The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Edible Food Fest in Orange celebrates the best of fresh local food
BY CATHY JETT
Somewhere, the late Edna Lewis must be smiling. The “Grande Dame of Southern Cooking” never forgot her roots in rural Orange County and advocated the use of fresh, local foods decades before farm-to-table became trendy.
On Saturday, a new festival in downtown Orange celebrating that philosophy received such an overwhelming response that organizers were both surprised and elated—and eager to hold it again next year.
“It’s going great,” Jeff Curtis, director of the Orange Downtown Alliance, said around 1 p.m. “People were here a half-hour before we opened. Our goal was 3,000 [people], and I’d say we have 5,000 to 6,000.”
The Alliance teamed with Edible Blue Ridge magazine to sponsor the daylong Edible Food Fest. It was designed to show off the region’s rich bounty, while providing a place where people could learn about gardening, watch chefs in action, eat great food and listen to live music.
The festival also featured the première of “In the Season,” a documentary about Lewis’ life, a special area for children to learn about gardening and cooking, and a keynote address by Joel Salatin, a nationally known Virginia author, farmer and advocate of environmentally conscious farming practices.
Salatin, who is featured in the New York Times best seller “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and the acclaimed documentary “Food, Inc.,” drew one of the largest crowds. His talk, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal,” discussed the negative impacts of the industrialized food system on the environment and society and urged people to raise chickens in their backyards.
Ellen Smith of Farmville and Kathy Floyd of Charlottesville said they were so intrigued by the festival that they and two friends from Loudoun County decided to meet there for the day.
“It seems so inviting , and that’s what we’ve found it to be,” said Smith, as she and her friends waited for one of the cooking demonstrations to begin.
Chef Joe Randall, a protégé of Lewis who now heads The Edna Lewis Foundation, kicked off the demonstrations by making Lewis’ recipe for she-crab soup.
“We need a little butter,” he joked as he added several sticks to a huge pot sitting on a hotplate. “I will assume that you took your Lipitor this morning. If not, take two tonight.”
He added flour to the butter to make a roux, then added half-and-half and lots of lump crab meat. The soup got a shot of sherry and pinches of salt, then Randall ladled it out to an appreciative audience. Stephanie Poindexter, an Orange native who now lives in Fredericksburg, made it a point to tell him she’d attended a class at his popular Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School in Savannah for her birthday.
“Orange always has festivals like the Street Festival, so we wanted to come,” said her sister, Lisa Monroe, of Lake of the Woods. “We do hope this will be something that will be a tradition of Orange.”
A number of the festival’s vendors had similar thoughts. Gail Hobbs–Page, owner and cheesemaker of Caromont Farm in Esmont, said she hoped that people at the event would realize that the region’s vibrant food culture can stack up against that of such places as Napa Valley and Vermont.
“I can’t make good cheese unless I have excellent milk,” said Hobbs–Page, who shared her booth with Nathan Vergin of Silky Cow farm in North Garden. “We bathe our cheese in [Virginia Vinegar Works’] Viognier vinegar. I want people to make that connection.”
Over in the festival’s “chat room,” a tent where people could learn about everything from beekeeping to the advantages of eating tofu, Chris Prime and Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange near Charlottesville were showing off a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes.
“Oh! That’s delicious,” said Lindy Sanford of Orange when she spotted a Cherokee Purple.
Saving such varieties as Red Pisa Date, Rosella Purple and Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes is important because it provides genetic diversity, gives people options beyond what’s available at their supermarket—and they taste so good, said Wallace.
“There’s a rich heritage of stories and community connections in these seeds,” she said.
Steve Russell, Edible Blue Ridge’s publisher, said he and the Alliance tried to figure out what kind of niche to fill when they were planning the festival. Farm-to-table, they decided, would be the focus.
“I think we hit it on the head,” he said as he looked at the throngs it attracted. “There’s a great vibe here today.”
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407