Virginia. The Commonwealth. The Old Dominion. When I think of my home state, my mind’s eye wanders to the beauty of the ocean, the capes, and the Chesapeake Bay. I am then carried up the James through the rapids of the piedmont and into the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is impossible to think of the sea and the land of Virginia, this Commonwealth of ours, without dwelling next upon the nourishment and goodness of bounty that it provides.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to experience the sheer succulence of The Old Dominion at a Southern Foodways Alliance fundraising event that was held on the banks of the Nansemond River. Overlooking the winding estuary, a feast of raw and roasted Eastern Shore and wild Lynnhaven oysters shared the spotlight with aged Surry country ham, lamb raised in the Shenandoah, wood fired and slow cooked barbecue, Virginia wines, craft brews, and happy for me….Hubs peanuts. Other chef-inspired signature hors d’oeuvres were freely passed. Alas the aforementioned were only the starters for the afternoon!
What followed for guests, most of whom were there to simply experience good food, was a tented family style supper prepared by chefs representing a cross section of southern heritage. A fresh and delightful assortment of greens, roasted vegetables, and goat cheese were served on hewn cross sections of oak. Local soft shelled crabs set atop creamy grits were front and center and were then anchored by fat links of goat kielbasa. Naturally, each course was paired with an appropriate Virginia wine. Pungo strawberry shortcake, swirled in an old fashioned jelly jar, punctuated the meal and the glorious evening as the sun set on the surrounding marshlands.
Harper Bradshaw of Harper’s Table , his well trained and talented staff, his family and friends worked hard to please and did not fail. John T. Edge, writer, critic, and the Executive Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance was guest of honor for the event, the purpose of which was to highlight the very basics of our culture and to raise money to capture the history of southern cuisine. Pork, seafood, peanuts, and wines were the essential stars of the day, though the talent of creative chefs transformed our basic local Virginia traditions into exciting innovations . Hopefully, we affirmed for John T. that Virginia is still Southern and that our style is a heritage that needs to be documented along with that of our sister states of the deeper south. There really could be no denying it on that afternoon in Suffolk, Virginia but if he had any question, our own locally acclaimed food critic, Lorraine Eaton, and the entourage of chefs assembled from around the Commonwealth set the record straight.