Breakfast in Virginia

I was thinking on my drive into l’etoile this morning about breakfast and what it means to our culture here in Charlottesville and Albemarle county.  Lately I have been researching food history and in particular Virginia foods and how they have evolved over the years.  I thought I would share some of what I learned about our colonial history and some of the eating habits of the day.  It seems not much has changed from the home table to the restaurant tables of the modern breakfast/brunch.  I do think as citizens of this area of Virginia we need to revisit cider and its importance in our daily diet…. I will save that for another time.

Breakfast. The Colonial American breakfast was far from the juice, eggs and bacon of today. The stoic early settlers rose early and went straight to the chores that demanded their attention. In frontier outposts and on farms, families drank cider or beer and gulped down a bowl of porridge that had been cooking slowly all night over the embers…In the towns, the usual mug of alcoholic beverage consumed upon rising was followed by cornmeal mush and molasses with more cider or beer. By the nineteenth century, breakfast was served as late a 9 or 10 o’clock. Here might be found coffee, tea or chocolate, wafers, muffins, toasts, and a butter dish and knife…The southern poor ate cold turkey washed down with ever-present cider. The size of breakfasts grew in direct proportion to growth of wealth. Breads, cold meats and, especially in the Northeast, fruit pies and pasties joined the breakfast menus. Families in the Middle Colonies added special items such as scrapple (cornmeal and headcheese) and dutch sweetcakes which were fried in deep fat. It was among the Southern planters that breakfast became a leisurely and delightful meal, though it was not served until early chores were attended to and orders for the day given…Breads were eaten at all times of the day but particularly at breakfast.

Apples & Family

Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” In areas of the American South, the production of apple butter is a family event, due to the large amount of labor necessary to produce apple butter in large quantities. Traditionally apple butter was and is prepared in large copper kettles outside. Large paddles are used to stir the apples and family members would take turns stirring.

Apple Sweet Potato Soup

Velvety and golden. If the bisque seems too thick, thin it with a light touch of extra stock or cream. Roast Sweet potatoes for 2hrs before making soup

1 T olive oil
4 C cubed Sweet potatoes
1 T sweet butter
½ t salt
1 cup onion peeled and chopped
½ t nutmeg
6 C vegetable stock
½ t cinnamon
½ C carrots diced
1 t fresh ground ginger
½ cup celery chopped
½ t white pepper
2 C heavy cream
2 cloves garlic chopped
4 granny smith apples chopped
1 cup white wine

1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and butter. Add the onion, carrots, and celery sauté 15 minutes over medium low heat.
2. Add garlic, apple, ginger. Then add wine and spices. Sauté for 10 minutes.
3. Add sweet potato and stock. Stir well and bring to low simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Turn heat down and let sit for 20 minutes before the puree in blender. I suggest using a hand blender, as hot soups in blenders are very dangerous – they blow the lid and may cause burns. Return soup to pot.
5. Add the cream. Reheat but do not boil the soup before serving.

Serves 6

The City Market Chef Show

Chef Mark Gresge was recently interviewed by C-Ville regarding his weekly radio show “Live from the City Market.” Check out the article below and tune in to WCHV 1260 AM every Saturday morning at 7 to hear the latest from the Charlottesville City Market.

If you’re an early bird to the Saturday City Market (a 7am-er), you’ve probably been indulging in a little treat that few of your late riser friends probably even know about—free samples of seasonal, locally-sourced dishes courtesy of chef and L’étoile restaurant owner Mark Gresge. That’s right. Free. This is the third year Gresge has set up his own stand at the market to give shoppers a taste of what’s possible with the local bounty plus a recipe for trying the dish at home. A couple of weeks ago, it was Dixie cups of chilled English pea soup that earned rave reviews; Gresge ran out of all five gallons he’d made by 10:30am. This past week he distributed greens from Roundabout Farm braised with bacon he’d cured and smoked himself served over Bird Mill Grits from Ashland.

Gresge admits there’s a bit of self-promotion in his freebies, but when he tells us he also just wants to share his knowledge “with people who wouldn’t know what to do with fresh spinach,” we believe he’s sincere. After all, Gresge has been showcasing local products at L’étoile for more than 10 years—that’s well before “Buy Local” became a popular bumper sticker. And even now, he doesn’t reference this or that farm on his menu as a way of touting his commitment to local and seasonal ingredients from the likes of Polyface and Planet Earth Diversified, because it’s just a given that he would use the freshest and best ingredients available. “Any good restaurant does that,” he says.

This year, Gresge is also co-hosting a radio program from his City Market stand with radio personality Joe Thomas of WCHV 1260 AM. If you see Gresge walking around with white chef coat and mic, let him and all the listeners out there know how much you love local strawberries and those Bagelini things.

Special thanks go out to the amazing farmers of the Greater Charlottesville area.