Eat local! Stock your pantry with these Virginia-made staples

Photo: John Robinson Photo: John Robinson

Sure, we always cry “Eat local!” and “Shop local!” and “Drink local!” But, in this issue, we’re putting our money where our mouths are, with more than 20 locally made items to keep on hand in your kitchen, from small-batch granola to a (maybe magic?) syrup that’s both good for your health and good in a cocktail. And, speaking of drinking, click here for the best ways to wash it all down.

By Nathan Alderman, Shea Gibbs, Caite Hamilton, and Erika Howsare | Photos by John Robinson


Strong start

See ya, sugary cereals. These four goodies deliver on flavor and nutrition, thanks to local ingredients and mindful makers.—CH

1. Hudson Henry Granola

As seen in Southern Living magazine and on “The Today Show,” this small-batch granola made in Palmyra is perfect with yogurt or by the handful on the way out the door. Made with quality ingredients, try the sweet—like pecans and chocolate—and the savory.

2. Trager Brothers Coffee

This certified organic coffee company got its start 27 years ago with a cart on the Corner. Now it offers more than a dozen original roasts, with beans sourced from farms that focus on environmental sustainability and fair wages.

3. Jam According to Daniel

With one pound of local fruit in every eight-ounce jar (not to mention low sugar and no pectin), we feel good slathering jam master Daniel Perry’s creations fairly generously on our breads, muffins, and (not for breakfast, probably) ice cream.

4. Orange Dot Baking Company’s English muffins

Gluten-free, sesame-free, and gum-free, Orange Dot’s English muffins are packed with flavor and nutrients—each one has at least eight grams of protein and good-for-you ingredients like chia seeds, organic eggs, and extra-virgin olive oil.


Katherine Knight and Dustin Groves (pictured), along with their friend Kyle McCrory, started Commonhealth Botanicals when they returned to Charlottesville post-college. Photo: John Robinson

Respect your elderberries

Most of us know that elderberries—those dark purple berries packed with antioxidants—are a good way to boost the immune system. But Katherine Knight, Dustin Groves, and Kyle McCrory wanted to make an elderberry syrup that was different than those they were finding in stores.

“Kyle, Dustin, and I started Commonhealth Elderberry in early 2019, after growing elderberries at our moms’ houses for several years while we all lived away from Charlottesville,” Knight says. “We all grew up in Charlottesville, moved away for college and early careers, and then moved back at similar times when we were starting our own families.” A friend in California, who was also growing elderberries, recommended the trio try them in Virginia. A native plant, they grow wild.

So they got to work, planting elderberry on a farm in Madison County, and sourcing a portion of the berries from certified organic growers. With just four components—water, organic elderberries, Meyer lemon juice, and a touch of organic cane sugar—Commonhealth elderberry syrup is a slightly sweet, uncomplicated ingredient that mixes well with others (see the company’s hot lemonade recipe, below), but is great on its own. Says Knight, “My 2-year-old loves taking his elderberry syrup in the morning.”

Visit commonhealthelderberry.com to get a bottle.—CH

When life hands you lemons…

Elderberry syrup is the star player in this hot lemonade recipe. “It’s delicious and perfect for cool fall evenings,” says Knight. “Also makes a great winter cocktail!”

Try it! Bring three cups of water to a simmer, then add three tablespoons of elderberry syrup, three tablespoons of honey or sugar, and the juice of one lemon. Stir well, garnish with a lemon slice or cinnamon stick, and enjoy.


Photo: John Robinson

Bee local

Much like wine, honey has a certain terroir—that is, it picks up the characteristics of the place and time it is produced. Especially, says Elysium Honey’s Managing Director Carrie Meslar, when it comes to something like the company’s wildflower honey, the expression of which differs from year to year based on the weather and the particular flowers that bloomed.

“The flavor profile is like Virginia spring in a jar,” Meslar says. 

Elysium offers honey from Virginia, harvested from owner Lyons Brown III’s Batesville property, but it also sources internationally, from hives in France, Italy, and Hungary.

“The fact that we sell honey from other countries might sound a bit odd at first, but we are incredibly proud to offer these expressions,” Meslar says. “By supporting these beekeepers, we support our main mission, which is saving our pollinators. It also allows us to share honeys with consumers that aren’t produced here in the states.”

The citrus blossom from southern Italy is her personal favorite.

“The acidity of this honey is so bright and refreshing, it’s like bottled sunshine.” Try it drizzled on fruit salad, in tea, or over yogurt, and find it at elysiumhoney.com.—CH


Photo: John Robinson

Hot stuff!

Charlottesville is home to three—count ’em, three—hot sauce producers. Guess you could say we’re so hot right now?

SoSS

Choose green—bright and tangy for slaws and relish—or hot, earthy purple for steaks and burgers. But whatever you do, tilt the bottle slowly. This vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free sauce packs a punch. yumsoss.com

Mad Hatter

This local sauce-maker claims to have tamed the habañero pepper—and with superb results. Whether original, medium, or extra hot, Mad Hatter’s “supercondiment,” Habañero Pineapple, is great on just about anything, from surf to turf. madhatterfoods.com

Catbird

Catbird’s Vahotcha Sriracha is pure pepper, mixing jalapeños and habañeros to perfection for a super spicy, well-balanced, gluten-free sauce that plays well wherever you like to use sriracha (which, for true fans, is obviously everywhere). catbirdco.com


Farmstead Ferments founder Dawn Story touts her krauts for their ability to soothe the immune system and digestive disorders. Photo: John Robinson

Fermenting contentment

When a pantry perusal turns up something living, that’s usually bad. Not so with Farmstead Ferments’ locally grown krauts, kimchi, pickles, and other fermented foods. Their gut-friendly “good bacteria” add a reliable zing to almost any dish—even the humble peanut butter sandwich.

Founder Dawn Story touts her products’ beneficial bacteria for their ability to soothe immune and digestive disorders. An avid gardener, she found herself piled high with produce at harvest time, and she wanted to find a way to preserve her haul without consuming more fossil fuels. “Before long,” she says, “fermented foods took over my life.”

Since 2010, she and her team have sold their wares at their Scottsville storefront and select central Virginia retailers. “Our farm, Free Bird Farm, grows as much as possible during Virginia’s growing season, which means about eight or nine months out of the year outside, and also year-round in the hoop house,” Story says. “We primarily grow cabbage, kale, collards, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, medicinal herbs, carrots, beets, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and salad greens. When we run out, we turn to other local growers.”

Story says her most popular pantry powerhouse is the Garlicky Greens Kraut, a mix of cabbage, kale, collards, sea salt, and, of course, garlic. “The Force is strong with this one,” she says. “When a store has run out, we definitely hear about it.” Each five-gallon batch contains 40 to 45 pounds of fresh ingredients. During a four-week ferment, salt pulls moisture from the veggies, creating a brine that preserves them while allowing good bacteria to flourish.

When Story says that Garlicky Greens go well with everything, she’s not kidding. (Check out her recipe for peanut butter toast below.) “Pairing the krauts is, in fact, part of the fun,” she says. “Fermented foods are considered ‘the party on the plate.’”—NA

Photo: John Robinson

Garlicky Greens peanut butter toast

Try it! Toast bread of choice. Spread nut butter of choice (peanut, almond, sunflower, etc.) on the toast and top with a spoonful or two of Garlicky Greens Kraut (ideally strained so as not to make the bread soggy; the juice is marvelous poured over a salad or added to a soup). Enjoy open-faced. Optional: Top with sesame or hemp seeds.


Herbal experiments

Nelson County’s Gathered Threads farm is sort of like a scientific lab for herbs. Farmer Katherine Herman is constantly experimenting with new ways to use all the different herbs she grows on her remote 6.5-acre property—comfrey, currants, gooseberries, elderberries, nettles, rosemary, and dozens of others.

To walk around the farm is to take in the sights and fragrances of all these healing plants and to appreciate Herman’s many years of experience as a grower, going back to the garden she planted as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania in 2001. Gathered Threads, founded in 2014, also draws heavily on Herman’s training at Sacred Plant Traditions herb school in Charlottesville.

Photo: John Robinson

After harvesting, most of the herbs get dried; the real magic starts to happen as Herman blends them into all kinds of products. There are teas, soup seasonings, meat rubs, infused vinegars. She’s always inventing new combinations, trying to keep things interesting for the customers who buy her monthly herbal CSA shares.

This year is no exception. “I’m pretty excited about a lot of my new recipes,” she says. One favorite is a burger blend (basil, thyme, oregano, sage, parsley, and garlic chives) for seasoning ground beef, turkey, or even beans.

She’s also developed a new lemon mint vinaigrette, with lemongrass, apple mint, lemon basil, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, shiso, and peppermint. Another option: the green tahini sauce kit, made of parsley, cilantro, kale, opal basil, and lemon verbena. Mix it with tahini for a dressing or sauce.

One more ingenious idea, a way to jazz up plain store-bought hummus: the green hummus packet, full of dried kale, lemon basil, chives, parsley, oregano, chard, and lemon verbena.

Sounds delicious, no? And healthful, too. Herman believes in the connection between herbs and daily wellness. “By eating your herbs and being nourished,” she says, “you’re helping your immune system.”—EH


Photo: John Robinson

Packed crackers

Good fuel is the first step to feeling good,” says Good Phyte founder Stacy Miller. “One can’t do their part to address problems in the world if they—in body and mind—don’t feel good themselves.”

That’s a lot of pressure for a cracker, but Good Phyte’s “protons” can handle it. In fact, they’re not really crackers at all. Miller says they evolved in 2018 when, on a whim, Good Phyte started selling salads at the City Market.

“We wanted something that could serve as a crouton, but wasn’t nutritionally vapid,” she says. She changed the recipe to include different kinds of seeds, removed grain, and used the more efficient (in terms of electrical and human energy) dehydrator.

The result is a crouton that’s delicious on its own, or in a salad or soup. Each of the six varieties (recommended: roasted red pepper) is packed with 9-10 grams of protein per serving, and the ingredients are locally sourced from nearby farms like Whisper Hill, Little Hat Creek, Double H, and Bellair.

Nab a bag at goodphytefoods.com, or sign up for the Phyte Club to receive four or six bags of the seasonal grain-free crackers each month.—CH


While her husband, Jesse, was stationed in Italy by the Navy, Yvonne Cunningham got to know her neighbors—and picked up a few tips for the perfect tomato sauce. Photo: John Robinson

Just like Nona’s

In the 1990s, Yvonne Cunningham’s husband was posted to Italy by the Navy. So she packed up their two small kids and moved with him. She expected an adventure, but didn’t know she’d be befriended by her 78-year-old landlord. That relationship, with the woman she came to call “Nona,” helped anchor Cunningham to Italy and its culture. And during that posting and a second one in the early 2000s, Cunningham immersed herself in the foodways of Naples, from haggling in marketplaces to cooking traditional recipes at home.

Cunningham’s family and friends started to tell her that her tomato sauce was good enough to sell. She served it when she catered a small wedding, and one of the guests remarked, “This tastes just like my Nona’s.”

Finally, after going through a Community Investment Collaborative course, Cunningham felt ready to leave her desk job, and she sold her first jar of Nona’s Italian Cucina sauce in 2018 at the City Market—to an Italian grandmother and her daughter and granddaughter.

The secret, she says, is in the tomatoes: San Marzanos grown in volcanic soil at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius. “The Neapolitans only use those,” she says. “They taste like sugar.” Back in Napoli, she’d watch Nona and her family process the San Marzanos in bulk every summer. “Nona had a drain in her yard,” she remembers, “and they’d put the tomatoes through a manual grinder and bottle the pulp.” Now Cunningham imports the same product and combines it with locally-grown garlic, onions, and herbs.

She had a hard time getting the tomatoes during the shutdowns of spring 2020, but now she’s back on track. Purchase Nona’s through her website, nonascucina.com, or at local stores including The Spice Diva and the Blue Ridge Bottle Shop.—EH


As the locals do

Top-selling foods from around here

Local food, purchased from a locally owned shop: In a locavore’s book, nothing could be better. But what are folks really going crazy for in Charlottesville’s independent food stores? We tracked down the top sellers among all the great foods produced right here in central Virginia.

At Integral Yoga Natural Foods, produce (from 30 to 40 different farms!) is a big deal, especially apples and peaches from Henley’s Orchard, Vintage Virginia Apples, and Dickie Brothers Orchard. IY shoppers also go big on the Trager Brothers Coffee and honey from Golden Angels Apiary.

Feast! sees folks queueing up for delicious Hudson Henry granola—baked in Fluvanna—and the Simply Cheddar cheese ball from just over the mountain in Waynesboro. The Clover Top goat cheese is also well-loved, especially in the lemon, blueberry, and basil variety.

Market Street Market moves scads of Henley apples, too—along with wines from White Hall Vineyards and Barboursville Winery.

And last but not least, if you want the bread that the cool kids are slicing, that would be the scrumptious loaves from MarieBette—which, like the tender roughage from Schuyler Greens, has earned many fans among the loyal patrons at Foods of All Nations.—EH

Posted In:     Knife & Fork,Magazines

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