The Piedmont Virginian's Blog

Serving and Celebrating America's Historic Heart

Tag: Food

A Generation of Sourdough Bread

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I would tell a lie if I told you I eat a lot of bread. I actually eat very little bread. However, when I have it, and when I make it, I devour it in a heartbeat. You could say that bread is my weakness when it’s available. But it must be fresh, hot out of the oven bread.

It’s only natural that my very first job was working in a little Mennonite store in Remington, Virginia. I’ve always said that my cooking and baking skills came from that stage in life rather than from my mother or grandmother. I never got many opportunities to cook “with” my mom or grandma, or maybe I simply wasn’t interested in it at the time. But as I have grown and now have a family of my own, I often think of cooking and baking with grandma now. The sad fact is that I now cook and bake for her, instead of with her. Slow down, time….you’re taking the people we love away from us much too quickly.

A few years ago a friend of my mothers sent me a sourdough starter through the mail. I was terrified that the white powdery substance would be inspected as some chemical war of terror, but it made it safely to my mailbox in just a few short days — from North Carolina to good ol’ Virginia.

Sourdough was a brand new thing to me. I loved eating sourdough, but I never understood the complex science behind it. I’m a fermenting queen now, but back then? No way.

The history of sourdough is simple. People needed an option to preserve and make something on a regular basis. Fermentation was one of the very first ways of preserving food for our ancestors. Yes, it came long before canning.

But with something so simple, I failed. I failed miserably the first time. I even had to ask for more suspicious white powdery mailed substance so that I could start all over again — and then I failed again. Eventually I gave up because I didn’t have the time for this complex science. Recently, however, I discovered it’s not science at all, but an art.

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Homemade Strawberry Jam

Last year was the very first year we went strawberry picking. It was a no-brainer this year. We had to go strawberry picking at Messick’s Farm again this year. And then when we discovered that they were running a special of buy two-gallons get one free, we were on it! When we got home with this years pick, I instantly knew what I would make first — strawberry jam. Last year I wanted to make it so badly, but never had a chance to make anything but a quick strawberry jamy-syrup topping for ice cream. This year, it was much different.
There was some amazing, yummy goodness going on in my kitchen the other day….
strawberry jam 2 strawberry jam 3 strawberry jam 4
And I just have to share the recipe with you!

This is a recipe that is found all across the internet, in cookbooks, and in your grandmas memory. It is quick and easy, and not to mention, very simple. It has been tried and tested for years, and it’s about time you put it to test for yourself.

Homemade Strawberry Jam
2 quarts of fresh strawberries (de-stemmed and sliced in half)
1/3 to 1/2 cup fruit pectin (depending on your preference of thickness)
4 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tsp butter
7 cups refined sugar (organic cane juice works too)
— Before you begin — 
Whenever making jam, you want to make sure that you have all of your utensils and ingredients together before you begin. All jars need to be sterilized and set aside before starting your jam. Make sure you have jars, lids, a ladle, and a jar funnel for pouring the jam into your jars. Have all of this ready before proceeding to make the jam.
Measure 2 quarts (I just use quart jars) of de-stemmed and sliced strawberries into a large bowl.
Smash strawberries to break into smaller pieces and to release juice from the berry. If you prefer not to have larger chunks in your jam, then you’ll need to pulse your berries in a food processor a few times.
Pour crushed berries into a large (6 qt +) pan.
Add pectin, butter and lemon juice to crushed berries.
Bring to a boil over medium high heat — stirring constantly. Do not allow it to scorch on the bottom.
Pour in pre-measured sugar until it is completely dissolved. Stir constantly.
Bring mixture back up to a boil that cannot be stirred down, stir constantly for 2 minutes while it boils.
Make sure you are careful and do not burn yourself! Boiling jam is extremely sticky and painful!
After 2 minutes, immediately remove from heat and immediately skim off what little foam may be on top of jam.
Quickly ladle into jars, cap with lid and ring. Do not tighten too hard — fingertip tightening.
Over the next few hours your jars will begin to seal themselves. They will last in your pantry for well over a year or more.
If any of your jars do not seal, remove the lid, replace with new lid, and place in a hot water bath canner for 20 mins.
Don’t want to use commercial fruit pectin? Try making your own! Click here to find out how.
photo (4)Amy Fewell is the Advertising Manager of The Piedmont Virginian Magazine. She resides in Rixeyville, VA along with her husband, son and loveable lab. They run a small “mini-homestead” and Amy owns her own photography business. For more information, visit their homestead website and Amy’s personal photography website.

Kick Off the Montpelier Races with a Delicious Tailgate Recipe

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Testing One’s Culinary Mettle

By Laurie Beth Gills

…And they’re off! A flame has sparked on this day as I sit in front of my computer typing initial notes, and conjuring up flavors and ingredients for the big day on November 1.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Montpelier Hunt Races on the historic grounds of James Madison’s lifelong home, Montpelier, in Orange County, Va.  Along with the races comes a most anticipated event that I can’t seem to get enough of…the time honored tailgating contest!

“Why plan so early?” friends ask. “Really, are you kidding me?” is usually my standard thought or reply. For me, the Montpelier Tailgating Contest provides the ultimate cooking challenge—testing one’s culinary mettle and more. It measures and spurs my courage, creativity and backbone (the latter quite literally). Despite the formidable challenges the event provides, I find myself returning year after year.

Do we live in a competitive, showy food culture? Take a quick glance at your smart phone, or pick up any magazine and you’ll quickly find the answer is yes. What’s not so clear is just how far a chef will to go to win first place in a competition. Many will run the distance as I have witnessed in previous years, seeking to quell the competition. Others will own a different attitude with a less-stress, easy-going approach. The latter, less stressful approach is the one I try to adopt, but there will always be moments of chaos that are out of your control. Expect the unexpected, and perhaps you’ll gain an edge!

So do you think you have what it takes to step into the winner’s circle? With a pinch of moxie and a zest for cooking, success can be had! Just know that once the decision has been made to enter the tailgating contest, the competition has begun and it’s time to start planning.

Personally, I think that the initial planning process is tons of fun, with my favorite part being the menu writing. Planning the menu gives me the perfect excuse to browse through my favorite cookbooks, cooking blogs and magazines more than I already do.

There are many reasons to join in the competition, and I’d like to encourage you to do so! For me, the creative process of making high-caliber food and being judged by exemplary chefs is what drives me to compete. I’m also driven by the innate passion I’ve had for food ever since I was a child making mud-based meatballs!

Of course, there’s also a teensy-tiny part of me that loves the competitive nature of the event. No matter where your motivation comes from, every reason to compete is a good one. Be it the competitive edge, a mad passion for cooking, or just spending the day sporting at the races with family, friends and good eats.

In order to engineer a successful event, you must begin planning early. If you’re planning on participating in the competition this year (and I do hope you will!) the following tips are things I’ve learned through my experiences at the races in years past.

  • First things first. Visit the official Montpelier Hunt Race website at ( Read all there is to read about the contest. You’ll find a complete listing of the official rules, and there’s also a phone number posted on the site so you can contact the office directly with any questions.
  • Remember that when crafting your menu, pay close attention to the selected theme. Each year judges choose a unique theme for their spectacular event. Last year, 2013, celebrated the year “1938” in honor of Marion du Pont Scott’s beloved horse, Battleship, who became the first American horse to win the British Grand National. Keeping the theme for the year in mind, your menu should reflect the times, the people, and naturally the food. Also recognize the lead judge. A new judge is recruited each year, so take notice – some rules/requirements can shift a bit as well.
  • You’ll notice that table décor can be quite elaborate at the hunt races, but when it comes to judging food, I’d like to think that this holds little weight. It is about the food, so focus on the food. Don’t be intimidated by the elaborate tablescapes and think you need to spend a fortune on décor. As a matter of fact, during the years I’ve competed, there was a separate prize awarded to the best table design. So if you’d like to compete in this particular part of the competition, know that the table display should also relate with the year’s select theme. Again, make certain to check the Montpelier website for the complete scoop.
  • There is one key factor that is completely uncontrollable and will effect the quality of the whole day; Mother Nature. Rain or shine, frigid cold or even a foot of snow, the race is guaranteed to continue on, and so will you. A warm, comfortable pair of boots, cozy sweater, and a bottle of your favorite libation are highly recommended.
  • For all practical purposes, it’s best to prepare as much food as you possibly can ahead of time. And seriously, don’t think that you need to be a caterer or chef extraordinaire. You just simply need to be well organized and a good cook with a good attitude. Trust me, a crazy adrenaline rush that magically appears about three days prior to the event will quickly put an end to any lackadaisical tendencies.

There is no better place to trumpet one’s fine food and creative design than at the Montpelier Hunt Race and Tailgating Contest. Whatever drives you to the horse race, rest assured, you’re guaranteed a winning day. I hope my tale of tailgating will inspire and coax you into coming out and enjoying this magnificent day and all it has to offer. See you on November 1!

Here’s a winning recipe from last year’s event. Pissaladière. The classic French “pizza” tart with caramelized onions and anchovies. The judges enjoyed it and I hope you and your family do too!



Serves: 4 to 6


2 TBS unsalted butter

¼ cup olive oil

2 lbs yellow onions – thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves

1 bouquet garni

Pinch of salt

1 quality pizza-bread dough (roughly 28 oz)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

12 to15 anchovies – soaked in milk for 30 minutes if too salty; halved lengthways

25 small, black, pitted olives (preferably Niçoise)

Fresh, young thyme sprigs



Melt butter with the olive oil in a heavy saucepan and add the onions, garlic and bouquet garni. Season lightly with salt. Cover and cook gently over low heat for 45 – 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened but not browned. Discard the garlic and bouquet garni. Let cool at room temperature. Drain off excess oil.

On a lightly floured counter, roll dough to roughly fit a 13 ½ x 10 ½ inch shallow baking tray. Press the dough all over the pan to make a thin, even base. Chill for 20 minutes before baking. (For a crispier crust, simply bake dough directly on a hot pizza stone.)

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Use a fork to spread out the onions lightly and evenly over the entire pizza base. Lay the anchovies in a lattice pattern over the onion and then arrange the olives inside the lattice diamonds. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the dough is cooked and lightly browned. Sprinkle with the remaining thyme and cut into squares. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

About the Author: Chef Laurie Beth Gills is the owner and Executive Chef of LB’s Classic & Contemporary Cooking, a culinary instruction and catering service. She is the founder of Fredericksburg’s first fine dining group, LB’s Foodies, which organizes exclusive dinners at local fine dining establishments. Additionally, she has earned certification as a Master Gardener, and currently volunteers as a Gardener Ambassador for Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Gardens at Monticello. Her unique combination of culinary and gardening expertise have lead her to offer garden consulting services, with an emphasis on gardening for the kitchen.

Oyster Festival at DuCard Vineyards {This weekend!!}

This Saturday, April 27, from 12-5 PM, DuCard Vineyards will hold their Oyster Festival! It’s an R month so oysters are in season. The Rappahannock River Oyster Company will be on site with oysters on the half shell, steamed oysters, crab cakes and other related delectable’s for purchase.  We think they all pair well with DuCard’s Signature Viognier and Gibson Hollow White, but you’ll need to decide for yourself!  Live music will also be provided by the very talented group, Trius — a fun afternoon ‘in the country.’  The price is $10 per person in advance – click here for tickets – or $15 at the door. Each ticket includes a souvenir DuCard wine glass and choice of wine tasting, or your first glass of wine.  There is no charge for children/adults under 21.

Just in case you’re not familiar with this wonderful Virginia Vineyard, DuCard is nestled at the base of the beautiful blue ridge mountains, on the eastern edge of  Shenadoah National Park. From there you can admire soaring Old Rag Mountain and White Oak Canyon. DuCard offers a gorgeous tasting room and strive’s to respect the environment and support local businesses in everything they do.

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