Food and foodways – some historic, some contemporary –make Virginia a delicious state; specialty foods are one of the ingredients in our culinary melting pot.
Across the commonwealth, offerings from baked goods to beverages, candy and confections, jams and jellies, pickles and relishes, and snacks like chips and nuts are crafted in small batches.
Many of these items are for sale at gourmet grocers, specialty food stores and farmers markets.
Also, many are also for sale right from the source: a lot of made-in-Virginia food purveyors sell online or offer their own retail outlet which provides a great way to learn more about their offerings by going right to the source.
There are scores of great made-in-Virginia products; visit the Virginia’s Finest page of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s website for a full list.
From time-to-time, we’ll explore these delicious elements of the state.
In the meantime, here is my pick for a half-dozen fabulous food finds for the holiday season:
— BLUE CRAB BAY CO. —
One of Blue Crab Bay Co.’s signature items, the STING RAY BLOODY MARY MIXER, is a zesty, tomato juice-based mixer spiked with lip-smacking elements like clam juice and grated horseradish. A gift version is already dressed up in a decorative fishnet topping.
Start holiday mornings off with a bloody mary with the Sting Ray mixer as a base and made the true a true taste of Virginia with a good shot or two of James River Distillery’s Commonwealth Gin and a dash of the fiery KimKim Korean Hot Sauce.
The mixer is readily available at many specialty food and other retail shops, for sale online, or visit the Blue Crab Bay gift shop in Melfa on the Eastern Shore.
— CARRIAGE HOUSE —
One of the classic Southern culinary calling cards are CHEESE STRAWS and we love the rich, tangy offering from Carriage House.
Folks all over the state gift these throughout the year, but especially at the holidays. Crisp crackers, accented with a bit of spice and piquancy, are buttery and melt-in-your-mouth.
Make a holiday dinner extra special; crush cheese straws and mix in with crushed buttery round crackers, like Ritz, as a filler in your favorite crabcake recipe; dust the outsides of the cakes with crushed cheese straws mixed with flour and pan sauté.
The cheese straws are readily available at many specialty food and other retail shops and for sale online.
— GEARHARTS FINE CHOCOLATES —
A four-ounce bar of fine chocolate, available in either bittersweet, milk, or white is artfully embedded, much like an edible stained glass window, to make THE JEWEL BAR.
Decorated with a colorful (and delicious) assortment of goodies, including – roasted almonds, dried cherries, candied orange peel, roasted pistachios and candied violets and rose petals, it’s a visual and culinary treat.
Cut the Jewel Bar into bite-sized chards and scatter atop chocolate ganache-topped chocolate cupcakes for a simple-but-elegant sweet way to conclude a meal or must-eat addition to a party dessert buffet.
Much like an upscale Willy Wonka chocolate factory, Gearhart’s showrooms are a delight in both Charlottesville and Richmond.
— RED ROCKER CANDY —
We find the ROCKING CHAIR MIX an irresistible snack, and think folks on your gift list will do. It’s a sweet and salty mix of crisp cereal, pretzels and roasted almonds layered several times with coatings of creamy white chocolate.
For a sweet ending to a holiday dinner, crush the Rocking Chair Mix candy and fold into softened vanilla bean ice cream. Place the ice cream back in the freezer until firm and serve scoopfuls drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Want to Go?
The mix is readily available at many specialty food and other retail shops, for sale online, or visit the Red Rocker Candy gift shop in Troy.
— VIRGINIA DINER —
Lightly salted, large kernel, buttery Virginia peanuts take on a dusting of New Mexico Hatch green chile powder in these HATCH GREEN CHILE SEASONED PEANUTS, offering folks on your shopping list a deliciously flavored taken on a classic.
Place a few handful of peanuts in a food processor with just a drizzle of oil and pulse until smooth, then replace it with the tahini in your favorite hummus for a quick, easy and unique dip to serve guests.
The peanuts are readily available at many specialty food and other retail shops, for sale online, or visit the Virginia Diner gift shop and restaurant in Wakefield.
— WILDWOOD’S HICKORY SYRUP —
Our first taste of WILDWOOD’S HICKORY SYRUP told us we were enjoying something different – and special. Made from forest-harvested, scrubbed and toasted hickory bar, this rich, thick syrup has a complex and delicious flavor.
Tuck it in a gift basket with pancake mix, a whisk, and kitchen towel.
In a bowl, whisk some syrup along with a bit of freshly grated cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and generously brush on acorn squash cut in half (drizzle some in the cavity, too) then bake until fork-tender.
The syrup is readily available at many specialty food and other retail shops and for sale online.
Patrick Evans-Hylton, a Johnson & Wales University trained chef, is a Norfolk, Va.-based food journalist, historian and educator. His work has appeared in print, television, radio and social media since 1995. Evans-Hylton calls his cookbook, Dishing Up Virginia, his love letter to the state’s foods and foodways. He blogs at PatrickEvansHylton.com.