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Sunday, October 12, 2003

Garlic and History 

Yesterday was a great Saturday. The lawn remains uncut; household projects are undone; and I know there are bits of work I have yet to catch up on. Okay, the Sox lost to the hated Yankees was a terrible strike against yesterday, but I remain unreasonably optimistic about tonight. Cowboy up!

Yesterday morning, we took off to visit Poplar Forest, a retreat home Thomas Jefferson built for himself after his presidency to help escape from the constant stream of visitors at Monticello. When Evelin and her parents went to Monticello a few weeks ago, Evelin saw a book about Poplar Forest and was really taken by the idea of the place. It's built as an octagon centered upon a 20-foot by 20-foot by 20-foot cube. The central cube is the dining room, lit primarily by a skylight that spans the roof. The rooms to each side are elongated octagons and served as entry vestibules, bedrooms, and a parlor. It's not as big as it sounds like it should be, but it's still quite spacious. Evelin is already planning how we could adopt the floorplan/design to a modern house (i.e., with bathrooms and a kitchen). It only recently (late 1980s) came into the hands of a nonprofit dedicated to saving the house. They're still early days in reconstructing things, so you get a really good look at what's behind the walls and how things were built. Of course, all the reconstruction is being done following period techniques.

Poplar Forest is just south of Lynchburg, which is about 3.5 or 4 hours from D.C. We took a winding path to get there, but made pretty good time, which allowed for a fair number of side trips.

First we stopped at The Apple Shed along Route 29 in Lovingston or somewhere about there. We are always looking for different varieties of apples that we haven't tried before (it's a variation of the same compulsion that drives me to try wines, beers, whiskies, cheeses, etc., that I haven't had before), so we immediately stopped when we saw the sign for mountain apples. Most of the ones they were selling were familiar (winesap, red delicious, granny smith, stayman, golden delicious, empire, etc.), but they did have Virginia golds, which are a cross between a pippin and some other apple (I don't have a database set up on my Palm to track apples the way I do with wine, beer, and whisky). [On edit, Virginia gold is a cross between Albemarle pippin and golden delicious.] Decent texture, a little watery at first, but the flavor that lingers when you're finished eating it was very nice. We picked up a mixed half-bushel of Virginia golds, staymans, and a few other odds and ends; hopefully Evelin will make an apple crisp today or later in the week.

As we were paying for the apples, the guy asked us if we were headed to the Garlic Festival. Well, we weren't, but as soon as we heard about it we decided to. The festival was at Rebec Vineyards, just a bit further down Route 29. Admission was a bit steep ($20 with a wine glass for tastings; $15 otherwise), but it was a decent time. Evelin had read about the festival a year or two ago, but it was a bit less garlic-centric than we'd hoped. There were five or six wineries doing tastings (the most crowded tents in the field), a ton of artisans/crafts (with varying degrees of adherence to the garlic theme) and a bunch of food stands. I had an excellent wild mushroom pita sandwich; Evelin had a garlic meatball sub. Of the wines, the most interesting was the Cabernet Blanc from Stonewall Vineyards; it was rosé in color, but the taste was much firmer than the color would have implied. It was 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes, but they were fermented off the skins yielding the lighter tint. Next time we're down that way, I want to stop at the vineyard to get a better taste of what else they're doing. I only tasted one wine from the hosting vineyard, Rebec's Sweet Sofia. It was billed as a traditional Bulgarian-style wine that was infused with 12 herbs. It was very spicy and floral; a little better to smell than to drink (at least at a tasting), but I could see it as an aperitif or something.

We also bought a variety of garlic cloves and Evelin started our garlic plot today. She's using the bed we had butternut squash in earlier this year; they were attacked by squash vine borers and it only produced three or four small squashes (which I think we're having for dinner one night this week). Now we just have to wait until next summer to harvest the garlic. Evelin isn't sure how many toes she planted ("A lot" is her best estimate), but we're going to have five varieties to choose among: Spanish roja, Italian, music, Georgian crystal, and inchelium red. We saved a toe or two of the Spanish roja, Italian, and the inchelium red, so we won't have to wait until June or July to see what they all taste like.

Spanish roja is an heirloom variety from the Pacific Northwest and the Italian is from Pennsylvania (originally from, go figure, Italy). Both are supposed to be on the spicy side and are rocambole hard-neck varieties, which are supposed to yield large toes that are easy to peel. Music and Georgian crystal are both milder porcelain hard-neck garlics. Music is supposed to be very nice when roasted, and the Georgian crystal is from the Republic of Georgia (apparently there are a ton of varieties that originated in Georgia). The inchelium red is an artichoke soft-neck garlic, which should store for longer than the hard-neck varieties. It was found on the Colville Reservation in Washington state.

Interesting side note: You can cook/eat the garlic right from the ground (normally it is cured/dried so that it will last longer), but it is milder in flavor. The curing/drying process concentrates the juices/essence of the garlic making the flavor stronger.

After the festival we made it down to Poplar Forest. It was about 3:15 p.m., which meant we wouldn't be able to stop at too many places on the way back to D.C., but we did get to stop at Mountain Cove Vineyards, which was located a little north of Rebec. They were in a gorgeous little vale near the Blue Ridge and had some nice wines. Best was the Tinto, a blend of cab sauv, cab franc, and a few other traditional red varieties: very nice tannins and structure, followed closely by the Virginia’s Harvest Blackberry wine, which was nicely balanced in its tartness and sweetness.

Also interesting: Al Weed, the owner of and winemaker at Mountain Cove, is running for the U.S. Congress in the 5th District. I'm not sure how many Democrats are looking to go up against Virgil Goode (former Democrat, now Republican), but after talking to him and looking at what I could dig up by googling him, he sounds very interesting. Goode has represented the 5th District for a long time now (he started off as a conservative Democrat, then as an Independent who caucused with the Republicans, and now he's a full-fledged Republican), but Weed looks like he will run a good campaign.

Getting a bit hungry, we stopped in Culpepper at the Hazel River Inn. They were short-staffed and since we didn't have reservations they shunted us off to a small table on the back deck, but at least we were able to be seated. The food was quite good, although the dessert (an apple and current dumpling) didn't match up to the quality of the gnocchi I had or the filet mignon Evelin had.

Sunday has been fairly sedate. Evelin worked in the garden some, including planting the garlic, and I futzed around on the roof, got some groceries, and other chores ... Actually, Evelin is cooking our butternut squash for dinner: cubed, tossed with salt, pepper, parsley, minced garlic, and whole cloves; drizzeled with olive oil; and baked at 325°F for 90 minutes to two hours. Yum.

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