June Harvest of the Month: Sugar Snap Peas

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.”

– Thomas Jefferson [1]



Peas have been grown and eaten for thousands of years, and is said to originate from Thailand and Burma, the Middle East, and Ethiopia. Peas were then spread throughout Europe most likely when the Roman Empire covered that territory. Peas were an essential vegetable in the Middle ages because dried peas could be stored and eaten throughout the winter when other foods were scarce.

Did you know? That peas take so well to freezing that only about 5% of the Nation’s pea crop is currently sold fresh. Most of the pea crop is sold, canned, frozen or dried.   This fact also makes peas one of the easiest vegetables to buy.

Columbus planted peas in the Americas in 1842, and soon after they were cultivated by the Native Americans and European colonists.

While heirloom varieties of peas have been around for centuries, sugar snap peas were actually developed in the 60s by Calvin Lamborn. He crossed shelling pea with snow peas [also called sugar peas] in order to create a sweet pea with an edible pod.  Read more about his work at eatmorepeas.com

The breeder and his brood: Calvin Lamborn stands in his Magic Seed company’s pea fields in Twin Falls, Idaho. Photo by Rod Lamborn

Fun Fact: edible pods have fibers that go in only one direction, allowing them to be easily chewed.

Virginia Heritage

Thomas Jefferson planted more than 30 varieties of peas in his garden and reportedly competed in friendly annual “pea competition” with his neighbors[2].  In fact, “according to family accounts, every spring Jefferson competed with local gentleman gardeners to bring the first pea to the table; the winner then hosting a community dinner that included a feast on the winning dish of peas.”[4] –Peter Hatch

One would think that Jefferson typically won these friendly competitions, given his vast mountaintop garden with southern exposure.  However, it was a wealthy neighbor named George Divers who typically won.


photo copyright Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, photography by Robert Llewellyn

Of all the peas Jefferson planted he was particularly fond of the English Pea, of which he grew 15 different types.  Jefferson also took the time to stagger the planting of the peas so that he could eat them fresh from may to july.


Low in fat and calories, peas are also a good source of protein. In fact 100-calorie serving of peas [about ¾ of a cup] contains more protein than a whole egg or a table spoon of peanut butter. 

Eating Sugar Snap Peas.

There are three simple rules to eating the best sugar snap peas possible.

1. Eat them fresh.

2. Keep them cold [It is essential to keep the peas cold because that slows the peas sugar conversion to starch.]

3. Eat them soon.

Back in Jefferson’s day peas were typically boiled fresh or frozen.  See the recipes below [taken from the 1842 Virginia Housewife cookbook, by Mary Randolph] for an idea of how these tiny morsels were prepared.

“to have them in perfection, they must be quite young, gathered early in the morning, kept in a cool place, and not shelled until they are to be dressed; put salt in the water, and when it boils, put in the peas; boil them quick twenty or thirty minutes, according to their age; just before they are taken up, add a little mint chopped very fine; drain all the water from the peas, put in a bit of butter, and serve them quite hot.” Page 105

When referencing lima or sugar beans the book says,

“These beans are easily preserved for winter use, and will be nearly as good as fresh ones. Gather them on a dry day, when full grown, but quite young: have a clean and dry keg, sprinkle some salt in the bottom, put in a layer of pods, containing the beans, then a little salt – do this till the keg is full; lay a board on with a weight, to press them down; cover the keg very close, and keep it in a dry, cool place…When used, the pods must be washed, and laid in fresh water al night; shell them next day, and keep them in water till you are going to boil them; when tender, serve them up with melted butter in a boat.” page 107

The Food Heritage Project thanks you for taking the time to read about the history and heritage of sugar snap peas and asks you to consider eating these tiny pods 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


1. 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/.

2. Jefferson, Thomas. Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book : with Commentary and Relevant Extracts from Other Writings, edited by Edwin Morris Betts. [Charlottesville]: University Press of Virginia, 1976, reprint of Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 35. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953

3. Baron, Robert C. editor. The Garden and Farm Books of Thomas Jefferson. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing, 1987

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.

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

May Harvest of the Month: Strawberries

StrawberriesStrawberries are a unique and wonderful fruit, not only because of its incredibly sweet taste but because of its complex origins and history.

As spring’s first fruit to appear, strawberries have always been a special treat.  But what kind of fruit is a strawberry?  Instinct would tell us that a strawberry is a berry, however this tasty fruit cannot be called a true berry, like blueberries or even grapes.

Fun Fact #1: bananas, cucumbers, oranges, tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados and watermelons are also considered berries.  The true definition of a “berry” is a simple fleshy fruit consisting of a single ovary with multiple seeds.

True berries have seeds on the inside, whereas strawberries show their seeds on the outside.  Like other fruits, the edible portion we recognize as a strawberry is actually the central part of the plant’s flower.

Strawberries form when the central portion of the flower [called the receptacle] becomes enlarged with maturity and is covered with dried “seed’-like” fruit, which many call seeds but are actually, according to botanists, miniature fruits themselves. Thus, strawberries are an example of an “aggregate fruit” much like raspberries and blackberries.

Fun Fact #2: the average strawberry is covered with 200 of these seed-like fruits.   


The flowers and fruits of a garden strawberry plant (Fragaria ×ananassa). This hybrid species is cultivated worldwide

Fun Fact #3: Strawberries are a part of the rose family. [1]  


Strawberries have a long history dating back to 234 B.C. when it grew wild in Italy.  In fact, the ancient Romans thought strawberries had medicinal powers and used them to treat everything from depression and fainting to fever, kidney stones, bad breath and sore throats. [1]

Europeans discovered the Virginia wild strawberry in Virginia in 1588, however Native Americans had been eating them long before the settlers arrived.  By 1860, strawberries were grown in many parts of the country, and of course, Thomas Jefferson grew them as well.  In fact, in a letter to Monroe, Jefferson once said that the Alpine strawberry as one of the “three objects which you should endeavor to enrich our country with.”[5]

Being a devoted and passionate gardener, Jefferson grew the Alpine variety of strawberries at Monticello and Poplar Forest [6], which was a place a personal respite located in Bedford County, VA.

 Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 1.50.21 PM

Nutrition Facts

Strawberries are believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. They are low in calories and high in vitamins C, B6, K, fiber, folic acid, potassium and amino acids. Strawberries also contain high levels of nitrate, which increases blood and oxygen flow to the muscles. Research suggests that people who load up on strawberries before exercising have greater endurance and burn more calories.

Eating Strawberries

If you would like to learn how to preserve strawberries or make strawberry jam, see the excerpt below from the 1842 Virginia Housewife cookbook, by Mary Randolph, To preserve strawberries

“Get the largest strawberries before they are too ripe; have the best loaf sugar, one pound to each of strawberries – stew them very gently, taking them out to cool frequently, that they may not be mashed; when they look clear, they are done enough.” Page 160

Strawberry jam

“To each pound of ripe strawberries, put one pound of loafsugar – stir it frequently, and stew till it is a thick jelly.” Page 160


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


1.  Stephan Wilhelm and James Sagen, History of the Strawberry, From Ancient Gardens to Modern Markets Published by the University of California Regents Press, Berkeley, California,

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.

5. Jefferson to Monroe, May 26, 1795, in PTJ, 28:362; letterpress copy at the Library of Congress 6. Jefferson, “Planting Memorandum for Poplar Forest, 1812,” in Betts, Garden Book, 494;transcription available online from Poplar Forest.

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


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.


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


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.


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


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

Can Public Policies Help Promote and Protect Heritage Foods?

Governments play an important role in all phases of a food system – various federal, state, and local laws regulate everything from the farms on which food is grown and which foods are economically feasible to grow, to the labeling and distribution of that food. It should come as no surprise that governments have an important role to play in the protection and promotion of place-based heritage foods. One public policy in particular that can help in this area is protective labeling practices, or “geographic indicators.”terroir-definition-for-wine

The model for protective labeling of place-based heritage foods is France – the home of the concept of terroir, a term originally used to describe wine that is now applied to many other products, that refers to “specificity of place, which has come to include not only the soil in a region, but also the climate, the weather…and anything else that can possibly differentiate one piece of land from another.” The French system of appellation d’origine controlee (AOC), which protects foods and drinks that have historical links to particular geographic locations, originally emerged due to the advocacy of agricultural groups who were concerned about international competition and fraudulent marketing – such as a sparkling wine marketing itself as “champagne” that was not produced in the Champagne region. Today, the law protects groups of producers in particular regions who work with the government to create a well-aopdefined geographic area of origin, work together to promote the food, and commit to maintaining quality and preserving artisan production methods.Though these protective measures may limit the supply of the product, consumers are well aware of the strength of the brand and the assurance of quality of the product, and the foods are the better for it.

The place-based designation concept is not totally foreign to the United States – many states (including Virginia) have agricultural marketing programs aimed at promoting foods grown in-state. One of the most well-developed place-based initiatives is the American Viticultural Areas, federally designated geographic wine-growing regions. (You’ll notice our own local AVA – Monticello – referenced on bottles from local wineries.) One of the most famous examples of a place-based food in the United States is the Vidalia Onion, a type of onion whose production is limited to certain counties in Georgia, as defined state and federal level legislation. There’s even an example of this in Virginia, where the definition of a true Smithfield Ham is protected by law.

The Vidalia Onion is a particularly useful example of the ways in which a group of relatively small producers utilized public policy to gain prominence and successfully charge a price premium. Producers must receive approval from the Georgia Department of Agriculture to sell Vidalia onions, and all producers agree on a uniform quality control scheme in order to protect the consistency of the product. The Vidalia Onion Committee organizes an annual festival and other events to promote the product. One study of the success of the Vidalia notes that the market for Vid51G+WWP31QL._SX425_alias is driven by “consumers’ perception of these onions as a higher-value product compared with other onions,” resulting in a willingness to pay a price premium.

Why go to all the trouble? As the case of Vidalia onions shows, these types of initiatives provide both social and commercial benefits for heritage foods: products are differentiated from their generic competitors, creating the space for a market niche or competitive advantage, and through that differentiation, agricultural communities can achieve increased specialty market share and the preservation of local techniques can be supported.

Of course, geographic indications do not necessarily suggest anything about the methods of production or how close it is to a “historical recipe.” Defining the requirements to be labeled “Monticello area heritage product,” for example, could serve as an excellent opportunity for community engagement and asset identification. For instance, would each producer need to use the same recipe and ingredients (if it’s a processed food), or use similar growing techniques (if it’s a raw food), or share some sort of geographic similarity? How would the group define “heritage?” Each community needs to decide this on its own.

While it’s unlikely that a nascent heritage product will get state-level protection any time soon, there are a number of steps that small producers can take to put themselves in a position to create a market niche just as Vidalias have:

  1. vidaliaonions_004Identify like-minded producers, chefs, and consumers to create local awareness and usage of the product;
  2. Reach out to Virginia Agriculture Extension representatives to gather information about what resources are available for production and promotion;
  3. Identify greater networks (like heritage trails or museums) to tap into larger networks of potential customers;
  4. Consider a public event like a festival or tasting competition to engage unfamiliar consumers.

Going through this process will not only help young food industries scale up and out by articulating precisely what is special about the product and the place from which it originates, but will put them in a stronger position to work together to expand the reach of their product. Numerous studies have shown that discerning customers are willing to pay a price premium to get their hands on the “real thing” – authenticity is one of the core values of today’s food movement. A conversation that begins with asset-identification and defining heritage can lead eventually to a stronger product that both promotes and preserves heritage – a win-win if there ever was one.

Breakfast with Jefferson

February 2014

Breakfast with Jefferson

A Lynchburg Bed & Breakfast Prepares a Breakfast Fit for a President


Sweet Potato Pancakes (Courtesy of Carriage House)

The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Lynchburg Virginia, also known as “The Watts House,” will be participating in this year’s Jefferson’s Virginia Summer Festival, which will focus on events between Monticello and Poplar Forest (built 1806-1823), Thomas Jefferson’s summer retreat in the Lynchburg Area.  During this period guests of The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast will enjoy some of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite foods, which will be incorporated into our 4-course breakfast.  For example, he was very fond of sweet potatoes, watermelon, pistachios and tomatoes just to name a few.  He also enjoyed pancakes, spoon bread and bread puddings.  We have taken several of the foods that he enjoyed and incorporated them into menu items such as sweet potato pancakes or watermelon with a ginger lime sauce with salted pistachios. Tomatoes, of which Jefferson was an early champion, will be incorporated into several dishes.  Additionally, we have created other menu items such as a corn-bacon spoon bread and blueberry bread pudding.  Of course all of our recipes will be available for guests to take home and prepare for their friends and family.  Unfortunately Thomas Jefferson will not be at the table with you, but some of his favorite foods will be served and you can only imagine the conversations that would be taking place around the table.


The Carriage House Inn

Another link between Poplar Forest and The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast is they were both owned by the same family.  The Bed and Breakfast was built by Richard Thomas (R. T.) Watts and was completed in 1878.  Descendents of R.T. were the last private residents of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.  The Hutters sold the property to James O. Watts in 1946 who resided there until 1980 when it was sold to Dr. James A. Johnson of High Point, North Carolina who purchased it for preservation purposes and later sold it in 1984 to the nonprofit Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest whose goal is to preserve and, where possible, restore all the aspects of the heart of Thomas Jefferson’s retreat.  Another similarity is the construction of the home.  The interior walls of each residence are several courses of brick with plaster applied to the brick.  While our walls are covered with plaster, several of the walls of Poplar Forest have been left uncovered so that you can see what’s behind the walls.  Looking at those walls you can see channels cut in the brick where subsequent owners may have run plumbing or electrical wires.  There are also several wooden pegs in the brick which were put there so the plasterers knew how far out to bring the final coat of plaster.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be useful to the town of Lynchburg. I consider it to be the most interesting spot in the state.”  The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast invites you to step back in history and enjoy a stay at R.T.’s home and enjoy many of the same foods that Thomas Jefferson enjoyed and see why Lynchburg is the “most interesting spot in the state.”

Jefferson’s Virginia Summer Festival takes place from May 25 through July 4, 2015.  You can check their website to see what other events will be taking place during the summer.

NOTE:  Due to health department regulations we are only allowed to serve breakfast to registered guests.

Persimmons: Food of the Virginia Gods



Food of the Virginia Gods

Ethan Strickler profiles a fruit unique in taste, appearance, and heritage

By Ethan Strickler

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Picture 1. Hachiya Persimmon held by the author.

This time of year in central Virginia, and over much of southeastern North America, you may come across a peculiar, orange fruit either dangling from naked tree branches or resting softly on the ground below its mother tree. The taste, for those who do not know, is very unique, but incredibly delicious.

This “forgotten” fruit is the American Persimmon. The scientific name, Diospyros Virginiana (Picture 5), roughly translates to “food of the gods from Virginia”[1]. The fruit is astringent and mouth numbing while still green. It is written that Captain John Smith, one of the most famous early Virginians, warned others about eating unripe persimmons, stating that, “If it is not ripe, it will draw a man’s mouth awry with much torment.”

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Picture 2. Persimmon Risotto. Recipe can be found at http://www.macheesmo.com/2011/12/persimmon-risotto/.

However, American persimmons are very sweet, and exhibit a flavor profile with hints of date and plum after they ripen in mid to late fall. John Smith even compared them to another fruit, stating “…when it is ripe, it is delicious as an apricot.” They are best, and sweetest, after the first hard freeze of the season. Although Persimmons ripen at different times between late September and early December, the best time to forage and find persimmons in Virginia is during the month of November. That being said, I am still foraging wild American persimmons right now, during the second week of December, and last week I was able to gather enough for another round of persimmon pudding (Picture 4.)

The American Persimmon’s range includes much of the southeastern part of the United States, extending from Oklahoma east to the Atlantic and from just north of the Ohio River south to the gulf of Mexico. It belongs to the ebony tree family. This family of plants and trees is common in Asia, where persimmons are popular and widely cultivated. In North America, the American Persimmon got its name from the Algonquin word pasimenan, meaning “fruit artificially dried or dry fruit”. The name refers to the high concentrations of tannins in, and the astringency of, unripe persimmons.

There are many documented uses of American Persimmons. Along with being planted for its delicious fruit, dried persimmons are used in baked goods and fermented with cornmeal into a type of beer, while the roasted and ground seeds are used as a substitute for coffee.[2] Native Americans dried and froze persimmons, used it in breads, and prized it as a nutritious winter food.

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Picture 3. American Persimmons, gathered by the author.

Persimmons hailing from Asia also have a history and presence both locally and in North America in general. J. Russell Smith, an economist, geographer, and plant breeder from the early 20th century and author of Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture, grew oriental persimmons he brought back from China in the 1930s on his homestead near Front Royal, Virginia. Smith’s “Great Wall” oriental persimmon is sold by Virginia nursery Edible Landscaping. The nursery carries four named cultivars of Native American Persimmon, nineteen varieties of oriental persimmons, and several hybrids.

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Picture 4. Baked Persimmon Pudding. Recipe can be found at http://southernfood.about.com/od/dessertrecipe1/r/bl30118q.htm

There are several local businesses and organizations that promote the use and culinary possibilities of persimmons. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello has a workshop every October showcasing edible and native fruits and nuts, which gives tips on how to prepare American Persimmons and many other native foods.[3] Edible Landscaping Nursery, who I mentioned previously, is located near Afton in northern Nelson County, VA, and holds a Persimmon Festival every fall to celebrate this wonderful fruit. Farmstead Ferments, a local business known for their delicious krauts and fermented beverages, uses persimmons to flavor one of their water kefir sodas. Cville Foodscapes, an edible landscaping cooperative in Charlottesville, uses persimmon trees in their garden and food forests designs, in addition to offering recipes and information on both Fuyu and American persimmons through their website. Fuyu persimmons are also offered for sale through horse and buggy produce. The local excitement about persimmons makes it clear that this amazing fruit is a part of our region’s current consciousness as much as it is a part of our food heritage.

Although I had foraged, gathered, and eaten wild persimmons before, I had never tried American Persimmons, or Oriental Persimmons for that matter, in any of the numerous persimmon recipes I have come across over the years. This fall, I decided to amp up my foraging efforts (Picture 3) in order to gather enough persimmons for several trials of persimmon pudding (Picture 4). I found that 1-cup of persimmon pulp represented about 20 to 25 ripe American Persimmons. The persimmon pudding pictured below was absolutely delicious. In addition to kitchen experiments with American Persimmons, I also bought and prepared Hachiya Persimmons, an oriental variety. The Persimmon Risotto (Picture 2) that I made with them was also delectable.

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Picture 5. Persimmons on an American Persimmon tree (diospyros virginiana).

Persimmons are an incredibly versatile and delicious fruit. American Persimmon trees are native to central Virginia, are found abundantly along old fencerows and back roads, and have provided food for people living in this region for a very long time. This winter, if you see any persimmons still hanging from a tree, shake a couple off for a wonderful, wild, and flavorful snack!



[3] http://www.monticello.org/site/visit/events/edible-native-fruits-and-nuts

Going Whole Hog

Pon-hoss: Glen and Fern Heatwole

Highland County residents share recipes and tips learned from generations of raising hogs for pork

By Susanna Byrd

Pon-hoss is the lesser-known, southern cousin of Scrapple, that Pennsylvania-Dutch delicacy of pork bits and cornmeal. There are very few people who still make Pon-hoss these days and in Highland County, Fern and Glen Heatwole might be the only ones. So special a food is it, that Glen told me a story of an old man who called him up at the store one day:

hog“I heard you still make a good pon-hoss and I want to order some by mail” he said. “Could you send it to where I live now in Florida?”

The old man had moved to Florida from Highland County. He was 94 years old and had heard from the doctor that he only had so much longer to live on this earth. He said that the only thing he wanted to make sure he had before he died was another taste of pon-hoss, the real thing. So Glen wrapped him up a few precious loaves and sent them off to Florida. The old man called back, thoroughly happy and full of compliments. Glen heard that he passed away not long after.

To make Pon-hoss is to also butcher a hog. The process cannot really be done independently if the product is to be the true thing, worthy of an old Highland County man’s memory-infused taste. The various stages of making Pon-hoss correspond with the stages of butchering and it is therefore a day-long process.

Pon-hoss is made in a large copper kettle, like apple butter. As you butcher the hog, all the bones that you remove are tossed into the kettle with water to boil. Throughout the day, bones are added and the pot boils away, extracting the meat, grease and flavor and creating a strong stock. At the end of the day, the bones and bits are strained out. Any remaining meat is stripped off the bones and set aside for “puddings”* (to make scrapple, this meat would be put back into the mixture. According to Mr. Heatwole, true Pon-hoss does not include the meat bits, only the leftover stock).

In the remaining stock, a mixture of 2 parts cornmeal and 1 part flour are added and stirred constantly until it thickens to a cake batter-like consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture into bread pans and freeze. Later, cut the loaves into slices and pan fry them in lard or butter. Delicious with apple butter, applesauce or maple syrup on top.

  • “Puddings meat” is made with these leftover meat bits, lard and salt and pepper.

Self-sealed crock sausage: Donna Hooke, Sandy and Edmond Hevener and Nancy White

One common practice to preserve sausage before electricity was to keep it in a large crock. The raw, ground sausage would be put in a crock and cooked in the oven. The grease would naturally rise to cover the meat and when the sausage was fully cooked, the crock was pulled out of the oven and the lard would congeal in a thick layer on top of the meat. This formed a natural seal that kept the sausage underneath from going bad. The crock would be stored in the root cellar and whenever sausage was desired, you could simply scoop the lard aside, pull some out from below and re-cover the top with the lard.

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