used to store their asparagus in the Alps during the winter.

Asparagus reached America in the Colonial times and was a particular favorite of Thomas Jefferson.  He grew asparagus in his garden at Monticello and preferred a common centuries-old french preparation of the vegetable.  Jefferson first enjoyed this dish while he was Minister to France and even had an enslaved french-trained chef at his home in Monticello, who [most likely] prepared this dish for him and his American guests.

Thomas Jeffeson's Marinated Asparagus

Click here for Thomas Jefferson’s Marinated Asparagus recipe. photo credit: The City Tavern Cookbook

This recipe originates from The City Tavern Cookbook, a compilation of historical recipes collected by Walter Staib, the executive chef at The City Tavern Restaurant in Philadelphia.

How to Grow Asparagus

Asparagus should be planted in the early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. The crowns [which is the root system of a one year-old plant] should be planted in a place with good drainage in full sun.

Diagram of asparagus

Diagram of asparagus, photo credit: cottageatthecrossroads.com

Click here to get a more in-depth description of how to plant your asparagus!

Asparagus is a useful companion plant for tomatoes and parsley. The tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle while the asparagus repels harmful root nematodes.

Asparagus also tends to thrive when planted with dill, coriander, basil, comfrey and marigolds.

Fun Fact: when coupled with basil, asparagus encourages frequent visits from ladybugs.

Also – did you know that white asparagus is not a different species of asparagus but is the result of a growing technique? This type of asparagus is very popular in the Netherlands, Spain, France, Poland, Belgium, Germany Austria, Italy and Switzerland. Compared to green asparagus, white asparagus is less bitter and much more tender [however it does have less fiber], and is often called “white gold”, “edible ivory” and “the royal vegetable”. To grow white asparagus, you simply cover the shoots with soil as they grow. This technique is called “earthed up”. Without exposure to sunlight, the plant produces no chlorophyll, stunting the production of green pigment.

Purple asparagus – this kind of asparagus is bred to be purple, but it turns green when it is cooked. Purple varieties tend to have thicker but fewer spears and are sweeter and tenderer.

Fun Fact: A pinch of baking soda in the cooking water keeps beans, spinach and asparagus greener.

Nutrition Facts

Asparagus is low in calories and very low in sodium. This hearty spring vegetable also has trace amounts of the mineral chromium, which enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells . Asparagus is also rich with amino acids.

.Asparagus_Traceelements

How to prepare

Only young asparagus shoots are commonly eaten.  Once the buds start to open, which is also called “ferning out,” the shoots quickly turn woody.

There are a number of ways to prepare asparagus. It can be stir-fried, quickly grilled over charcoal or hardwood embers, used in stews and soups or even eaten raw, as a component of a salad. Asparagus can also be pickled and stored for several years.  In Colonial times, asparagus was typically boiled or marinated till tender, much like Jefferson’s dish mentioned above.  George Washington also favored asparagus, particularly served as a ragoût.  He not only grew asparagus at Mount Vernon, much like Jefferson, but was also known to serve his favorite dishes to his guests.

Mount Vernon gardens

Mount Vernon gardens

For another common asparagus recipe, see the excerpt below from the 1842 Virginia Housewife cookbook, by Mary Randolph,

“Set a stew-pan with plenty of water on the fire, sprinkle a handful of salt in it, let it boil, and skim it; then put in the asparagus prepared thus: scrape all the stalks till they are perfectly clean; throw them into a pan of cold water and you scrape them; when they are all done, tie them in little bundles, of a quarter of a hundred each, with bass, if you can get it, or tape; cut off the stalks at the bottom, that they may be all of a length; when they are tender at the stalk, which will be in from twenty to thirty minutes, they are done enough…While the asparagus is boiling toast a slice of a loaf of bread, about a half an inch thick; brown it delicately on both sides; dip it lightly in the liquor the asparagus was boiled in, and lay it in the middle of a dish; pour some melted butter on the toast, and lay the asparagus upon it; let it project beyond the asparagus, that the company may see there is a toast. Do not pour butter over them, but send some in a boat.” [2]

The Food Heritage Project thanks you for taking the time to read about the history and heritage of asparagus and asks you to consider eating fresh asparagus this spring!

   This blog was posted as part of City Schoolyard Garden‘s Harvest of the Month program.

This post was written by Abigail Sandberg

References:

1. Nassef, Dalia; El-Gaid, M.A. Abd (2012). “Evaluation of yield and its components of intercropped tomato – garlic in New Valley Governorate”Research Journal of Agriculture and Biological Sciences 8 (2): 256–260

2. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, Published by E.H. Butler & Co., 1860, Philadelphia. page 100.

3. Jefferson, Thomas. Garden Book, 1766-1824 [electronic edition]. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston, Mass.: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.http://www.masshist.org/thomasjeffersonpapers/garden/.

4. Hatch, Peter. “Thomas Jefferson’s Favorite Vegetables.” Twinleaf Journal Online, 2000. Available on Monticello’s website: http://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/thomas-jeffersons-favorite-vegetables.

March Harvest of the Month: Fresh Radish

It’s March! spring time finally…which means one thing to a lot of people: allergy season.

radishes_Image_2

Eating local honey is often touted as one way to build immunity to local allergens [1], but another way to soothe your sore throat is to eat some fresh radishes.

Fun fact #1: the natural spice found in radishes (especially Black Spanish radishes) helps eliminate excess mucus, making it a very handy vegetable in this spring season.

“He would govern his life by the transit of radishes.”

– Gary Wills comments on Jefferson’s appreciation for radishes in

Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson's gardens at Monticello

Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello

I haven’t lived in Virginia long, but it has become clear to me that almost everything, especially in Charlottesville, can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson. And believe me, radishes are no exception. As we all know, Jefferson had numerous political accomplishments. What you might not have known was that Jefferson was an avid and devoted farmer, holding over 10,000 acres of which he grew a variety of crops, including radishes. Between 1766 and 1824 Jefferson kept a Garden Book to record his observations of rainfall, temperature, soil conditions, plant life cycles, and season patterns. Peter Hatch, the director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello explains that Jefferson recorded the world around him in order to uncover the truth.

The “truth” is not only the truth of the “equal station of all peoples, but also the truth of our inalienable dependence on soil, rainfall, radishes, hemlock trees, and temperate climate.”

Fun Fact #2: Radishes are part of the mustard or cabbage family

(the same family as kale, February’s Harvest of the Month)

Baby Kale, Avocado and Radish salad, see the recipe

Baby Kale, Avocado and Radish salad, see the recipe here 

Nutritional Profile

Radishes keep you hydrated and cool. Did you know, radishes’ pungent flavor and high water content is regarded for its ability to decrease excess heat in the body that can build up during the warmer months. 1 cup of sliced radishes = 20 calories.   The radish also contains high percentages of vitamin C, phosphorous, and zinc along with natural cleaning effects (helps prevent viral infections) and eliminates cancer-causing free radicals in the body.

Ancient History

Radish_Image_1The wild form of the modern radish comes from Southeast Asia, while other forms were developed in India, central China and central Asia. The radish was also one of the first European crops to be introduced to the Americas, reaching Massachusetts by 1629.

Fun Fact #3:  Radishes are related to wasabi, a type of horseradish, which is a staple condiment of Japanese cuisine.

Perfect for children gardens!

Fun Fact #4 The scientific name for the genus of radish is Raphanus, greek for “quickly appearing”.

Radishes are fast growing, annual, cool-season crops, which has made it a popular choice for children’s gardens. Radishes are also useful companion plants as well as a trap crop for their pungent odor can lure pests away from the main crop [2].

Virginia heritage connection:

Radishes were cooked in Jefferson’s days in a similar fashion to parsnips, beets and turnips.  see the excerpt below from the 1842 Virginia Housewife cookbook, by Mary Randolph,

“Radishes, are not so much used as they deserve to be; they are dressed in the same way as parsnips, only neither scraped nor cut till after they are boiled; they will take from an hour and a half to three hours in boiling, according to their size; to be sent to the table with salt, fish, boiled beef, &c. When young, small and juicy, it is a very good variety, an excellent garnish, and easily converted into a very cheap and pleasant pickle.” [3]

Sold on radishes? Great!

Now here’s how to be a smart shopper of these tasty treats:

Pesto, Radish and Sea Salt crostini

Pesto, Radish and Sea Salt crostini recipe found here 

What to look for: choose those that are plump, firm, smooth, and free of cracks and blemishes. If you are planning on serving them as raw, buy them with the leaves still attached, they should be bright green and fresh.

How to store: perforated plastic bag in the crisper. Radishes purchased with tops removed can be kept up to a week, radishes with leaves on should be used within a day or so because the greens don’t stay fresh very long.

The Food Heritage Project thanks you for taking the time to read about the history and heritage of radishes and asks you to consider eating fresh radishes this month!

   This blog was posted as part of City Schoolyard Garden‘s Harvest of the Month program.

This post was written by Abigail Sandberg

References:

1. L. K. James and S. R. Durham, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, volume 38, Issue 7, pages 1074–1088, Published 8 July 2008

2. Larry J. Held, James W. Jennings, David W. Koch and Fred A. Gray, Trap Crop Radish: A Sustainable Alternative for Nematicide in Sugar Beets, Presented at Western Agriculture Economics Association Annual Meeting, July 11-14, 1999, Fargo ND

3. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, Published by E.H. Butler & Co., 1860, Philadelphia. page 102.

Poster from the Dig for Victory campaign launched in the U.K during World War II

February Food Feature: Kale

“The finest winter vegetable we have”Thomas Jefferson
Russian Hunger Gap (left) True Siberian (right)

Russian Hunger Gap (left) True Siberian (right)

During these bitter cold days of winter, it is hard to believe anything of nutritional value might be growing outside.  Think again! Kale, in fact, has a history of nourishing people throughout the cold dark months of the year and is considered one of the

true treasures of the fall garden.

– Thomas Jefferson

 Nutritional Profile

“Kale Tops the Nutrient Density Scale” 

Kale is rich in vitamin A, C, K, fiber, omega -3s, calcium, and potassium.  Kale contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive nutrients called glucosinolates.

Ancient History
Kale’s origins go back to the Middle Ages.  Like broccoli, cauliflower and collards, kale is a descendent of the wild cabbage.  At that time, Kale was the most common green vegetable in all of Europe.  The Romans, for example, ate Siberian kale.  Siberian kale is considered to be the ancestor of modern kales but is more closely tied to rutabagas.
Poster from the Dig for Victory campaign launched in the U.K during World War II

Poster from the Dig for Victory campaign launched in the U.K during World War II

During World War II, cultivation of kale made a comeback in the U.K. when it was featured in the Dig for Victory campaign. Kale was praised because it was easy to grow (being both frost tolerant and a perennial) and it provided nutrients to supplement the rationed diet.  

America’s introduction to kale was in the 17th century, but it wasn’t what the Romans ate.  Our kale came from England and was called sea kale.  Ever since then, kale in Virginia has been most commonly braised, either alone or mixed with other greens, such as collards. Thomas Jefferson grew kale in his own garden at Monticello, and experimented with several varieties such as sprout kale.  He once wrote that kale was one of  “the finest winter vegetables we have”.

Some of the most common kale recipes used in Jefferson’s day are very similar to the way they prepared cabbage and asparagus.  The common practice was to boil the kale until tender. See the excerpt below from the historic 1842 Virginia Housewife cookbook, by Mary Randolph.

Braised Kale with Sausage

Braised Kale with Sausage, see recipe here at Edible blue Ridge blog

Set a stew-pan with plenty of water on the fire, sprinkle a handful of salt in it, let it boil, and skim it; then put in the kale prepared thus: once perfectly cleaned; throw them into a pan of cold water, then tie them into bundles.  When they are tender at the stalk they are done enough.  Great care must be taken to watch the exact time of their becoming tender; take them just at that instant, and they will have their true flavor and colour.

Baked Kale Chips with Parmesan

Baked Kale Chips with Parmesan, see the recipe here!

Kale’s meteoric rise in popularity over the last several years may seem like a fad to the critics of local and raw food movements. Kale is not only NOT a fad, it is fact an Old World food and is a staple in many countries around the world.  Today, you can find kale in sandwiches, salads, soups, juices, desserts (what!) and most commonly used as a healthy substitute for potato chips (see recipe to the left).

Thanks for taking the time to read about the history and heritage of kale.    This blog was posted as part of City Schoolyard Garden‘s Harvest of the Month program.

The Food Heritage Project thanks you and asks you to consider eating some locally grown (preferably organic) kale.

If you forgot some of the reasons why, I will refresh your memory:

you should be eating (and growing) kale because:

1. Thomas Jefferson ate and grew kale.

2.  Kale is highly nutritious

3.  The Romans ate kale, (and today it’s a staple in Scotland, Kenya, Denmark, Portugal, and Italy..need I say more?)

4. It’s inexpensive and easy to grow

5. It is highly versatile, you can practically cook it into anything, even chocolate cakes! (Click here to see the recipe for a chocolate kale cake with sea salt.)

This post was written by Abigail Sandberg

Food: A Life’s Work, with Dorothy Burton – Charlottesville

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

Food: A Life’s Work, with Dorothy Burton – Charlottesville

by Shayna Stern

We all know the story of the founding of the United States. Passionate American patriots fought off the tyrannical British monarchy and created a new republic founded on liberty and democracy. This story is part of national heritage, and we will never forget it or doubt its importance.

In school, we learn about the Civil War battles that took place in Virginia. We tour the battlefields during field trips and read excerpts from soldiers’ diaries. The Civil War is part of our state heritage.

Throughout the Central Virginia region, we see Thomas Jefferson’s influence. The University of Virginia is a living memorial of the founding father and Monticello is a popular tourist destination. Thomas Jefferson is part of our regional heritage.

Dorothy Burton has a story, too. Her grandmother raised her and never let Dorothy help with the cooking. So Dorothy learned by watching. By the time she was eleven, she could cook on her own, and by the time she was twenty, Dorothy was working as a cook. Food was Dorothy’s life work. She cooked for City of Charlottesville Schools. She cooked for private families. She cooked for students at the University of Virginia. She cooked for her family. She cooked for herself. Dorothy cooked her special Lemon Jello Cake, and when you asked her for the recipe she would smile shyly and tell you no one could see that recipe. She made piecrusts from scratch, and filled them with sweet potatoes, cream, and lots and lots of sugar. She cooked meats, and vegetables, and bread.

And Dorothy worked hard. She worked so hard. She worked hard so that she could take care of her sons. She worked hard so that her family could have a place to live. She worked hard so that she could teach her sons to cook and clean and take care of themselves. Dorothy worked hard in her life and now it is time for her to go home and sit down and rest.

This story is part of Dorothy’s individual heritage. This is her food heritage. We might not learn this story in school or see it around us every day. But this story is important. This story is important because it is Dorothy’s story, and it is important because it is a part of her own heritage.

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

Food: A Life’s Work, with Dorothy Burton – Charlottesville

by Shayna Stern

We all know the story of the founding of the United States. Passionate American patriots fought off the tyrannical British monarchy and created a new republic founded on liberty and democracy. This story is part of national heritage, and we will never forget it or doubt its importance.

In school, we learn about the Civil War battles that took place in Virginia. We tour the battlefields during field trips and read excerpts from soldiers’ diaries. The Civil War is part of our state heritage.

Throughout the Central Virginia region, we see Thomas Jefferson’s influence. The University of Virginia is a living memorial of the founding father and Monticello is a popular tourist destination. Thomas Jefferson is part of our regional heritage.

Dorothy Burton has a story, too. Her grandmother raised her and never let Dorothy help with the cooking. So Dorothy learned by watching. By the time she was eleven, she could cook on her own, and by the time she was twenty, Dorothy was working as a cook. Food was Dorothy’s life work. She cooked for City of Charlottesville Schools. She cooked for private families. She cooked for students at the University of Virginia. She cooked for her family. She cooked for herself. Dorothy cooked her special Lemon Jello Cake, and when you asked her for the recipe she would smile shyly and tell you no one could see that recipe. She made piecrusts from scratch, and filled them with sweet potatoes, cream, and lots and lots of sugar. She cooked meats, and vegetables, and bread.

And Dorothy worked hard. She worked so hard. She worked hard so that she could take care of her sons. She worked hard so that her family could have a place to live. She worked hard so that she could teach her sons to cook and clean and take care of themselves. Dorothy worked hard in her life and now it is time for her to go home and sit down and rest.

This story is part of Dorothy’s individual heritage. This is her food heritage. We might not learn this story in school or see it around us every day. But this story is important. This story is important because it is Dorothy’s story, and it is important because it is a part of her own heritage.

 

 

Childhood Memory of the Great Depression, with Maggie S. Smith – Charlottesville

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

Childhood Memory of the Great Depression, with Maggie S. Smith – Charlottesville – Interview Story

by Ran Zheng

On March 15, 2012, I interviewed Mrs. Maggie S. Smith at JABA Mary Williams Community Center. Mrs. Smith was a good talker and told me quite a lot about her early childhood memory of food.

Mrs. Smith was born and grew up in Charlottesville, and she has lived here her whole life. She experienced the great depression in late 1920s and early 1930s when she was a child. And for this reason, there were not many options for food she could eat during that time. She did not even recall any favorite food, since she could only eat what was available at home and what was affordable by the family. Most of the time they had potatoes, such as potato soup, fried potato, mashed potatoes, etc.; beans, e.g., pinto beans, black eyes beans, red beans; and also greens. Only occasionally did the family have meat and eggs, because those were very expensive and they could not afford them. I think she must have experienced a very hard time. However, when we were talking about it, I could feel that she had a very peaceful mind.

The most memorable childhood food for Mrs. Smith was homemade biscuit her mother cooked for her. She sometimes helped with the preparation, and could still remember how to make it even after so many years. Her mother used flours, baking powder, soda, and salt to make the dough. No cut-out were used for cutting the biscuits, and her mother used hands to press each dough into a round shape, which brought Mrs. Smith a lot of fun. After the biscuits were baked and ready for eat, they would put some old fashioned butter on them. She said it tastes really good, and she was still missing the taste.

If she were to cook something by herself (her daughter is cooking for her now), it would be mostly like a long time ago. A lot of seasonings are added to most of products sold in supermarkets today, which cover most of the food’s original flavors. And she did not like this way.

She likes planting tree tomatoes by herself, and she said she could tell “good” tomatoes from bad ones by just smelling. The smell of the tree tomatoes she planted is good and is very different from tomatoes sold in retail stores. I really appreciate Mrs. Smith who has shared with me such a beautiful story. I have learned a lot about local food culture in America and began to understand the meaning and importance of protecting local heritage food.

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

Childhood Memory of the Great Depression, with Maggie S. Smith – Charlottesville – Interview Story

by Ran Zheng

On March 15, 2012, I interviewed Mrs. Maggie S. Smith at JABA Mary Williams Community Center. Mrs. Smith was a good talker and told me quite a lot about her early childhood memory of food.

Mrs. Smith was born and grew up in Charlottesville, and she has lived here her whole life. She experienced the great depression in late 1920s and early 1930s when she was a child. And for this reason, there were not many options for food she could eat during that time. She did not even recall any favorite food, since she could only eat what was available at home and what was affordable by the family. Most of the time they had potatoes, such as potato soup, fried potato, mashed potatoes, etc.; beans, e.g., pinto beans, black eyes beans, red beans; and also greens. Only occasionally did the family have meat and eggs, because those were very expensive and they could not afford them. I think she must have experienced a very hard time. However, when we were talking about it, I could feel that she had a very peaceful mind.

The most memorable childhood food for Mrs. Smith was homemade biscuit her mother cooked for her. She sometimes helped with the preparation, and could still remember how to make it even after so many years. Her mother used flours, baking powder, soda, and salt to make the dough. No cut-out were used for cutting the biscuits, and her mother used hands to press each dough into a round shape, which brought Mrs. Smith a lot of fun. After the biscuits were baked and ready for eat, they would put some old fashioned butter on them. She said it tastes really good, and she was still missing the taste.

If she were to cook something by herself (her daughter is cooking for her now), it would be mostly like a long time ago. A lot of seasonings are added to most of products sold in supermarkets today, which cover most of the food’s original flavors. And she did not like this way.

She likes planting tree tomatoes by herself, and she said she could tell “good” tomatoes from bad ones by just smelling. The smell of the tree tomatoes she planted is good and is very different from tomatoes sold in retail stores.
I really appreciate Mrs. Smith who has shared with me such a beautiful story. I have learned a lot about local food culture in America and began to understand the meaning and importance of protecting local heritage food.

Fish Roe: Finding a Way Back to Our Plates, with Alexander Gilliam – Charlottesville

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

Fish Roe: Finding a Way Back to Our Plates, with Alexander Gilliam – Charlottesville Virginia – Interview Story

By Liz Russell

Read this story as a PDF, with images

From top to bottom: Alewife, Blueback, Herring, Hickory Shad, American Shad

Some say that this country was founded on shad. Legend has it that spawning shad saved Washington’s starving troops at Valley Forge. One of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite dishes was a roe soufflé, made with fresh shad or river herring. And in fact, for thousands of years before white man stepped foot on this land, Native American tribes up and down the Mid-Atlantic harvested these fish as food and as fertilizer for their crops. However, a combination of factors, mostly man-made, resulted in shad and river herring populations dropping drastically through the 19th century. Conservation and management efforts as dramatic as fishing moratoriums and sustainable hatcheries show positive signs for the future of the species; however, as an item on our dinner plates, shad and herring seem to be fading out of memory and tradition.

Planners and historians frequently talk of the importance of “sense of place”, in regards to buildings and structures. I argue that “sense of identity” may be just as important to a community. Honoring history and tradition serves to strengthen ties to the land and to each other. The legacy of shad and herring is of particular importance, not only in reasons of economics and livelihood, but also in honoring the seasons of nature, something from which we have become removed. What would it be like, after long winter months of salted and preserved foods, to celebrate the arrival of spring with the return of these fish and their delicious roe? How much enjoyable would these foods be if we tasted them at their best, not by picking them out of the frozen foods section of the grocery store This food heritage story is one that sheds light on a fish, on a place, and on a memory.

American, or white shad (Alosa sapidissima), the smaller hickory shad (Alosa mediocris) and two species of closely-related river herring – alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) and blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) are anadromous fish, meaning that most of their life is spent at sea, migrating up rivers in the springtime to spawn. Virginia was once famous for its “spring runs” of anadromous fish like shad and river herring. They also supported Virginia’s large commercial fishing industry. However, by building dams that block their route upstream, overfishing, and pollution of water, shad and river herring populations were so depleted by the 21st century, that Virginia passed a moratorium on river herring and shad. *

Due to the dwindling population and subsequent fishing moratorium, as well as changes in culinary trends and tastes, shad and river herring have become a forgotten food of American culture. In earlier times, entire shad and herring were consumed whole, both fresh or preserved in salt. Now they are generally considered too bony for modern tastes., The roe, however, is still considered a great delicacy, even if people today are less familiar with this traditional food.

Shad roe sauteed in butter

Shad and herring roe, unlike preserved caviar (the roe from a sturgeon) is best when served fresh. The female fish is harvested for her roe, found in egg sacs, or lobes, which can be prepared in a variety of ways. One popular way of eating roe is sautéed alongside scrambled eggs. In a 2012 interview, Alexander Gilliam, University of Virginia class of ’55, long-time Charlottesville resident, and current Protocol and History Officer at UVA recalled one particular 24/7 establishment located under the old Belmont Bridge, at the western end of downtown Charlottesville. Mr. Gilliam and his UVA classmates would frequent the C&O Diner after parties and on Sunday mornings, but “it was a place that catered to the people that worked in the railroad yard.”

Location of the C&O Diner, circa 1950

The fate of the diner was sealed with the construction of the “new” Belmont Bridge in 1963; it is likely that the building was demolished to make way for the wider bridge. To read more about the C&O diner, please refer to the Appendix.

“The other way to eat [fish roe] was to make cakes,” explains Gilliam. “Considered good, cheap food,” canned herring roe was mixed with filler such as eggs, onions and breadcrumbs, and fried in bacon drippings. “Those two things were dishes that were universal in Virginia. They just disappeared.”

1940s “Pride of Virginia” canned herring roe, with a recipe for roe cakes

However, for a very short period of time every spring, Virginians can still find fresh shad roe, provided they know where to look and are willing to pay a premium for it. “It has begun to come back,” says Mr. Gilliam. “The first serious sign of spring is on the chalkboard at Andersons Seafood place on Barracks Road, when they announce that ‘Shad Roe’s in.”

Although today there are challenges that keep shad and herring roe from regaining their prominent place in our economy and our diets, I have two hopes for the future: (1) that through conservation and sustainable fishery efforts, we can begin to see these fish returning to our rivers; and (2) through keeping memories, recipes, and traditions alive, we can begin to see them coming back to our plates as well. This is the true meaning of food heritage.

Sign at Anderson’s Carriage Food House. Anderson’s has been serving Charlottesville since 1929.

Works Cited:

Springston, Rex. American shad aren’t coming back in Va. Richmond Times Dispatch. http://www2.times dispatch.com/news/2009/may/25/jame25_20090524-220625-ar-42428/ 25 May 2009 (Accessed May 2012). Ibid. Asman, Judy. Foods of Thomas Jefferson http://www.astuterecorder.com/presidents_foods/2009/february/ favorite-foods-of-thomas-jefferson-with-judys-deviled-eggs-with-anchovies-recipe.html (Accessed May 2012) Read All About It: American Shad. http://www.festival.si.edu/past_festivals/water_ways/kids_coast/pdf/ shadReadAboutIt.pdf (Accessed April, 2012) Ibid. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission http://www.asmfc.org/shadRiverHerring.htm (Accessed April 2012). Read All About It: American Shad. http://www.festival.si.edu/past_festivals/water_ways/kids_coast/pdf/ shadReadAboutIt.pdf (Accessed April, 2012) Virginia Saltwater Fishing. 6 February 2011. http://www.virginia-saltwater-fishing.com/2011/02/06/virginia-shad-and-herring/ (Accessed May, 2012) Ibid. Fish Passage Program. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/ fishing/fish-passage/ (Accessed April 2012). Springston, Rex. American shad aren’t coming back in Va. Richmond Times Dispatch. http://www2.times dispatch.com/news/2009/may/25/jame25_20090524-220625-ar-42428/ 25 May 2009 (Accessed May 2012). Chapter: Pertaining to River Herring. Virginia Marine Resources Commission. March, 2012. http://www.mrc. state.va.us/regulations/fr1260.shtm (Accessed April 2012). Regulation: Pertaining To American Shad. Virginia Marine Resources Commission. February 2012. http://www.mrc.state.va.us/regulations/fr530.shtm (Accessed April 2012). Fish. The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/fish http://thegarumfactory.net/2012/03/30/george-washington-ate-here-shad-roe-with-brown-butter-capers-and-ginger/ Alden, Lori. Caviar and Roe. The Food Thesaurus. http://www.foodsubs.com/Caviar.html (Accessed April 2012) Hastings, Michael. Roe will float your boat if you like it ‘fishy.’ Windston Salem Journal. 1 April 2009 http://www2.journalnow.com/news/2009/apr/01/roe-will-float-your-boat-if-you-like-it-fishy-ar-146735/ (Accessed April 2012) Gilliam, Alexander (16 March 2012). Personal interview. Ibid.

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

Fish Roe: Finding a Way Back to Our Plates, with Alexander Gilliam – Charlottesville Virginia – Interview Story

By Liz Russell

Read this story as a PDF, with images

From top to bottom: Alewife, Blueback, Herring, Hickory Shad, American Shad

Some say that this country was founded on shad. Legend has it that spawning shad saved Washington’s starving troops at Valley Forge. One of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite dishes was a roe soufflé, made with fresh shad or river herring. And in fact, for thousands of years before white man stepped foot on this land, Native American tribes up and down the Mid-Atlantic harvested these fish as food and as fertilizer for their crops. However, a combination of factors, mostly man-made, resulted in shad and river herring populations dropping drastically through the 19th century. Conservation and management efforts as dramatic as fishing moratoriums and sustainable hatcheries show positive signs for the future of the species; however, as an item on our dinner plates, shad and herring seem to be fading out of memory and tradition.

Planners and historians frequently talk of the importance of “sense of place”, in regards to buildings and structures. I argue that “sense of identity” may be just as important to a community. Honoring history and tradition serves to strengthen ties to the land and to each other. The legacy of shad and herring is of particular importance, not only in reasons of economics and livelihood, but also in honoring the seasons of nature, something from which we have become removed. What would it be like, after long winter months of salted and preserved foods, to celebrate the arrival of spring with the return of these fish and their delicious roe? How much enjoyable would these foods be if we tasted them at their best, not by picking them out of the frozen foods section of the grocery store This food heritage story is one that sheds light on a fish, on a place, and on a memory.

American, or white shad (Alosa sapidissima), the smaller hickory shad (Alosa mediocris) and two species of closely-related river herring – alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) and blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) are anadromous fish, meaning that most of their life is spent at sea, migrating up rivers in the springtime to spawn. Virginia was once famous for its “spring runs” of anadromous fish like shad and river herring. They also supported Virginia’s large commercial fishing industry. However, by building dams that block their route upstream, overfishing, and pollution of water, shad and river herring populations were so depleted by the 21st century, that Virginia passed a moratorium on river herring and shad. *

Due to the dwindling population and subsequent fishing moratorium, as well as changes in culinary trends and tastes, shad and river herring have become a forgotten food of American culture. In earlier times, entire shad and herring were consumed whole, both fresh or preserved in salt. Now they are generally considered too bony for modern tastes., The roe, however, is still considered a great delicacy, even if people today are less familiar with this traditional food.

Shad roe sauteed in butter

Shad and herring roe, unlike preserved caviar (the roe from a sturgeon) is best when served fresh. The female fish is harvested for her roe, found in egg sacs, or lobes, which can be prepared in a variety of ways. One popular way of eating roe is sautéed alongside scrambled eggs. In a 2012 interview, Alexander Gilliam, University of Virginia class of ’55, long-time Charlottesville resident, and current Protocol and History Officer at UVA recalled one particular 24/7 establishment located under the old Belmont Bridge, at the western end of downtown Charlottesville. Mr. Gilliam and his UVA classmates would frequent the C&O Diner after parties and on Sunday mornings, but “it was a place that catered to the people that worked in the railroad yard.”

Location of the C&O Diner, circa 1950

The fate of the diner was sealed with the construction of the “new” Belmont Bridge in 1963; it is likely that the building was demolished to make way for the wider bridge. To read more about the C&O diner, please refer to the Appendix.

“The other way to eat [fish roe] was to make cakes,” explains Gilliam. “Considered good, cheap food,” canned herring roe was mixed with filler such as eggs, onions and breadcrumbs, and fried in bacon drippings. “Those two things were dishes that were universal in Virginia. They just disappeared.”

1940s “Pride of Virginia” canned herring roe, with a recipe for roe cakes

However, for a very short period of time every spring, Virginians can still find fresh shad roe, provided they know where to look and are willing to pay a premium for it. “It has begun to come back,” says Mr. Gilliam. “The first serious sign of spring is on the chalkboard at Andersons Seafood place on Barracks Road, when they announce that ‘Shad Roe’s in.”

Although today there are challenges that keep shad and herring roe from regaining their prominent place in our economy and our diets, I have two hopes for the future: (1) that through conservation and sustainable fishery efforts, we can begin to see these fish returning to our rivers; and (2) through keeping memories, recipes, and traditions alive, we can begin to see them coming back to our plates as well. This is the true meaning of food heritage.

Sign at Anderson’s Carriage Food House. Anderson’s has been serving Charlottesville since 1929.

Works Cited:

Springston, Rex. American shad aren’t coming back in Va. Richmond Times Dispatch. http://www2.times dispatch.com/news/2009/may/25/jame25_20090524-220625-ar-42428/ 25 May 2009 (Accessed May 2012).
Ibid.
Asman, Judy. Foods of Thomas Jefferson http://www.astuterecorder.com/presidents_foods/2009/february/ favorite-foods-of-thomas-jefferson-with-judys-deviled-eggs-with-anchovies-recipe.html (Accessed May 2012)
Read All About It: American Shad. http://www.festival.si.edu/past_festivals/water_ways/kids_coast/pdf/ shadReadAboutIt.pdf (Accessed April, 2012)
Ibid.
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission http://www.asmfc.org/shadRiverHerring.htm (Accessed April 2012).
Read All About It: American Shad. http://www.festival.si.edu/past_festivals/water_ways/kids_coast/pdf/ shadReadAboutIt.pdf (Accessed April, 2012)
Virginia Saltwater Fishing. 6 February 2011. http://www.virginia-saltwater-fishing.com/2011/02/06/virginia-shad-and-herring/ (Accessed May, 2012)
Ibid.
Fish Passage Program. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/ fishing/fish-passage/ (Accessed April 2012).
Springston, Rex. American shad aren’t coming back in Va. Richmond Times Dispatch. http://www2.times dispatch.com/news/2009/may/25/jame25_20090524-220625-ar-42428/ 25 May 2009 (Accessed May 2012).
Chapter: Pertaining to River Herring. Virginia Marine Resources Commission. March, 2012. http://www.mrc. state.va.us/regulations/fr1260.shtm (Accessed April 2012).
Regulation: Pertaining To American Shad. Virginia Marine Resources Commission. February 2012. http://www.mrc.state.va.us/regulations/fr530.shtm (Accessed April 2012).
Fish. The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/fish
http://thegarumfactory.net/2012/03/30/george-washington-ate-here-shad-roe-with-brown-butter-capers-and-ginger/
Alden, Lori. Caviar and Roe. The Food Thesaurus. http://www.foodsubs.com/Caviar.html (Accessed April 2012)
Hastings, Michael. Roe will float your boat if you like it ‘fishy.’ Windston Salem Journal. 1 April 2009 http://www2.journalnow.com/news/2009/apr/01/roe-will-float-your-boat-if-you-like-it-fishy-ar-146735/ (Accessed April 2012)
Gilliam, Alexander (16 March 2012). Personal interview.
Ibid.

Growing Up Cason: local farming family highlighted in the Virginia Film Festival

Director Doug Bari has documented a key part of Central Virginia’s Food Heritage in his film “Growing Up Cason,” a documentary about the Cason family of Charlottesville. The hardworking Casons and their 8 children farmed in the area through the Depression and the War, and four of the Cason sons helped found Charlottesville’s City Market.

The film will screen Saturday, November 5 at 1:00pm at Vinegar Hill Theater. You can purchase tickets online or at the door, and read more about the film in this review from the Daily Progress. Don’t miss it!