A Taste of Virginia, published by the James River Garden Club in Richmond, presents traditional fare fit for serving in grand homes around the Old Dominion. The recipes in this book veer far from the humble roots of my Virginia family but it’s instructive about food history to peep behind those porticoes to see what ladies and gentlemen used to eat. Most adapted British or European recipes to local ingredients.
The Gloucester Julep, a variation of the mint julep, would knock you out with its mix of “good liquor” (a note specifies that this is not bourbon), French or apple brandy and rum in equal parts, a dash of peach brandy for flavor, sugar and sprigs of mint (not crushed). If you remain upright through the cocktail hour, you can feast on oyster stew, Virginia ham, corn pudding, and green tomato pickles.
I skipped straight to dessert and chose baked pears because the fruit is in season right now. Sugar syrup turned the red-skinned Anjous from our local farmer’s market into something glossy and succulent. It made me wish for a linen tablecloth and bone china to match, but stoneware and a washable table mat did just fine.
6 whole pears, including stems, peeled (optional)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemon, sliced very thin
1 (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pears upright in a deep casserole with a cover [I made a cover out of foil].
- In a saucepan, combine the sugar, water, cinnamon, lemon, and ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil gently for 5 minutes.
- Pour the syrup over the pears. Cover the dish and bake until tender, rotating the pears if necessary, about 40 minutes.
- Carefully remove the pears to a serving dish and let cool [tongs and a spoon underneath each soft pear work well for this].
- Continue boiling the syrup until thick [I left the casserole uncovered in the oven for another 10 minutes but you could pour the syrup into the saucepan and let it thicken that way].
- Pour the syrup over the pears and serve at room temperature or chill in the refrigerator before serving.