CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 700 or so Master Gardeners in Charleston last week for an international conference took off their gardening gloves Oct. 11 and picked up plates to sample tastes from around the state. "A Taste of West Virginia" featured traditional Appalachian foods prepared with foods grown and packaged in the state.
Beans and cornbread were on the menu, of course, but so were creamy ramp chowder, carved-to-order smoked brisket, focaccia with herbal dipping oils, smoked trout and lamb sliders. Massive platters of colorful grilled marinated vegetables and Mediterranean salads shared space with the Indian flavors of Mulligatawny soup on the vegetarian end of the room.
The Civic Center chefs introduced the visitors to Appalachian ingredients prepared in a global way. The products of nearly 30 food businesses or groups went into the recipes.
"We thought about seasons, what would be ready at that point in time, and what might or might not hold over. We also had to think about a cool fall evening and what we think of as traditional, comforting foods that people from all over the U.S. would be able to identify and appreciate," said Carrie See, program coordinator for WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center.
Some of the ingredients surprised the visitors. Take the ramps. One man looked skeptical when he saw the ramp chowder sign. "Are they strong," he asked. They were not.
I expected freeze-dried ramps, since they were out of season, and was surprised to see bright green ramps in the creamy chowder. The ramps, which had been prepped and frozen shortly after harvest, were supplied through the Small Farm Center.
The Center and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture selected the products and worked with Civic Center chef Jamie Cochran to develop the menu. "We worked to select products and foods that truly represented West Virginia and Appalachia," said Tom McConnell, Center program director.
At the carving station, smoked brisket from Flying W Farms in Burlington was served with the expected horseradish and mayo sauces, but I tried Up The Creek pepper mustard with it. The tangy mustard was a nice complement to the smoky meat. Up The Creek mustards and sauces is a family business based in Montgomery.
Another carnivore-indulgent station featured pulled pork from Black Oak Holler Farm in Fraziers Bottom, and pulled chicken and savory lamb patties made from locally raised lamb at Gardner Farms in Waverly. The small, soft, whole-wheat buns for the sliders and pulled meats were made by Brunetti's Italian Bakery in Kenova. The silver dollar buns were made from wheat grown by McConnell
A cheese station featured a creamy havarti cheese by Green Glades Creamery in Terra Alta and West Virginia blue cheese by Spring Gap Mountain Creamery in Paw Paw. Smoked trout was offered straight or in a pate. A WVU extension agent sitting at our table raved about the smoked trout, which came from Wilson Mills Farm, located north of Peterstown.
Folks lined up at the soup station to sample the ramp chowder as well pinto beans supplied by the Preston County Dried Bean Consortium and cornbread made from cornmeal ground at Jacksons Mill and baked by Charleston Bread. Corn relish, chow chow and pickles from Red Roof Farms in Fayetteville provided sweet and sour contrast. They also tried pickles and roasted red peppers made into coulis from Uncle Bunk's in Sistersville.
Oliverio's Italian Style Peppers from Clarksburg and Biselli Pasta from Elkins played starring roles at the pasta station, which also featured Italian sausage from Demus Market in Marion County. Platters of sliced baguettes and focaccia baked by Charleston Bread could be dipped in olive oils or topped with dry cured specialty ham from Black Oak Holler Farm.