Shortly after I moved to California, I found a used bookstore that soon became one of my favourite places to browse. I love libraries and bookstores, and I’m always on the lookout for those community cookbooks from church groups or other organizations because they have such a wide variety of interesting home cookin’ recipes, the kind of food you’d find at bake sales and potluck suppers.
One day, during a time when I had been feeling especially homesick, I went browsing in the cookbook section and something very familiar caught my eye. Virginia Hospitality was one of my Sissy’s favourite cookbooks (from the Junior League of Hampton Roads) and it was guaranteed to have some good old fashioned recipes in it. I happily took it home for $6.
Virginia, being one of the original 13 colonies, has a very long history of hospitality equated with food. Some of the recipes come from historic inns and well-known restaurants, and throughout the cookbook are lovely illustrations of some of these locations. Little blurbs about Virginia history and interesting recipe trivia appear here and there. Beneath the hush puppies recipe, it reads, “Hunters sitting around camp fires many years ago were said to have quieted their dogs by throwing them leftover bits of corn patties with the command, ‘Hush, puppies!’ Today they are a must served with fresh fish.” If you’ve never been to a real country fish fry, I pity you. Catfish and hush puppies are da bomb.
Virginia has access to some delicious seafood (crab, clams, oysters, fish, and shrimp) and we love our spirits, so I can assure you the Beverages and Seafood sections are full of promise. Virginia’s Smithfield ham is world renowned (I’ve never tasted better) and there are recipes for quail, pheasant, turkey, rabbit, and venison as well. Imagine the abundance of game in colonial times!
At the end of each section is a list of kitchen tips, quick side dishes, or nice little things to have on hand to offer guests. Part of being a Southern woman is being a good hostess, and whether you live in a trailer park or up in “the big house,” when company comes by, it’s nice to be able to provide a little refreshment while everybody visits, even if it’s just a big hug and a tall glass of sweet iced tea.
The recipes vary from the pretty damn old (Peach Preserves) to the rather modern (Gazpacho) to the strange but intriguing (Centennial Cheddar Cheesecake). I have yet to try the Cream of Peanut Soup, but who knows. I can, however, verify that the biscuit recipe is darn near foolproof, and the chocolate crinkle cookie is delicious. This book is where I learned to make a mint julep, cheese rarebit (Virginia Rabbit), crabcakes, and Sally Lunn. Now that I’m a bit more confident in the kitchen, I reckon it’s about time to try a few new things when I feel like having a taste of home.
You can still find old (and new) versions of this cookbook for sale, so keep an eye out.