Rarely do you realize what a good cook your mother (or father) is until you go away from home for the first time. All it takes is a few weeks of surviving on mac n’ cheese and ramen noodles to find yourself daydreaming of home. That feeling becomes even stronger when you move to or visit another part of the country. I can still remember the first time I went out for breakfast and there were no grits on the menu.
Like every state, Virginia has “her” foods — the things that we grew up on and still crave with a sense of nostalgia. But, one of the many things I love about Virginia is that there are such distinct regions and cultures. And that means that some “Virginia foods” aren’t necessarily common to everyone in the state, but I like to think that whether you’ve had everything on the list below or not, they are still part of what makes our state special. For me, these are the things that taste like home.
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1. Brunswick Stew
We might argue with Georgia about who ACTUALLY created this dish, but there’s no denying that it’s delicious. Today, it’s most commonly made with chicken, tomatoes, lima beans, corn and a variety of other vegetables, but original recipes called for squirrel, possum or whatever was available. I’ll stick with chicken.
Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs have been a staple for many Virginians, particularly in the Eastern and Northeastern parts of the state. But it’s hard to find anyone in Virginia who doesn’t love a good ol’ crab picking or homemade crab cakes.
3. Virginia Ham
There’s ham. And there’s Virginia ham. Smithfield hams are the most well known for their special salting and curing process that can only be done in Smithfield. Maybe it’s the fact that they only use peanut-fed hogs – or maybe they’re just that good.
4. Sweet Tea
Sure, you can have tea hot or without sugar. But why?
Virginia boasts 7 distinct oyster regions with 7 distinct flavors. There’s a reason we’re considered “The Oyster Capital of the East.”
Grits are an iconic food in the South and no one does them better than Virginia. Boiled and served with butter, mixed with cheese or served up with shrimp, grits are a Virginia standard that it’s hard not to love.
7. Apple Butter
Not to be confused with actual butter, apple butter is a slow-cooked, cinnamony-sweet spread that goes perfectly with breads, biscuits, cakes and cookies.
8. Ok, actually, Virginians love all things apple…
Some of the first apple trees in the country were planted in Virginia in the 1600s, and we’ve loved them ever since. Apple cider, apple cider donuts, apple pies or straight from the tree. We’re not picky.
8. The same goes for peaches.
Few things in the world taste better than a fresh peach. From roadside stands to pick-your-own, Virginia peaches are simply part of summer in Virginia.
9. Virginia Wine
We know it’s amazing…and the world is noticing, too. We’ve gotten quite a reputation for our divine vintages and our wines continue to win awards at local, national and international competitions.
10. Sweet Corn
The Silver Queen corn is ready, you say? Summer may commence.
11. Hanover Tomatoes
When other kids came back to college from a weekend home with cakes or cookies, I came home with a bag of tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden. What makes a Hanover tomato so special? Scientists say it’s the soil. I say it’s love.
Chances are, no one makes biscuits like your mother – who probably learned it from her mother, and so on. Biscuits and gravy, ham biscuits, biscuits and jam –as long as they’re on the table, we don’t care what you put on them.
There’s no question, Virginia is passionate about her barbecue. Most Virginia barbecue is slow-roasted and served pulled or chopped. It’s up to you to add the sauce and slaw.
14. Ice Cream. It’s just kind of “our thing.”
Thomas Jefferson is responsible for the first recorded recipe for ice cream in America. Doumar’s in Norfolk made the first ice cream cone. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
15. Northern Neck Ginger Ale
Northern Neck Ginger Ale is the world’s best ginger ale. No, I haven’t tasted every ginger ale in the world, but I don’t need to. This is the best. Made in Montross until 2001, when Coca-Cola bought the small bottler, it’s now made near Richmond. And no, it’s not the same, I’ll admit. But I’m a die-hard fan, just like many Virginians who won’t drink anything else.
16. Craft Beer
Like our wine, our craft beers are making a name for themselves. With more than 100 breweries to choose from, you can be just as picky as you want – there’s something for everyone.
17. Hard Apple Cider
Hard cider is a tradition as old as Virginia itself. This sweet ale-like drink was a favorite of colonial Virginians and is quickly becoming a favorite again today.
Cidermakers like Bold Rock in Nellysford are turning handcrafted cider into an art – a delicious, drinkable art at that.
18. Shoofly Pie
This molasses pie was introduced by the Pennsylvania Dutch who immigrated to the Shenandoah Valley. It probably got it’s name when flies gathered around to see what all the delicousness was about…can’t blame them.
19. Fried Fruit Pies
Fried pies pretty much prove that almost anything can be made better with a little deep frying. Basically a pastry turnover with fresh fruit fillings, fried pies have long been a tradition in the western part of the state. Lately, they’ve been making a comeback with companies like Ole Time Fried Pies in the Shenandoah Valley.
Boiled, dry roasted, salted, seasoned, in peanut soup or served as peanut pie. There’s no wrong way to serve Virginia peanuts. Some people even put them in their Coke. True story.
21. Route 11 Potato Chips
Route 11 Potato Chip Company in Mount Jackson has only been around for 23 years, but that’s long enough to make them a favorite for Virginians. A secret recipe and incredible flavors like Chesapeake Bay Crab and Mama Zuma’s Revenge make them the first bag I grab for.
It’s amazing how a food or drink can take you back in time. So many of these things defined my childhood in Virginia and take me back to a simpler time. What are the foods that make you think of home?