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Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Virginia is for Eaters
I'm having a really hard time writing about food this week. Frankly, I've lost my appetite. All my favorite foods turn to ashes in my mouth, and anything that does pass my gullet curdles with each additional reporting on the Virginia Tech massacre. With over thirty dead, it's the deadliest shooting rampage in America, and I can't, I won't, ignore it.

Maybe I'm too emotional for my own good, but you know what? I'm a writer, I'm emotional, and while I can fake a lot of things -- a smile, a falsetto, a fava bean puree -- it's a losing battle this week.

Therefore, I'm going to use this space not to revel in San Francisco's bounty, which I can do every day of my life here, but to celebrate the great variety of victuals that come out of Virginia.

First, I want to quote Food History blogger, Gillian Polack:

Foodways and food history are about communities and individuals. They're the story of people and the food people eat.

We all know that, in theory. In pratice what changes the life of a community and rips out its soul is not something that often gets discussed in food histories. Sometimes it does. The extreme stuff. One day I'll talk about that, when I find courage.

One of our regular 451 bloggers lives in Blacksburg, VA. Today I think it's important to stop and remember the people of that particular community.

Instead of reading about food today, I'd be grateful if you took a moment to stop and think about him and his friends, about the son of SF writer Michael Bishop, about everyone who was killed in the shooting at Virginia Tech. Remember that history is about people, and when we lose those people we lose a part of ourselves.

Click over to the Virginia Is for Lovers tourism site and sneak a taste of Virginia.

Initially, I was surprised to learn of wines flowing out of Virginia -- specifically the Shenandoah Valley -- but then I was lucky enough to suck down a wonderful Meritage from Valhalla Vineyards in Roanoke, Virginia. Maverick, on 17th street between Mission and Valencia, has this wine as well as another offering from the Shenandoah Valley.

With that wine, you could enjoy thick slices of Virginia's famous Smithfield Ham and maybe even a handful of peanuts or some local cheeses. Both Meadow Creek Dairy and Everona Dairy are cranking out sumptuous artisanal cheeses that would do any cheese plate proud.

While the states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed are home to many sumptuous seafoods -- shad, oysters, and flounder (there's even a Flounder Capital of the World, claimed by the town of Wachapreague, Virginia) -- the seafood I most associate with the area is blue crab.

My husband, who grew up in Virginia, has fond memories of crab feasts where he worked hard with mallet and blunt knife to scrape out every last scrap of pure white meat from Old Bay-drenched shells. As he tells it, your hands and fingers sustain tiny cuts from hungrily slaving over the sharp shells, and the sting you get from the spicy seasoning working its way into your tender skin is a sweet and necessary pain, as much a part of the blue crab experience as the crab itself.

I've never been able to whack my own pile of blue crabs in either Maryland or Virginia, but I was able to enjoy these Beautiful Swimmers in another luxurious way.

Just after we got engaged, my soon-to-be mother and father-in-law sent Mark and me off to a celebratory dinner at L'Auberge Chez François, an adorable and lovely Alsatian restaurant (or, more correctly, auberge), nestled in the rolling green countryside of Great Falls, Virginia. It was there that I crunched through an appetizer of soft shell crab, whose fresh season is all too short.

I apologize if I haven't been able to cover all the foods and drinks that come out of Virginia, but I'm a novice where eating this state is concerned. I invite any transplanted or current Virginians to share any food memories, facts, anecdotes, or favorites they may have stored away in their heart cupboards.

In the meantime, take care of yourselves, each other and give the closest student, professor, teacher, or school administrator near you a hug.

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Blogger Catherine Nash said...

I grew up in Virginia on the coast and I think you've pretty much hit on all the local foods - crab, oysters, flounder and other fish, salty ham. I remember, as a kid, going to u-pick days at the local strawberry fields and lugging home buckets, out hands (and likely mouths!) stained red.

The winemaking region in central VA is growing...when I was there, there was maybe one decent dessert wine from Barboursville, but now I hear there are several more incl the one you had at Maverick, which is amazing.

It's so weird reading about Tech in the news this way; to us, it was just another state school, one I almost went, in fact, back when I wanted to be a chemical engineer. My thoughts are with all of them.

4/18/2007 9:40 AM

Anonymous Mike said...

Thanks for this, Stephanie. I think this is a great subject.

4/18/2007 9:40 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My boyfriend grew up in Virginia Beach and we were just talking about the foods of his childhood last night... great subject in light of the terrible thing that happened.

4/18/2007 10:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget pork BBQ. My fondest culinary memory of Virginia is snarfing traditional Virginia-style BBQ: shredded not pulled pork, with a mild tomato base sauce, covered with cole-slaw on a plain white hamburger bun. Heaven!

4/19/2007 9:35 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, Stephie. Dad

4/19/2007 5:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Va. Beacher, too. Heartsick over what happened, because Tech was the other school I got into (went to ECU). Lots of friends/family are alum/current students, so it's hitting me hard. The memory of cracking crabs on picnic tables covered w/ newspaper and plenty of beer on ice helps a lot, so thanks.

4/20/2007 10:46 AM

Anonymous UVA Calvalier said...

I grew up in Virgina and have been having a hard time dealing this week with the contstant news. Turning on the Food Network is how I managed 9/11 and reading this piece is getting me through to thinking of beter times. Thank you Stephanie VW Lucianovic.

4/20/2007 8:19 PM


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