For 2024 Meals, Think Virginia

For 2024 Meals, Think Virginia

Traditional Virginia foods can brighten your table and your tales.

In making your new year’s resolutions, to bolster your fealty to the Old Dominion, culinary and otherwise, try to “Buy Virginia.” Virginia’s state legislators, convening in Richmond on Jan. 10, will likely thank you.


Virginia’s Smithfield ham is “world famous,” touts Smithfield Foods. These hams are cured in Smithfield in the state’s tidewater, peanut-growing belt. The country hams are aged, smoked and dry cured with salt for six to 12 months. The milder-tasting “city hams” are not cured as long. Ham and red-eye gravy and ham biscuits are favorites at many Virginia tables.

A Barrel of Hams Went to France: George Washington shipped a barrel full of Virginia hams to the Marquis de Lafayette in France in 1786. Washington wrote, “Mrs. Washington had packed and sent for Madame de la Fayette's acceptance, a barrel of Virginia Hams. I do not know that they are better, or so good as you make in France, but as they are of our own manufacture (and you know the Virginia Ladies value themselves on the goodness of their 

Shopping for apples at the Mount Vernon Farmers Market, December 13, 2023


bacon), and we recollect that it is a dish of which you are fond, she prevailed on me to ask your's and Madame de la Fayette's acceptance of them.”


Judd and Cari Culver renovated an 1870s farmhouse and became turkey farmers in Crozet, Virginia, raising Kelly bronze turkeys. These birds are named for British farmer, Derek Kelly, who started raising and marketing them in 1984 in Essex, England. “Bronze” comes from their glossy brown color. 

Antibiotic-free, the turkeys roam Albemarle County’s fields and woods. “Supermarket turkeys” are typically slaughtered at age 12 to 14 weeks, despite the turkey’s age or maturity, says Judd. The Kelly bronzes are harvested at 21 to 24 weeks old which gives them a layer of fat over their muscles, more marbling. Because they walk around a lot, “there’s more hemoglobin, more flavor,” he maintains. 

Brunswick Stew

There are long-standing debates about whether Brunswick stew originated in Virginia or Georgia and about the ingredients that make it genuine. Originally, the central ingredient was wild game like rabbits and squirrels. Today, some gourmands would consider Brunswick stew with chicken or pork “adulterated.” A true stew is simmered in a cast-iron cauldron over a fire with vegetables, like potatoes and lima beans.

Virginia Senate clerk Susan Schaar has a five-foot-long, wooden paddle in her state capitol office, uniquely designed to stir Brunswick stew. There’s no question in her mind: the critical ingredient of a true Brunswick stew is squirrels – not rabbits, chickens or heaven forbid, beef. She likes to tell the new General Assembly pages that the squirrels scampering around Capitol Square end up in a Brunswick stew. End of debate. 


From Winchester to Nelson County, Virginia is apple country. At least 16 varieties are grown in the state, from pink ladies to Granny Smiths, reports the Virginia Apple Growers Association.

True Virginians never waste an apple. These prized fruits become sauce, “butter,” dumplings, fritters, cobblers, cakes, juice and cider. In a long-established, fall tradition, people stand around an iron or copper kettle over a wood fire and stir apples until they become a mahogany-colored, edible slurry, called apple butter. 

Another Virginia specialty is the fried apple “pie,” a mixture of cooked apples, sugar and cinnamon between two pieces of dough pressed together and skillet fried.


“The Virginia peanut stands out from the other peanut varieties in both size and taste, they are the largest peanut … and they have a characteristic crunch when eaten,” says the state’s tourism website. The Virginia Diner in Wakefield serves peanut pie, a caramelized, peanutty filling in a flaky crust. Mount Vernon Inn’s restaurant offers peanut soup. 


Oysters helped the Jamestown colonists survive in 1607 and these bivalves have many devoteés today who love to slurp the fleshy blobs of meat pricked from two bumpy, gray shells. Virginia oysters are so popular that former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe launched the Virginia Oyster Trail and declared the state the “Oyster Capital of the East Coast” in 2015.


Duke’s mayonnaise, made by Sauer Brands, founded in Richmond in 1887, has held together many potato salads for generations. Unlike other brands, Duke’s has only egg yolks, not the whole egg, and zero sugar. “Duke’s has that indescribably Southern-something that elevates food from merely good to downright transcendent,” boasts the website. Its rich, creamy consistency has generated an almost cult-like following.


When Fairfax County resident Abe Karmarck got fed up with watching his children dump and gobble up ketchup, he studied the ingredients and learned that most American ketchup brands are loaded with sugar. One 20-ounce bottle of a leading ketchup brand has over half a pound of sugar, more than most vanilla ice cream brands with six grams of sugar per ounce, he contends.

So he launched True Made Foods and made a ketchup with no added sugar and only two grams of natural sugars. His ketchup has over one-half pound of vegetables in every bottle, providing the natural sugars of carrots, butternut squash and spinach. He went on to also make no- and low-sugar barbeque sauces and srirachas. The company motto: “We turn junk food into superfoods.”


Tommy Aquaro, “the salsa man,” combines tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers and more into 16 enticing salsas with names like Hell’s Bells, Devil’s Breath, Kick in the Pants and Sucker Punch Peach. His products have no salt, sugar or chemicals and he specializes in smoked salsas. “I smoke everything,” he says. “Smoking is a kiss,” he believes. He encourages adding his salsas to meatloaf, chicken, steak, fish, baked potatoes, stews, casseroles and eggs.


Joyce and Travis Miller make around 30,000 bottles or 3,000 gallons of hickory syrup in seven flavors a year in their Berryville kitchen. They clean, toast and cook the bark in water to create a liquor-like substance, age it a few days, add raw sugar and reheat it. They age some batches in Catoctin Creek Distilling Company whiskey barrels for 100 days so the syrup picks up the whiskey flavor. Adventure beyond pancakes and French toast, they urge. Check out their website’s recipes.

In “Little Switzerland,” Virginia’s Highland County, the Maple Syrup Trail links seven sugar camps that make pure maple syrup. Here, for generations, maplers have drained sap from trees and boiled it down into pure syrup. At the annual March Maple Festival, veteran maplers share tidbits like one tablespoon of maple syrup has 40 calories and maple syrup comes in shades, from light to dark amber. Locals make maple donuts, candy, popcorn, ice cream, mustard, sugar, butter, bread, pecans, lollipops, cream, fudge and tea. 

Potato Chips

Route 11 entrepreneurs in Mt. Jackson say they are “traditionalists” because for over 25 years they have kettle cooked potatoes in small batches to make an exceptional potato chip. “A nice golden color and a body with plenty of curl are a must,” says the website. “With every crunch, potato flavor bursts forth.” 

How about a potato chip omelet for breakfast? Check out chef José Andrés' creation on their website.

More on Virginia Foods

Smithfield Hams,

Kelly Bronze Turkeys, 


True Made Foods, 

Hickory syrup, 

Maple syrup, 


Potato chips,