Steeped in history, the great state of Virginia has more to offer than museums, hallowed halls and battlegrounds. It’s known as the oyster capital of the East Coast and is the true birthplace of Brunswick stew. (Don’t tell Georgia. It’s complicated.)
In actuality, Indigenous tribes were likely already making a similar stew before anyone showed up and gave it a different name. Traditionally, wild game and corn were simmered until thick and perfect for sticking to ribs.
Brunswick stew is still popular in both states and the South in general, but these days Virginia’s version involves less squirrel and rabbit and more chicken and potatoes. It’ll still stick to your ribs, though.
Way over here in the middle of the nation, it’s not so easy to enjoy Virginia’s bountiful oysters, soft-shell crab and blue crab, but fortunately they’re also known for some fine ham. Smithfield is known as the town that made ham famous, and Virginians don’t mess around with their ham. All Smithfield ham is country ham, but all country ham is not even close to trying to be Smithfield ham.
Ham biscuits are a source of pride and are served everywhere all the time as far as I can tell. They’re just like they sound: Slices of country ham are sandwiched in a flaky buttermilk biscuit, with condiments such as mustard optional.
I read that sometimes rolls are used for ham biscuits instead of biscuits, but that just didn’t compute so I left it alone. I suggest you do the same.
As far as ham legends go, it’s said that back in the day the pigs that would be Smithfield hams were raised on a steady diet of Virginia peanuts.
They are the biggest peanut of all the peanuts grown in the U.S., so I’ll bite. I’m also pretty gullible, but it makes sense. Peanuts were used in all kinds of ways; why not in the growing of everyone’s favorite ham?
Try these recipes for a fairly authentic taste of Virginia.
Virginia-style Brunswick stew
- 3 slices bacon, chopped
- 2 large onions, diced
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, crushed
- 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 4 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cups frozen lima beans
- 1 can corn, drained or 1 can creamed corn
- 3 cups cooked shredded chicken
- 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- Hot sauce or vinegar, to taste
In a large pot, cook bacon pieces over medium heat until soft. Add onion, broth, tomatoes (undrained), potatoes, sugar and lima beans. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Add the corn and chicken and cook at a low simmer until chicken begins to break down and the stew is thick, about 10 minutes. Do not allow to scorch.
Season heavily with salt and pepper. Add a dash of hot sauce or a little vinegar, if desired. Serve with crackers, cornbread or biscuits.
Recipe adapted from www.frugalhausfrau.com.
Virginia peanut pie
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 2 tablespoons vodka
- 2 to 4 tablespoons cold water
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups roasted salted peanuts
Using a food processor, add flour, brown sugar and salt; pulse until well combined. Add cubed butter and pulse until a crumbly mixture forms.
Add vodka and 2 tablespoons of water; pulse until well combined. Continue adding water 1 tablespoon at a time (and pulsing) until dough comes together in a ball. Shape dough into a disc and wrap with plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a well-floured surface, roll pie dough into a 12-inch circle.
Transfer pie dough into pan and gently press dough into pan; trim excess overhang to a 1/2 inch. Tuck overhang under itself so that folded edge is level with the edge of pie plate. Use 2 fingers to crimp the edges of dough. Refrigerate dough for at least 15 minutes.
Using a large mixing bowl, add corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs, melted butter and vanilla extract; stir until well combined. Spread peanuts out onto counter or large cutting board. Using a rolling pin, lightly crush 2/3 of the peanuts. Add crushed peanuts and remaining whole peanuts to mixing bowl; stir until well combined.
Transfer mixture into prepared pie pan. Bake at for 55 to 60 minutes, or until filling is set. Let pie cool at room temperature for at least 3 hours before slicing and serving.
Recipe adapted from www.spicedblog.com.