Archive for the ‘farming’ Category

Second Season Underway For The Cape Charles, VA Farmer’s Market

Friday, July 7th, 2017

DSC_1671The long awaited second season for the brand-new-last-year Cape Charles Farmer’s Market finally rolled around in May and now the vendors are getting into high gear with loads of summer goodies. ( Hours this year will be from 3-6 pm, rain or shine, from now till October.)  So if it’s Tuesday afternoon, whether you’re a local or a visitor, it’s time for foodies and farm-to-table enthusiasts to break out the walking shoes, a wicker market basket and head out to the spacious, grassy Museum grounds on Stone Road in the little Eastern Shore of Virginia coastal town of Cape Charles to shop for the fine local farm produce… and much more.

 

BBQ guy

I found last year that the best way to tackle the cornucopia of goodies on offer was to take a stroll, making a circuit around the whole Market, to preview all the little vendor tents and the tempting items on offer, then circle back around again to make selections. This proved to be the right strategy again this year. Starting on the north end across from the handsome brick Museum building was Shore Beef and BBQ, where owner Ron was fielding multiple customers drawn by deep smoky aromas and intent on securing some of his delicious beef brisket and vinegar- dressing cole slaw.

 

Mattawoman Creek FarmMoving counter-clockwise, Mattawoman Farms CSA’s counter was heaped high with loads of fresh organic veggies including the most beautiful red and green lettuces, soft yet crisp, just gorgeous. And kohlrabi, which after some indecision I decided I would finally try this year, as well as some tatsoi, a deep green plant similar to bok choi. Mattawoman had tall racks of healthy looking plants, perfect to pop immediately into a home garden. Across the way, the honey guy’s wares were shining golden, the sun glinting off the jars, you could almost savor lush sticky sweetness on the tongue merely by looking at it. At our house, local honey is the go-to sweetener for tea, especially green teas, it just smooths out every cuppa.

Bakery

 

Moving down the line, waving to the Bread Lady from The Bakery at Riverside Farm who had sold out in the first hour. And no wonder, she has fab sour dough breads and at my house we are addicted to her cinnamon raisin bread (which we often buy on Thursdays year-round at the Gull Hummock gourmet shop on Mason Avenue.) Toasted, spread lightly with peanut butter, so divine with morning coffee ! Next door to Bread Lady, a new vendor this year, the cleverly named Kitchen Sync Catering, whose chef, Louise Oliver, is offering a scrumptious menu of prepared foods that can be ordered on-line and picked up at their kitchen at the Eastville Inn on Friday or purchased at the Farmer’s Market on Tuesday. Their samples looked delish, especially the colorful layered salad with a side of cilantro avocado dressing and the chopped broccoli salad with cranberries and almonds with a honey yogurt dressing. Just around the corner, Copper Cricket Farm’s table was piled high with totally gorgeous veggies including crispy fresh spring onions, arugula and Swiss chard.

DSC_1715Further down the line, another new vendor, Lauren Gardner of Parisian Sweets, was offering French style macaroons. Or rather, not offering, since, unfortunately for me, but nice for them, she was also sold out.  But lucky early birds to the Market were able to indulge in her lemon, raspberry cheesecake or mocha flavors. Going to go earlier next week ! Did manage to snag some of Pickett’s Harbor Farm’s just-picked-this-morning peaches though, a favorite of my husband’s, but do peaches compare to lemon or mocha French macaroons ?  A tough decision but one I didn’t have to make since there were no macaroons !  Too many other great vendors to mention here, offering everything from The Flying Pig’s traditionally fermented organic sauerkrauts to organic veggies, local seafood as well as organic eggs and meats from several different local farms. The Cape Charles Farmer’s Market will not disappoint, check it out, 3-6 pm, rain or shine, every Tuesday, May through October

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DSC_1679Mattawoman Creek Farm Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gorgeous 90 Acre Farm Near The Water For Sale On The Eastern Shore of Virginia– Perfect For Hobby Or Commercial Farming

Friday, March 22nd, 2013
Aerial view of 90 acres farm near Nassawadox  VA

Aerial view of 90 acre farm near Nassawadox VA

For anyone thinking of  buying a farm or little farmette  here on  the Eastern Shore of Virginia and getting  “back to the land”  so to speak,  you’ll be in good company.  For literally hundreds of years,   the  traditional economic engines of the Eastern Shore  have been seafood harvesting, commercial farming and small family truck farming.  In fact,  Northampton County, Virginia  still has some of the most productive farms in the entire state.  But like everything else, things change and some of the smaller farms are being purchased by folks who aren’t planning to make a full-time living in farming but who are interested in getting involved in doing something on the land, even if it doesn’t provide their  full-time living.  Blue Heron Realty Co. has just listed a beautiful 90 +/- acre farm near the water  with exceptional soils and a great  location, a property which would be absolutely perfect for starting a small farm operation.  From raising horses to  planting a boutique vineyard to setting out a few acres of  organic tomates to a raising a small herd of alpacas to becoming a serious beekeeper,  there is a lot of fun and satisfaction that comes with getting back to a simpler life with hobby type farming and this particular farm could help in getting started on that path. ( For more information on this property, go to www.blueheronva.com/farm_for_sale/ )  Obviously a  back to the land life is not for everyone but, as a Realtor, over the years I’ve had a lot of fun and satisfaction helping some very interesting folks, from all sorts of professions, find just the right little farm or farmette here on the Eastern Shore from which to  create a new lifestyle and move in new directions with their life.

Alpaca resting on ground

Raising alpacas can be lots of fun

For example, we recently represented a client who bought a 20  acre parcel from a seller who whose company was promoting and  transfering him to the West Coast.  The seller,  an executive with the  Virginia Beach branch of a large firm  who commuted for 5 years from the Shore to Virginia Beach daily,  had acquired, a couple at a time,  a little herd of  cute, cute, cute  alpacas.  He said that when he first moved to the Eastern Shore he had absolutely no idea that he would get interested in farming and now,  just a few years into it,  the hardest thing for him about the entire move was having to leave his alpacas.  He and his wife had totally fallen in love with being out and about on their farmette,  raising these  gentle,  fleecy beauties had become a life-changing experience !

Horse grazing near Nassawadox VA

Get in touch with your inner cowboy

That really isn’t really unusual  on the Eastern Shore– I know so many folks who have some acreage who are doing  all kinds of  ” back to the land ”  things with their property.   The important thing is to have a  parcel of land with rich, well-drained soils  because whether its growing a crop or doing animal husbandry, soil structure and drainage is critical for both crops and pasture lands.  A lot of folks here have horses, some for show, others for breeding. I even know one couple who has built an amazing dressage show ring on their waterfront acreage, complete with bringing a special trainer in from the West Coast to work with their very talented horses.  Lots of other folks here have just a couple  horses and love to participate in the formal Trail Rides sponsored bythe Eastern Shore Trail Ride Association.

Another client who recently purchased about 10 acres of beautiful waterfront is looking forward to managing  a small herd of milk goats when they build on their property.   Their hobby is making goat cheese and cheese making  is a real passion for them.  Not only do they make the soft, creamy goat cheese that has the  lush  tang and is so nice when mixed with herbs but they also make a rich form of  feta cheese, one of my husband’s favorites– give him a little feta, crispy crackers, some salty Greek olives and a glass of  Cabernet , he’s set.  Dealing with goats and making goat cheese would not be my thing but these folks  absolutely are looking forward to it  as their  retirement activity, something with a challenge to keep them active and something to bring them in closer touch with the land.  And  I am looking forward to easy access to a steady supply  of  their flavorful homemade goat cheese !

Open land for cultivating near Nassawadox VA

Rich sandy loam soils perfect for cultivation, pasture, horticulture and much more

Which brings me back to  the excellent 90 acre farm for sale near Nassawadox.  Tremendous possibilities abound for uses for this property.  The soils are BOJAC, the best soil type on the Eastern Shore, rich, sandy, well-drained, perfect for any use whether cultivation, vineyard, orchard, horses, alpacas, honey bees, etc.   You name it,  this is a great piece of property for all sorts of land -based activities. About half of the property is in woodlands, the balance is in open fields.  Location is great,  within 15 minutes of  shopping , boat ramps, beaches, premier golf, medical, restaurants, etc. yet far enough away that you feel that you are out in the country, possibly a twenty first century pioneer, a rare opportunity indeed.    ( Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed  Virginia  agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA )

 

 

“Living a Modern Life with History” Symposium At Ker Place Museum In Onancock, VA October 19-21, 2012

Friday, December 21st, 2012

My grandson Charlie Morgan attended a week of history camp at Ker Place, the headquarters of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society.

Presented by the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, http://www.kerplace.org the seventy attendees at the historic Ker Place Museum in Onancock, Virginia had the opportunity to tour spectacular Eastern Shore historic  homes, enjoy a gourmet dinner in an early 18th century home  and gather the wisdom of eight nationally acclaimed experts on diverse subjects related to the historical theme of this symposium.  Friday, the first day  of the symposium, was dedicated to touring five of  Virginia Eastern Shore’s very special Chesapeake Bay area homes, both historic  and new, to see the many different ways that folks live a modern life with history. Emphasis was placed on architectural features and their preservation and restoration, the interior design components that showcase their owners’  lifestyles  and the landscaping that enhances the exterior features of the homes and environment. After a full day of lectures from the experts on Saturday, the attendees were treated to dinner at Vaux Hall (cir. 1710) located on Warehouse Creek, a colorful saltwater  inlet from the Chesapeake Bay,  only a few miles outside the historic town of Onancock. This early Georgian colonial home is believed to be the oldest two-story residence on the Eastern Shore and features beautifully preserved wood paneling, moldings, doors and heart-pine floors. On Sunday, the program finished with three more lectures of very special interest.  To see a full program of this wonderfully educational event go to http://www.kerplace.org/symposium.pdf .  The Eastern Shore of Virginia has many properties with 17th and 18th century homes,  some with accessory buildings that date as  far back as the 1670’s, and many more homes dating from the 19th and early 20th century. With such a rich collection of historic homes in our relatively small geographical area, a peninsula which  is literally surrounded by water,  it is indeed fortunate that we have a historical society so dedicated towards education and appreciation of our heritage.  Anyone who loves the Eastern Shore,  residents and visitors alike,  should not pass up the opportunity to tour the amazing Ker Place Museum in Onancock,  headquarters of the Eastern Shore Historical Society.

Although I was unable to attend the symposium’s  house tour and dinner, I made an effort to attend several  of the lectures on both Saturday and Sunday. As a REALTOR who has had the privilege of handling the sale and restoration of dozens of historic homes,  I wanted to expand my knowledge base to better help me serve my clients and customers, and ultimately the unique historic properties I represent. In particular, I wanted to gain a better understanding of the history and architecture of a historic  home  that Blue Heron Realty Co. has listed  for sale  located  on sixty acres of land near Machipongo, Virginia.  This property,  known as “Prospect Hill”,  is only a few miles from my own home on the Eastern Shore.   In its heyday, it was once a thriving farm and the grand old  house, believed to be circa 1790-1820,  offers great promise for restoration and renovation to bring it up to 21st century standards. If this old house could talk, what would she say?  I have many questions for her and would love to share the answers with a prospective buyer who has to consider restoring and then living in this old house. ( To see details and photos of this property visit  www.blueheronva.com/historic_real_estate/ and look for “Prospect Hill.”

"Prospect Hill" cir. 1790 awaits a new owner who will love and cherish her wonderful, charming heritage.

The first lecture I attended was a talk by Matthew Webster, the Director of Historic Architectural Resources of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He emphasized methods for indentifying the signs that reveal the architectural history of old buildings, a subject that interested me hugely. He spoke about examining the wood framing for saw marks, checking the joinery of posts and beams, looking for different layers of paint, identifying the fastenings of the structure such as nails, dating the types of windows, and determining the type and bonds of brick masonry. Also, he gave a study of different types of houses according to the time period of their construction which would be exemplified by certain styles of architecture such as Georgian 1720-1780, Federal 1780-1820 and Greek Revival 1820-1850. Accompanying his lecture with projected photographs, he distinctly pointed out the different characteristics of which he spoke.

The second lecture was given by Chris Ohrstrom, a founder and co-owner of Adelphi Paper Hangings, LLC. They specialize in reproducing antique wall papers and he gave a wonderful illustrated talk about their special process that revives the old tools and craftsmanship of the industry from the 18th and 19th centuries. I was mesmerized by the old techniques, his descriptions of their factories and tooling, and the examples of wallpapers his firm manufactures. I learned that wallpapers were meant to be only a shortlived wallcovering that imitated much more expensive wall decorations.

On Sunday, I was glad to hear the talk given by Ken Farmer, well-known antiques appraiser from the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow”,  who has been collecting and selling the finest antiques from his shops in Radford and Charlottesville, Virginia. The gist of his remarks centered around the theme of “antiques are the epitomy of green – recycling”,   informing his audience about how to find, evaluate, and purchase antiques. I learned that oftentimes one can purchase better quality used furniture while avoiding the higher cost of good quality reproductions that have a lower value.

The second lecture that Sunday was given by Jeffrey Price, the director of Sales and Marketing for Virginia Lime Works. His company specializes in reproducing mortars for the restoration of aged masonry construction, especially from the 18th and 19th centuries. His slide show presentation demonstrated the old techniques for making lime as well as how old handmade bricks can be damaged by the use of modern mortars, a risk that never occurred to me when I have examined restored colonial brickwork.

The final lecture was the most entertaining,  given by Paul “Chip” Callaway, a certified landscape architect/owner of Calloway and Associates.  His hilarious commentary that accompanied a voluminous slide show of his special projects, those restoring the gardens and landscape of historic buildings, kept the mood of his audience light, focused and amazed.

Handmade doors with mortise and tennon joinery open from the through passage to the living room in the earliest part of the home. Note the deep, paneled recess of the doorway, indicating a former exterior wall.

Now fortified with this interesting knowledge base gained from my attendance at the symposium, I again visited my listing “Prospect Hill” located on Seaside Rd. approximately 22 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I had previously guessed that the first section of the home was of Federal design and construction around the period of 1790-1810, the second, larger and more ornate addition in  a Greek Revival tradition dated around 1830  and the third section, a one and one-half story addition containing the kitchen, was of the 1890’s period.  Upon my next visit to the property, I used the tips from the symposium to confirm or deny my original assessments. First, up in the attic area and down in the basement, I examined the exposed beams and joinery for sawmarks and fasteners. Second, I studied the great wall of bricks and exposed chimneys for telltale signs of handmade bricks, like thumb and finger impressions. Third, I then closely examined the windows and glass. My post-symposium investigation revealed that the home was constructed with oversized handhewn, heart of pine beams with diagonal but straight sawmarks and plenty of mortice and tennon joinery. Also, I found square cut nails with machine cut heads, both indicating the first section was probably produced shortly after 1790. This part of the house was finished with interior wood paneling, fireplace mantel and cabinets distinctly styled from the Federal period, (cir. 1780-1820).

In the Greek Revival addition, handcarved wood panel wainscoting with marbellized baseboards - note fluted columns in panelling.

The second part, a larger more ornate addition was finished with elaborately decorated woodwork, especially the very fancy, intricately hand-carved fireplace mantels. Further, the marbellized paintwork on the baseboards and the fluted doorway surrounds confirmed the style of the Greek Revival period (cir. 1820-1850). This addition has a massive 3-brick thick, free-standing three story brick endwall laid in the Flemish bond pattern. The top three feet of the exposed chimney had been blasted by lightening and I found on the ground plenty of bricks with thick slabs of mortar. Close examination of the bricks revealed holes and thumbprints, indicating that these were handmade sometime prior to 1833.

One of three massive handcarved fireplace mantels of museum quality - note the marbelized paint on the baseboard below the wood panel wainscoting.

Lastly, off to the east of the home is an overgrown boxwood garden of formal design interspersed with crepe myrtle and one of the few cork trees  on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The size of the boxwoods indicates an age of well over one hundred years and the garden certainly begs for restoration and rejuvenation.

The 1890's kitchen addition - note the floor-to-ceiling cupboard and tin ceiling.

As the listing agent, I have become very attached to this old house and her museum quality architectural features. Her situation on a sixty acre farm of fields and forest is ideal for a country estate property and a lovely 3/8 mile driveway approach draws one’s imagination back to the days of self-sufficiency and fox hunts. Many generations and all their attendant celebrations have graced this property and she now awaits a new owner who will love and cherish her spacious, well-appointed rooms that, if walls could speak, could tell many stories. For even more information on this home, call  David Kabler at Blue Heron Realty Co., 757-331-4885 .

Tomatoes, Butterbeans, Corn and Peaches– All Waiting For Me At Pickett’s Harbor Farm Market

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

We love the Pickett’s Harbor Farm Market just south of Cape Charles, Virginia anytime but this year especially.  The Eastern Shore of Virginia has lovely rich, loamy soils and we always plant a decent sized garden  but this year our  garden got off  to a very rocky start.    Late, late, late getting it in and then short of time to tend it.  On top of all that, the black filter cloth we always put down in long rows over the entire garden space to eliminate most of the weeding  turned out to be dark grey and worthless.  The weeds grew underneath it  like, well, weeds and we ended up tilling the whole thing under, okra included,  and  just started over again.  So now we have a second-time-around  garden,  started in late June when anybody with a lick of sense knows that a really successful garden needs to be planted at least by the end of April.

Stage right,  enter  Pickett’s Harbor Farm market,  now the star for obtaining our fresh produce for cooking wonderful only-in-the-summer  meals.   Because no self-respecting person who loves Southern Cooking  can do without the essential fresh ingredients for same. Summertime cooking  calls for, no actually demands,  fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, from one’s own garden or at least grown locally,  red globes of  flavor, thick slices of which grace the dinner table almost every summer’s eve.   And butter beans,  little teeney cousins of  the big green or speckled limas,  sweet,  melt-in-the-mouth, one of my husband’s favorite summer treats, so very, very much better fresh than frozen.    And corn, fresh sweet corn,  Silver Queen variety our favorite.  Who can say enough about luscious sweet corn, steamed and eaten fresh off the cob, accompanied only by sweet cream butter, pepper and a little salt, or salt substitute as the case might be.    Or grilled, slathered with lime butter or Mexican style crema.  (  However, the South certainly doesn’t have a lock on a love of sweet corn.  If you really want to hear someone wax truly elequently  about the marvels of  fresh corn,  just listen to an NPR  Garrison Keillor “Prarie Home Companion” show in summer.  Inevitably,  part of  his stellar shows  in summer will be devoted to enumerating the wonders of  Minnosota’s  sweet corn, picked from the garden and shucked just minutes before popping it into its steam bath. )

But  maybe best of all is the delectable dish you achieve by combining  those marvelous three — homegrown tomatoes, fresh butter beans and fresh sweet corn, the  Three  Amigos of  Summertime Southern Cooking.   Succotash, one of summer’s greatest ever veggie combinations !  However, for this dish to be at its zenith,  it is essential to milk the corn.  For those who have never milked corn  (let alone a cow),  the procedure goes like so:  First, put on an apron. ( This is fundamentally important.  Trust me,  you’ll see why once you get started. )  Next, make sure you have removed absolutely all the silk from the shucked corn ear because nothing spoils a heavenly bite of succotash more than having to pull  strands of corn silk from one’s mouth.   Then,  with a sharp paring knife,  gently slice down the cob, cutting off the top half of the kernels, turning  until you’ve done the entire cob.  This is best done in a deep bowl, with the cob’s  butt end pointed downwards and resting against the bottom of the bowl.  Now for the milking– take a  spoon and run it down the cut kernels,  pushing firmly against the cob, to get all the rest of the corn and the corn milk.  Do this twice to make sure you’ve gotten every drop  that  cob has to give.  This is a bit messy and I always put the bowl into the kitchen sink while I’m cutting  and milking,  the better to keep most of the  flying bits of corn off the apron and confined to the sink for easy clean-up.  Everybody prepares  their succotash according to a  family tradition. I like to cook the butter beans with a small bit of smoked ham or bacon until almost done, then add very ripe tomatoes coarsely chopped,  a little savory or basil  and then the corn, proportions for the dish being about 50% butter beans, 20% tomato, 30% corn.   Cook until  mouth-meltingly tender, maybe a bit of butter added at the end, pepper and salt to taste.   Sublime, and when served with classic Southern fried chicken, a triumph !

But a post on Pickett’s Harbor Farm’s summer produce  would definitely not be complete without an Ode to Peaches.  Not the half green, rot before they ripen,  little things found in  the grocery store.  No, I’m talking about the sweet, juicy beauties grown right there on the farm,  rows and rows of peach trees, laden with fruit, beautiful  peaches slowly ripening,  glistening in the sun, to be picked only when completely ready.  And the aroma !   Does anything smell sweeter,  more appealing,  than a basket of ripe red peaches, their tantalizing deliciousness just wafting upward ?   I think not.  All winter and all spring, I wait for peaches.  And when they finally come in, about the beginning of July,  we make the first of many  “peach runs”.  Eaten whole with juice dripping down the hand, swimming in ice cold milk atop breakfast cereal, sliced in a dish with vanilla Haagen Dazs and a drizzle of brandy, served over shortcake and topped with raspberries and whipped cream, made into a cobbler with a few fresh blueberries,  layered in a deep-dish peach custard pie— let me count the ways that our family loves the fabulous peaches, Sugar Baby watermelons,  juicy cantalopes and all the other produce expertly  grown by the Nottingham family– Tammy,  W.T. , Josh and the rest of the  gang.   We  love you guys,  thanks so much,  summer just wouldn’t be the same without Pickett’s Harbor Farm Market !    (www.pickettsharborfarms.com ) (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

Mount Vernon- George Washington’s Splendid Estate In Alexandria, Virginia

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

After a week-end in Northern Virginia for a meeting in Fairfax, it was such a beautiful day, clear, cool, huge puffy white clouds floating by,  we decided to make a quick  visit before returning to the Eastern Shore to nearby Mount  Vernon,  George Washington’s, famous ancestral home, which I had not visited  in eons.  ( Let me say  again, for the umpteenth time, one of the great things about living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is how close  the Shore  is to so many other places of interest,  to-wit only four and a half hours from  home  to  the heart of  the metro area of our nation’s capitol. )  Our  “quick visit”  turned into a 6 hour tour,  we could have easily spent twice 6 more and still not have properly seen everything Mt. Vernon has to offer.  George Washington wrote of  his  beloved Mt. Vernon ” No estate in United States is more pleasantly situated than this. It lies in a high, dry county… on one of the finest Rivers in the world… It is situated in a latitude between the extremes of hot and cold… with road roads and the best navigation from the Federal City, Alexandria and George Town…”   And to navigate places, Washington had his  “riding chair”, what an interesting contraption, and his coach, one of only 50 in the entire state of Virginia at that time.

According to the guidebook,  at  George Washington’s funeral he was eulogized by his  dear friend,  Henry Lee,  ( the father of Robert E. Lee ), as being  “First in war; first in peace;  and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”  I think to that could have been added “first in agriculture”  because agriculture in all its forms, from grain farming as a cash crop, horticulture, orchards and gardens  to wine and whiskey production, if it could be raised on his own dear lands,  it was a Washington  life long deep passion.  The original 2000 acres of  Mt. Vernon had been owned by the Washington family since the mid-1600’s  but  by the time of his death, Washington had purchased a great deal of additional adjoining acreage,  expanding the estate to over 8,000 acres, all actively  farmed, with Washington himself the maestro, directing  it all.  He was a real leader in the progressive farm movement.  Totally hands on, by experiment, through trial and error,  he tested innovative methods that seem commonplace today but which were considered novel and  radical land husbandry ideas at that time.

Such concepts as deep plowing  to reduce erosion and create healthier root zones, the addition of soil amendments such as manure and lime, the planting legume cover crops to enrich the soil, the rotation of  crops, the planting  in furrows rather than just scattering seeds across the land,  all these now accepted land management concepts were not just  brand new,  they were still unproven,  likely controversial,  practices in Washington’s day.   These revolutionary new farming methods were utilized on his farms starting in the  mid-to-late 1700’s yet most  are still accepted agricultural concepts 200 +  years later. In addition, Washington established a very successful rye  and corn whiskey distillery, one of the most successful of its time, producing over 10,000 gallons  of   “liquid gold”  per year in its heyday, no doubt  enabled by  his very successful grain farms which  produced the corn and rye.  Time got away and we didn’t visit the distillary but it is still modestly active and is the gateway to The American Whiskey Trail.  ( It turned out 900 bottles of whiskey last year  to be sold at the gift shop, which was, of course, totally sold out,  maybe more in November according to the clerk.  But I’m assuming they saved back a few bottles because on Aug. 3rd,  Mt Vernon  is sponsoring a dinner event called Gentleman Distiller: Whiskey Tasting and Dinner at the Distillary. )

Since Washington was one of the most wealthy and  prominant  men of his time, as expected, the mansion itself  is magnificent.  But we were surprised to learn that the exterior siding, which appears to be stone, was actually wood siding,  beveled to look like stone and then “rusticated”,  meaning that sand was applied to the paint while still wet, giving it a look and feel of stone which was a prohibitively expensive building material, although “rusticating” itself was quite expensive as well.  Back in the day, apparently Washington made  Virginia’s most extensive use of this technique in his quest to make Mt. Vernon one of the country’s very finest estates.

Also interesting were the  paint colors.  I had never actually thought about it but learned on the tour that color pigments for paint were usually ordered from England.  These would be dry pigments, very, very expensive,  and they needed  to be carefully ground to a fine powder and mixed into the paint, homemade of course,   on-site. Because of the high cost of pigment, usually only rooms that would used by visitors as well as family were painted in bright colors– the rest would either be very lightly tinted, white or beige.  Green and blue were highly prized,  especially expensive pigments so naturally  most of the main rooms in the mansion are varying shades of  blues and greens,  Washington apparently being especially fond of green which he said was “restful to the eye”.  The craftsmanship of  the interior moldings and mantel carvings is just amazing,  as is the elaborate palladian window in the full house-width dining room.  Like Thomas Jefferson, Washington apparently loved the new and interesting, especially if it was useful. I found his combination “chair and fan” most unique, a chair with a pole behind it attached to a pedal on the floor.  The square of cloth attached to top of  the pole would then fan the occupant of the chair as he  pumped the floor pedal.

As is evident from this photo,  Martha Washington oversaw quite the state-of-the-art kitchen– for her day,  she had the most advanced appliances and implements that money could buy or skills could fashion.  ( This  included a  brand new “automatic”  rotissary,  an appliance  involving a chain attached to a fan placed up in the fireplace flue.  The rising heat then turned  the fan blades, which then turned the chain, which then turned the spit.  This was revolutionary, making  it possible to roast on a spit without having a person whose primary job would be  just to turn the spit.   Martha  had a reputation as  a generous and patient hostess– apparently it was not unusual after the War and especially after the Presidency,  for all sorts of very important people  to come to Mt. Vernon to pay their respects,  by the hundreds, making Mt. Vernon one of the most visited homes in the new nation !   In one year there were over 400 guests to Mt. Vernon, most of whom stayed several days and possibly longer.  Because of this,  a great deal of her time was spent planning the meals to be served to guests. ( She was also in charge of distilling the household medicines, had a special, tiny still for that purpose and possessed a sought-after recipe for chapstick, called lip balm back in the day,  Walgreen’s  being a few hundred years in the future.)

Martha Washington was especially famous for her delicious  hams, soaked first in her special curing recipe and then slowly smoked to perfection in the large smoke house just off the kitchen. A  ham was served everyday, boiled and/or baked, along with other meats and poultry and fruits and vegatables from their  gardens and orchard.  Apparently Martha’s signature desssert was a cake called  the  “Great Cake”  ( I’m guessing  for size as well as taste ).  According to the tour guide, guests and family alike longed for this cake,  the  recipe for which included copious  quanities of  brandy and Medeira wine, needed 2 hours to bake  and  began:  “Take 40 eggs….”    The “Great Cake” was often served not only at dinner but also at her well-known “afternoon teas”,   enjoyed in good weather on the rear  veranda overlooking the wide sweep of  the Patomac River.  Ships and boats of all sizes  plyed these broad blue saltwaters as  Washington and his guests, family and friends  relaxed  in the veranda’s 40 Windsor chairs.  Similar  Windsor chairs are on the veranda still, available to the public to rest a bit and to enjoy the commanding view from the Mansion, which is sited atop a high hill with the dramatic river view framed by the trees below the hill, carefully planted specifically for that purpose by Washington. ( Actually, after walking and walking, it is truly delightful to be able to relax on the veranda in one of those chairs and just soak in the postcard-like scene.)

Martha Washington had inheirited   a rare family treasure, an extensive  handwritten cookbook,  which she  received  in 1749  and kept until 1799, when she gifted this heirloom to her  grandaughter, Nelly Custis.  This unique manuscript was  brought back to life in a 1981 edition from the Columbia University Press,  edited by the late Karen Hess, entitled Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of  Sweetmeats” .  It  is a marvelous,  detailed glimpse into not just the  art of cooking of  that era but into its social customs and manners.  ( It’s worth twice the price just to read the recipes for some of  the various puddings,  recipes  with titles like  how to make:   “A  Marrow Pudding”,  A Bak’d Almond Pudding,  An Almond Pudding To Boyle,  A Haggis Pudding,  A White Pudding, A Curd Pudding,  A Quakeing Pudding,  A Light Pudding,  A Bagg Pudding,  A Fryde Pudding, A Hearbe Pudding,  A Good Pudding,  A Very Good Pudding and,  last but not  least,  how  To Make A Pudding In A Loaf “.  )   Another terific book about food and entertaining  at Mt. Vernon is  “Dining With The Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertaining and Hospitality From Mount Vernon”  edited by Stephen A. McLeod, from  the University of North Carolina Press.  Both books are available at the extensive Mt. Vernon gift shop, either would make  a nice gift for a friend  interested in culinary history or,  in my case,  for oneself.

Time was unfortunately too short to see many of  the amazing exhibits in the museum/education center which is the exit  building but we did get to see George Washington’s  famous false teeth.  These were held in the mouth by springs, quite painful no doubt, and the video on how these dentures were manufactured  leads one to a great appreciation of modern dentistry.  But  most interesting to me was the exhibit which explained how state of the art technology had been used to create  facial and body models  of what Washington likely looked  like in his younger days, before any portraits had been painted of him.  There is an exhibit of  him as a young surveyor and as a middle aged soldier atop his horse, these models are believed to be very close to his true appearance at those ages, a tall, thin, very attractive man.  And then,  time to go but wanting  to come back soon to see everything we had  missed. P.S. For animal lovers out there, Washington loved animals too, especially dogs,  whom he often gave whimsical names. When he became General of the Revolutionary Army,  he took his favorite, Sweetlips,  along with him leaving True Love and Mopsey behind !     P.P.S.  Lots of fascinating info at www.mountvernon.org , www.gwpapers.virginia.edu , and www.marthawashington.us .

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

A Stroll Through The Vineyard, A Wine Tasting, A Pleasant Summer’s Afternoon At Chatham Vineyard

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Owner Jon Wehner Explains Chatham Vineyard’s European Trellis System

A few weeks ago my daughter, a  friend and I spent a lovely few  hours touring Chatham Vineyards located in Machipongo, VA on the Eastern Shore, learning about the art of growing grapes and  sampling some of  Chatham’s  delicious wines.  Owner Jon Wehner started our afternoon off  with a leisurely stroll through the  vineyard itself,  explaining  the vineyard’s seasonal activities,  which was quite engaging.   I have been fortunate to have done  the  “Tour & Taste”  at a number of wonderful  wineries but this was my first extensive tour through a vineyard and I think everyone in attendence  found it  quite interesting.   Definitely the perfect time of year for it,  the colors were beautiful.  In sharp contrast to the deep green of the leaves, row after row of  compact bunches of  black and purple grapes glistened in the sun,  plump,  juicy, nearly ready for harvest to begin,  no doubt a vintner’s favorite time of year,  the sweet culmination of a great deal of work.

Merlot Grapes Nearly Ready For Harvest

The first thing one notices is that wine grapes are quite small,  much smaller than their kissing cousins, the  “eating grapes”  like Thompson seedless that one buys in a grocery store.   Chatham is currently growing  about 20 acres of grapes,  primarily Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay varieties grown on French rootstock  as well as  a small section of Petit Verdot  produced to provide  extra color and complexity in blendings.  ( Especially in their Cabernet Franc which contains  3 %  Petit Verdot.)  As we walked through the vineyard,  Jon invited everybody to taste the various grape varieties,  including different plantings of the same variety,  all planted in rows which are oriented north- to- south  for a more even ripening of the fruit.  Although I much perfer a Cabernet wine to a  Merlot,  surprisingly,  I that found that I preferred the flavor of the  Merlot grape to that  of the Cabernet grape.  We learned about the “chewiness” of the grape skins,  how to evaluate the ripeness of the grape seeds and how the immature tannins  found in unripe seeds can adversely effect the wine.  We admired the huge wind machine, very tall with long,  tilted blades which can rotate 360 degrees,  a newish  invention which helps  vineyards get through an early frost which could kill the new fruit buds by  pushing  the higher, warmer air down towards the cold air found near the ground, circulating  it so that the coldest air doesn’t settle on the vines.   Jon says  it works very well and has added a second wind machine  to his  official  “Wish List”.

                       

Now For The Real Fun- Wine Tastings and Hor d’oeurves Inside The Winery Building

Part of a historic waterfront estate and started in 1999,  Chatham uses a high density European trellis growing method and is now harvesting about 80 tons of grapes  and  producing about  3000-5000 bottles of wine each year.   The moderate  maritime climate here on  Virginia’s  Eastern Shore is similar to the climate found in Bordeaux, one of France’s  most famous vineyard regions.  Our excellent climate,  combined with the well drained loamy soils here in Northampton County,  creates  a good environment for producing  top quality grapes needed for fine wines.  Chatham Vineyard has received a number of  awards for  various vintages and its wines are found in some of the finest Virginia restaurants and yes, I do know from personal experience that  its wines make a very nice gift.

 

 

                       

After the stroll we all went back to the winery building to look at some of the equipment used there to de-stem the grapes, crush them for the juice, etc., etc.   But the highlights  of the day no doubt were the  barrel tastings and the hors d’oeurves (catered by the North Street Gourmet Market in Onancock)  which included aged Gouda cheeses,  a delicious  spinach dip and a pungent salami rolled with cream cheese and chives,  accompanied by several varieties of olives and a number of other items.   But my favorite  hors d’oeurve  was  a very ripe brie served with  quince paste.  I had never before had quince paste– it looks a little odd,  a very dark brown and is shaped into a small, dense block which is a bit difficult to slice.  But trust me, on a multi-grain cracker, balanced atop the brie,  served with the Cabernet Franc,  that hard dark quice paste tastes  like ambrosia !     The afternoon concluded on a very high note  with a  tasting of  Chatham’s  late harvest red desert wine served with some luscious chocolate truffles, an elegant pairing, truly a treat to remember.   ( P.S.   Try a Chatham wine for yourself,  shop on-line at their website,   www.chathamvineyards.net  )  (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

 

 

On The Eastern Shore Of Virginia, If It’s Fall, It’s Farming

Friday, November 26th, 2010

If It's Fall, It's Farming On Virginia's Eastern Shore

Farming is one of the largest economic engines of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.   Last year the total farm product value  for the Eastern Shore was in the many hundreds of millions of dollars ,  which even by today’s standards is serious money and pretty big business.  But unlike the huge agri-businesses in other parts of the country,  farms on the Eastern Shore are  mostly family- run farms and  farming is as much a lifestyle as a business.    Potatoes,  tomatoes, soybeans and other grains are the main crops,  with secondary truck crops such as bell peppers, cabbage, cucumbers,  green beans and  wine grapes following close on their heels.  If you have ever eaten a Wise brand potato chip you likely have tasted an Eastern Shore potato.  In the summer,  if you’ve ever had the fresh salsa at Chipolte’s Mexican Grill,  home to some lip-smacking good burritoes  ( www.chipolte.com ),  you have  enjoyed our sweet Eastern Shore tomatoes  (in the winter,  fresh tomatoes primarily come from Florida).  Farming is evident here all year round  because basically the Eastern Shore of Virginia is  just one  big farm,  with our  lovely waterfront neighborhoods and our little towns interspersed into  the open landscapes.  Farms are not exactly part of the scenery– mostly,  they are  the scenery .  ( Although there are only a few,  we do sometimes have an Eastern Shore farm for sale. )

"Still Life On Earthen Canvas"

But at no time of year is farming more captivating to me than in the spring and fall.   The earthen tones of  the Eastern Shore’s  fall landscapes are very appealing, strong  golds and yellows,  all the shades of browns,  lots of deep greens,  here and there a little cotton ready to be picked,  looking for all the world  like a field of  white lollipops on brown sticks.  Soybeans are not an especially attractive plant individually but a big field of soybeans in October,  after the leaves have all turned yellow,  is a delightful sight– when the soybeans are  lit by the morning sun  it’s like a looking at a field of gold,  edible gold at that.  One of my favorite sights in the fall is a freshly prepared field,  the sweeping lines of  the rows,  so precise,  curving  around at corners,  gliding up little knolls,   designs  created by John Deere on a massive earthen canvas,  a study in rich browns.  Really quite beautiful,  with a deep, fresh aroma  all its own.   

Emerald Green, A Field Of New Rye

 By now,  late November,  the fields that were harvested early and planted with rye as a winter cover crop have all greened up,  the rye already a few inches tall.  Seen from a distance,  a big field of rye in November looks like a vast emerald green lawn,  like Ireland,  maybe even greener.   And as I drive to work each day this time of year,  I am always struck by the various of stages of the lands I pass—  harvested,  waiting for harvesting,  plowed,  waiting for plowing,  planted with the new crop,  waiting for planting,  each phase with its own special look,  and by the strong hues of those stages,  the  yellows, golds,  browns and greens,  the fascinating textures and colors of  fall farming on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.