McLean food and travel writer CiCi Williamson has united her genres in a new book titled “The Best of Virginia Farms.” The book combines native recipes, history and lore with practical information relative to the state. Williamson spent months criss-crossing Virginia to interview farmers and gather authentic recipes. The result is a cookbook that surpasses the ordinary by personalizing not only the recipes but also the foods grown to be used in the recipes.
“We were the first farm state, so this book made sense,” said Williamson. “My problem was that I didn’t know anything about farming. I didn’t know a collard green from a tobacco leaf.” She spent months researching the history of farming and was alarmed at the decline in agricultural living. In total, the book took more than two years to complete.
After tracing the history of farming in Virginia, Williamson decided to incorporate historical recipes into the book. “I wanted to include [in addition to other recipes] a recipe for each of the eight presidents who came from Virginia,” said Williamson.
Having written about food for 25 years, Williamson knew many chefs she could ask for recipes to include in the cookbook. “I knew a lot of chefs, but the problem was that I had to make the recipes again myself because they are used to cooking in large quantities; so I had to make sure the measurements were right for the consumer, and I had to figure out what pans to use because most people don’t use the same [industrial] pans,” said Williamson.
THE COOKBOOK is available at local book stores but is highly popular at historic locations such as Mount Vernon. “This is a book you can really read. The interesting thing to me is how these different formats support each other. I wrote it like you’d stitch a quilt to make a whole picture of the different aspects of the state,” said Williamson.
On nearly every page, the author has included tidbits of information that enhance the chapter. Some include historical facts, some information on selecting produce, and others on a specific region. The chapters themselves are broken into parts. The book includes 10 parts, with the chapters, such as eggs or chicken, being subsets of those.
The parts, say Williamson, “create a 400-year picture of all the foods that were grown and cooked in Virginia. It’s more of a story than a cookbook.”
State Del. Vince Callahan (R-34) submitted a recipe for the book. “We really liked it [the recipe]. We had it a few years ago, I can’t remember where. But, we make it at our house,” said Callahan. The recipe he and his wife submitted is for Brunswick Stew Callahan, and according to Williamson, the pair first tried the dish at a barn party in Farmville. The sidebar to the recipe includes a history of Brunswick stew that debunks the myth that its origins were outside of the state. “Sorry, sister states of the South who claim bragging rights, but Brunswick Stew originated in Virginia,” Williamson wrote.
AGRI-TOURISM HAS BOOSTED book sales and added a second dimension to the book. “It’s a worldwide trend. People are taking tours to see how and where food is produced,” said Williamson. While people typically think of more exotic destinations like Italy when thinking agri-tourism, even Virginia Gov. Mark Warner supports Williamson’s theory. “I want us to continue to promote Virginia’s products through the Virginia’s Finest program, too. That’s become a well-recognized brand. And folks who take trips through our vibrant Virginia agricultural areas after reading books like ‘The Best of Virginia Farms’ will increase the interest in our agri-tourism program,” stated Warner, in the front of the book.
“This book was two years in the making and at least nine months of really intensive research,” said Williamson. “I found out so many interesting things about our state that I had no idea of.”
CHEZ FRANCOIS, a popular Alsatian-style restaurant in Great Falls, submitted the following recipe:
Chez Francois Plum Pie
2 1/2 pounds small purple plums
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
1 (9-inch) pie crust, baked to light brown
4 to 7 tablespoons sugar, divided
Preheat oven to 400 F. Split plums lengthwise with a sharp knife and remove pits. Spread crumbs in bottom of baked pie crust. Place plums cut side up in tight concentric circles around the pie. Plums should be resting against each other at a slight angle. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until skins tear easily. Combine 1 tablespoon sugar with cinnamon. Sprinkle fruit with 4 to 6 tablespoons remaining sugar, depending on the tartness of the fruit. Dust with cinnamon sugar. Serve warm (if desired with vanilla ice cream). Makes 6 to 8 servings.