Hams in the smokehouse at Darden's County Store in Smithfield. Pat Jarrett/VFH Staff
Country Ham Curing: Darden Ham
The Darden family has been curing and selling country hams the old-fashioned way since the 1950s, at their country store in Smithfield, Virginia, following traditions Tommy Darden learned from his father.
Country Ham Curing
There is probably no other traditional food more associated with Southwest Virginia than country ham. Unlike the more commonly known wet-cured ham, which is soaked in brine or injected with a salt solution, country ham is dry-cured and aged over a much longer period. The curing of fresh pork hams takes nine months, usually beginning in November.
Fried Apple Pies
Known as “Fried Apple Pies,” “Dried Apple Pies,” or even “Fried Dried Apple Pies,” these locally made pies seem to have a ubiquitous presence throughout Southwest Virginia, appearing on the counters and shelves of country stores, gas stations, and community festivals. The defining characteristic of the pie is its intense flavor, accomplished through the use of dried apples, which are rehydrated through a long simmering process with brown sugar.
What began, according to area legend, as a communal meal prepared for a hunting expedition on the banks of the Nottoway River in 1828, the cooking of Brunswick stew has evolved into a time-honored tradition—a staple at community gatherings, a source of regional pride, the focus of spirited competition, and a true Virginia culinary art.
A family of five unidentified Mattaponi Indians poses for a photograph by James Mooney somewhere in Virginia sometime in 1900. Courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
The Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes, located on rivers named for them, have maintained hatcheries for American shad for the past hundred years, but their ties to the rivers and fishing have existed for thousands.
Beekeeping is the care of honeybee colonies, commonly in hives, to stimulate crop pollination and to ensure the production of honey and other hive products, including beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. The first honeybees in America were likely shipped to Virginia from England in the early seventeenth century.
Because of the Chesapeake Bay’s ideal brackish waters, its oyster population was once one of the most plentiful in the nation, and oyster harvesting was long a booming industry throughout the Bay’s communities. During the 1960s, decades of disease, pollution, and habitat destruction led to a significant drop in the oyster population.
Jay Eagle has been cooking maple syrup at his family farm for years. Portrait taken on Saturday, Sept. 16 2012. (Photo by Pat Jarrett)
Maple Sugaring and Syrup Making
Stunningly beautiful Highland County, Virginia, is the southernmost site in the United States for the production of maple syrup, where “Sugar Camps” have traditionally been small-scale, family-run operations.
Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/buehlerphoto/
Vintage Apple Harvesting and Cider Pressing
Thomas Jefferson experimented with eighteen or more varieties of apples at Monticello, only a few miles from the orchard faithfully tended by the Shelton family in North Garden, Virginia.