When it comes to food, there’s just no accounting for taste. I grew up eating peanut butter, sweet pickle and mayonnaise sandwiches thinking that it was perfectly normal. It was only later that I found out that it was, most definitely, not as common as I thought. And that can be true with a lot of foods that we put together without thinking, because that’s just how it’s done.
As it turns out, there are not that many foods that are exclusive to Virginia and Virginia only…we eat like a lot of other folks in the south. But there are definitely a few things that you’re likely to find on Virginia plate that might just raise a Northern eyebrow or two.
1. Salted Peanuts in Coke
Step 1: Open a bag of peanuts. Step 2: Pour peanuts into your Coke. Step 3: Enjoy. I have to admit, I've never understood it, but it's just how things are done.
2. Peanut Soup, Peanut Pie or Peanuts on Pizza...
Peanuts are kind of our "thing" in Virginia. And we will put them on or in just about anything. Crozet Pizza, just outside of Charlottesville, offers the "Harvest Moon," a white pizza with squash, roasted garlic and Virginia Peanuts. Peanut Pie and Peanut Soup are also popular in the state. If you've ever been to the Virginia Diner in Wakefield, you know what I'm talking about.
3. Brunswick Stew with Squirrel…or as it was once known, "Squirrel Muddle"
Brunswick County lays claim to the title "Original Home of Brunswick Stew." And while I've never had it with squirrel, when this delicious blend of tomatoes, corn, potatoes and stewed meat first came about, squirrel was one of the main ingredients.
4. Grits with just about anything.
Grist aren't exclusive to Virginia, by any means, but boy, do we love them. We'll mix them with just about anything, at any meal. Grits with salt and butter, maybe some maple syrup, grits and sausage casserole, cheese grits, shrimp and grits, shrimp and catfish, fried grits…and the list goes on.
5. Black-eyed Peas and Stewed Tomatoes
Thought to bring luck for the coming year, you'll find this combination on many a Virginia table on New Year's Day. And don't be surprised if your peas come in the form of Hoppin' John.
6. Collard Greens and Salt Pork (or fatback, depending on your terminology)
Collard greens that have been slow cooked with salt pork, fatback, bacon or even a ham hock make for an amazing side. You might even throw in a little vinegar before serving to give them that extra kick.
8. Coffee and Pork Drippings (a.k.a. Red-Eye Gravy) with Virginia Ham
No, this is not Starbucks' latest creation (and by the way, Starbucks…you can't use this, I called it). This combo is the classic Southern treat known as Red-Eye Gravy. Best when served with Virginia's own Smithfield ham - that delectable bit of salty goodness that can only be made in Smithfield - Red-Eye Gravy uses bacon or ham drippings and black coffee as the base for a delicious topping that can be put over ham, biscuits, grits and/or mashed potatoes.
9. Melons and Salt
Cantaloupe and watermelon were always served with salt where I grew up in Southern Virginia. My grandfather said it brought out the sweetness. This kid gets it.
10. Mayonnaise, Tomato and Cucumber Sandwiches (with Duke's mayo, of course)
If I had to describe summer as a taste, this would be it. The perfect sandwich includes fresh tomatoes and cukes from the garden, some mayo and just a touch of salt and pepper to finish it off.
11. Spoonbread and Fish or Pork
Virginia spoonbread actually dates back to Colonial times. This cornmeal-based, soft "bread" uses milk and eggs to give it a baked pudding-like consistency. I've always had it served with fish, because…well, because it's the perfect side. But it's also nice with pork. Or by itself. Or any way you can get it.
12. Coca-Cola + Chocolate + Marshmallows = Coca-Cola Chocolate Cake
This rich, delicious chocolate cake isn't only found in Virginia, of course. But it's a popular dish here, for sure, popping up repeatedly in Virginia recipe collections and Junior League cookbooks around the state.
13. Buttermilk and Cornbread
For a quick and easy breakfast, snack, or for some I've heard, a dessert, crumble up some cornbread in a glass of buttermilk. For the most traditional rendering of this Southern classic, the cornbread is cooked in a cast iron skillet. Also, when times were tight, some folks would "clabber" their milk with a little white vinegar to create a buttermilk substitute.
14 Raw Oysters and Saltines
Virginia's Eastern Shore is known for it's amazing oysters. An oyster bake with friends and beer is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon, in my opinion. But if you can't wait for the oysters to cook, put a raw oyster on a saltine with some cocktail sauce and a splash of hot sauce and you have a perfect Virginia snack.
15. Pepper Jelly and Cream Cheese
Hot chiles turned into jelly may not sound like a hit, but trust me…IT IS. Pepper Jelly (red or green) served over cream cheese on a cracker is one of the nicest treats you'll ever find.
What are your favorite Virginia food combinations? Better yet, what I’d really like to hear is about a time you served something to an out-of-stater, only to get a blank stare in return. Tell us some of favorite foodie stories in the comments below!