Thursday, December 10, 2020

Dec. 12 is National Cocoa Day

The weather outside may be frightful, but cozying up with a mug of hot cocoa can make the day more delightful. December 12 is National Cocoa Day! It could hardly come at a more appropriate time. Since the 19th century, the mixture of chocolate (or cocoa powder), heated milk/water and sugar has been a fixture of the winter holidays. Prior to that, (dating back to the Mayan and Aztec civilizations), the concoction was considered to be primarily medicinal in nature, particularly for stomach problems.

Did you know that monkeys were the first creatures to discover that the cacao plant was edible and quite tasty? Over 1500 years ago, monkeys began to consume the pulp of the plant and spit out the beans. Humans soon began to follow the monkey's example and the rest is history.The Mayans are first credited with cultivating the cacao bean to brew xocoatl, an unsweetened version of modern-day hot chocolate. Much later in the 17th century, Spanish doctor Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma published the first recipe as an elixir, adding different spices to treat a number of ailments. Even President George Washington washed down his breakfast of cornmeal hoe cakes with a cup of hot chocolate.

To celebrate national Cocoa Day, send a gift with our new Virginia Diner Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix. a hot chocolate for the serious chocolate lover. Just mix with hot water or milk, stir and enjoy. For a holiday twist on a traditional cup of cocoa, try adding a candy cane!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Kid Made Pumpkin Pie with Byrd Mill Ginger and Spice Cookie Crust.

Kid Made Pumpkin Pie with Byrd Mill Ginger and Spice Cookie Crust.
When you taste this pumpkin pie, you’ll wonder why you’ve never made it with a Byrd Mill Ginger Spice Cookie crust before. That’s exactly what happened when my son and I baked this delicious pie. It’s a perfect recipe to make with kids. Taste a cookie and then crush the rest in a plastic ziplock bag using a rolling pin. Little hands get creative as they mix melted butter into the crumbs and press the sticky delicious mix into a pie pan.
This kid-approved pumpkin pie is fun and easy-to-make. You’ll never go back to boring piecrust after you try this version. Top it off with a generous squirt of kids all-time favorite whipped cream just because, they’ll love it. 
Byrd Mill homemade mixes use locally grown and freshly-ground wheat along with simple straightforward ingredients like sugar, spices and baking powder.

Byrd Mill Ginger and Spice Cookies
1 package  Ginger and Spice Cookie Mix              
1 stick butter (softened)
1 egg
Cut Butter and egg into mix and knead until moist. Roll into 1-inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 2 dozen cookies. *You’ll want to make these ahead and let them cool.
Ginger Spice Pie Crust:
1 ½ cups cookie crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
To make the cookie crust, crush the cookies with rolling pin (or grind up the in a food processor). In a medium bowl mix the cookie crumbs with the melted butter. Press the crumbs evenly and firmly in your pie pan. Our Pumpkin Pie Filling in and bake as directed below. 
Pumpkin Pie Filling:
½ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can pumpkin
1 can evaporated milk (or substitute 12 ounces non-dairy milk)

Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt in a bowl. Beat eggs in separate bowl then add to sugar mix. Stir in pumpkin, vanilla extract and milk. Pour filling into your Ginger Spice Pie Crust. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 2 hours, then refrigerate or serve.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Virginia’s Vanishing Rusty Patched Bumblebee

Some more about the importance of bees,,,, as pollinators, rusty patched bumble bees contribute to our food security and the healthy functioning of our ecosystems. Bumble bees are keystone species in most ecosystems, necessary not only for native wildflower reproduction, but also for creating seeds and fruits that feed wildlife as diverse as songbirds and grizzly bears.

 Bumble bees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. Bumble bees are more effective pollinators than honey bees for some crops because of their ability to “buzz pollinate.” a pollination technique where it grabs onto a plant and then vibrates its body at a high frequency to shake loose tightly packed pollen that might otherwise be difficult to access. Not all bees buzz pollinate — honeybees, for example, don’t. But buzz pollination is essential for the reproduction of a range of plants, including crops like blueberries, apples and tomatoes. 

But some 25 years ago, the rusty patched bumble bee began to disappear. Eventually the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the species was “so imperiled that every remaining population is important for its continued existence.” It became the first bee to be included on the agency’s endangered species list in 2017. 

In Virginia, where the species once ranged widely, the bee in recent years has only been observed in four counties: Bath, Highland, Augusta and Rockingham, with the most sightings in the former two locations. 

There is little consensus among scientists about what’s causing the rusty patched bumble bee’s disappearance, but much is being done to conserve them.

Several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs work to assess, protect, and restore pollinators and their habitats. Also, the Service works with partners to recover endangered and threatened pollinators and pollinator-dependent plants. Concern about pollinator declines prompted formation of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, a collaboration of people dedicated to pollinator conservation and education.

Trusts, conservancies, restoration groups and partnerships are supporting pollinator initiatives and incorporating native plants that support bees and other pollinators into their current activities. 

Researchers are studying and monitoring the impacts of GMO crops and certain pesticides on pollinators. Efforts by citizen scientists and researchers to determine the status of declining bee species are underway throughout the U.S.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

September is National Honey Month

Monastery Creamed Honey
Monastery Creamed Honey

National Honey Month is a celebratory and promotional event held annually during the month of September in the United States. Its purpose is to promote American beekeeping, the beekeeping industry, and honey as a natural and beneficial sweetener.
National Honey Month, initiated by the National Honey Board, marks an important time for honey producers and beekeepers across the nation. In the United States, honey collection season typically concludes in September as bees begin to secure their hives and prepare for winter.

In the spirit of celebration, try some fun flavors of Monastery Creamed Honey and here are a few fun facts you may not have known about bees, beekeeping, and honey!

There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees throughout the world; 4,000 of which are native to the United States.

A single worker honeybee produces approximately 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means around 22,700 bees are needed to fill a single jar of honey!

In 2012, archaeologists discovered “the world’s oldest honey”! It was found in ceramic jars in Georgia, the country – not the state, and is estimated by scientists to be about 5,500 years old!

Although Utah’s official state emblem features a beehive and enjoys the nickname “The Beehive State”, top honey producing states include North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, California, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, Louisiana, and Georgia.

Honey comes in a variety of colors and flavors – including blue or purple! States located in the southeastern region of the United States are known to produce purple honey. Purple honey is an incredibly rare harvest – some beekeepers go their entire lives without ever encountering it. There are many different hypotheses on how purple honey gets its color, but scientists still cannot reach an agreement on the cause.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Southern Peach Jam Cake with Graves Mountain Peach Preserves

On July 25, Graves Mountain Lodge had their 9th Annual Peach Day Festival. There was live music, craft vendors. Hayrides, pony rides, food and of course, Peach Ice Cream, Peach Milkshakes, Peach Preserves, Peach Cobbler and FRESH Peaches and other produce for sale. They were open with CDC advice in place plus 110 acres for social distancing. If you missed it this year, you can make plans to make it to the next one. You don’t have to miss out on those delicious Graves Mountain Peach Preserves, Just click here.
So many ways to enjoy Graves Mountain peaches and Graves Mountain Peach Preserves. We’ll be trying this Southern Peach Jam Cake with a side of fresh peaches.
Southern Peach Jam Cake                                                                 
Ingredients:       2 cups sifted cake flour                                      
                          1 tsp. baking soda
                          1 tsp. baking powder
                          1 tsp. ground cinnamon
                          1 tsp. ground nutmeg
                          1 tsp. ground allspice
                          ½ tsp. salt
                          ¾ cup butter, softened
                          1 cup sugar
                          1 cup peach preserves
                          1/2 cup sour cream
                          3 large eggs
                          ½ cup chopped pecans
Frosting:           1-8 ounce package cream cheese softened
                         ¼ cup butter softened
                         1-16 ounce package confectioner sugar
                         ½ cup peach preserves
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 9-inch cake pans with non-stick baking spray with flour.  In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. 
  2.  In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.  Add preserves and sour cream beating well.  
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  4. Fold in flour mixtures and pecans.  Pour into prepared pans.  
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  
  6. Cool in pans or wire racks for 5 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool completely.
For Frosting:
  1. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until creamy.  Gradually add confectioner sugar, beating until smooth.  
  2. Stir in preserves.  
  3. Spread frosting evenly between layers and on top and sides of cake.

Monday, July 6, 2020

A Very Odd Spring for Honeybees

We've been using and selling Monastery Creamed Honey from the monks of Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville, Virginia since we went online in 2005. Sadly, over the past 15 years, colonies of bees have been disappearing, and the reason remains unknown. Referred to as ‘colony collapse disorder’, billions of Honey Bees across the world are leaving their hives, never to return. In some regions, up to 90% of bees have disappeared!
Monastery Creamed Honey

This spring there has seen an uptick in the number of swarms - big groups of bees leaving a hive to look for a new home base. This happens when bees feel overcrowded in their hive. It means the colony is robust and healthy. Beekeepers must manage the issue or they can lose bees and the honey in the bees.

It is possible the explanation lies in the weather patterns this spring. Warm temperatures in the first three months of 2020 meant some things bloomed early. Then the weather cooled and later blooms slowed down. The bees were very busy reproducing and gathering pollen and nectar and hive may have gotten crowded. Bee keepers try to capture the swarming bees by gently brushing the bees into a box. A swam is pretty docile and full of honey. The key is to capture the queen in the box and the bees will follow.

The bees are much safer with a beekeeper than in the wild. The murder hornets have the ability to wipe out hives. A more serious problem is the Varroa mite, a parasite that fees on adult bees and larvae, making them vulnerable to certain viral diseases. Then there are pesticides that can be carried back to the hive. People and honeybees need each other. They pollinate our food crops, and beekeepers safeguard their colonies.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Shelter In-Place Cooking

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic sheltering in-place, we’ve found more time to cook some of our old seafood favorites using Blue Crab Bay Sting Ray® Bloody Mary Mixer. Sting Ray® is a thick and rich blend of clam and tomato juices spiced with Blue Crab Bay's Chesapeake Bay Style Seafood Seasoning and freshly grated horseradish. It not only makes an awesome mixer, but is a unique, flavorful coo
Blue Crab Bay Sting Ray® Bloody Mary Mixder
king sauce.

When it first appeared, Sting Ray® was featured on Food Network TV's Food Finds. In the New York Times, in a blind taste test of eight Bloody Mary Mixers, Sting Ray® won top honors! It was also the winner of Outstanding Beverage, 1998 at the International Fancy Food Show!

Here are two of our favorite recipes using Sting Ray®:

¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can tomatoes (16 oz), chopped and drained
3-4 tbs. Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mixer
1 lb. scallops
1 TB. butter
¼ cup dry white wine
1 TB. lemon juice
Italian breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sauté onion, green pepper and garlic
in olive oil until soft. Add tomatoes and Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mixer.
Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, sauté scallops
for 2-3 minutes in butter. Add wine and lemon juice and simmer 5 minutes.
Combine all ingredients in lightly greased baking dish.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and bake 5-10 minutes until lightly browned.
For variation: sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese or grated Parmesan.

1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb. fettuccine or other pasta
1-1/2 cups Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mixer
2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley
Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to directions, drain and keep warm. Sauté shrimp with garlic in olive oil until the flesh is opaque, usually 3-5 minutes. Add to pasta and toss with Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mixer. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and grated Parmesan. Serve with a fresh garden salad and bread. Have a little extra Sting Ray Mixer in a small creamer available for guests who enjoy extra zing!

Saturday, May 2, 2020

May 20 is National Pick Strawberries Day

May is National Strawberry Month and May 20 is National Pick Strawberries Day.
The day invites you to go outside in the garden or on the field to pick fresh strawberries. There is something special about the taste of a sun-warmed strawberry picked straight off of the vine. Every year we take it for granted that in the spring we will have a chance to pick fresh strawberries. This year it will be an especially welcome outing! Strawberry picking places are open but taking the COVID-19 situation seriously and have implemented special policies for strawberry picking for the 2020 season. These policies are for the safety of their customers, their employees, and the community. Check with your picking place website or facebook page for their policies before going.

Graves Mountain Strawberry Preserves
The strawberry fruit is widely appreciated for its characteristic aroma, bright red color, juicy texture, and sweetness. It is also healthy. This fruit is very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin C, folate and potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, and manganese. Just one serving of about eight strawberries provides more vitamin C than an orange. Strawberries help can help fight bad cholesterol and may reduce inflammation. The strawberry is among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity.

When we can’t get fresh strawberries, we can enjoy Graves Mountain Strawberry Preserves. Here's another idea, send Mom some Strawberry Preserves for Mother's Day!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Carrot Zucchini Bread with Virginia Maple Syrup

In 2020, the spring equinox occurred on Thursday, March 19, which is earlier than it's been in over a century! Flowing maple syrup sap is one of the first signs that spring is on the way. For the first time, the 62nd Annual Highland County Maple Festival which was to take place on March 14-15 and March 21-22, was postponed until further notice due to safety considerations regarding the coronavirus. The decision was understandable but does not dampen the disappointment we and thousands of others felt about not getting our Virginia maple syrup supply and missing their famous maple doughnuts this year. We’re hoping to visit Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard as soon as it is possible to restock their Virginia maple syrup for our gift baskets.
Needing a substitute maple syrup treat fix right now, we decided on making our own Carrot Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Walnut Frosting with warm spices and pure Virginia maple syrup. Give this recipe a try. It makes a moist, delicious rustic loaf. It’s a wonderful way to welcome spring.
 Carrot Zucchini Bread
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup chopped walnuts optional
Cream Cheese Walnut Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese softened
1/4 cup butter softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped walnuts optional

1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat an 9" x 5" loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2.    In medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3.    Add eggs and brown sugar to a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add oil, pure maple syrup, and vanilla, and mix again until well blended. Add about half of the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated. Add remaining flour mixture and continue to mix until combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir carrot and zucchini into the batter.
4.    Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes before removing from pan. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
5.    Meanwhile, prepare the frosting.
6.    Use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese together with butter in a medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and mix again until incorporated. Add milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy.Frost the cooled loaf of bread and immediately sprinkle with chopped walnuts, if desired.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Highland County Chamber of Commerce introducing Maple Syrup Trail

March is Maple Month. Take a step back in time to Highland County, “Virginia’s Sweet Spot.” Travel scenic back roads and majestic mountain byways to the annual Highland County Maple Festival. In 2020, there will be a new sugar camp open, bringing the total to 9 open sugar camps with unique techniques and stories for you to explore. In addition to pancake dinners, doughnuts and entertainment, over 100 high-quality juried vendors take part in the festival each year. This year the 62nd Annual Highland Festival takes place on March 14-15 and March 21-22.

Normally the Maple Festival is the only time visitors get to come by the sugar camps to see how the syrup is made.
This year, though, the HIghland County Chamber of Comomerce is starting the Maple Syrup Trail, with ten sugar camps open all year for visitors to see how the trees do throughout the year and enjoy the scenery of Highland in other seasons. 
“Each one is unique. We go from modern to really traditional," said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Swecker. "There’s again farmers that have been doing this for generations to some first-generation producers. And there’ll actually be two sugar camps that aren’t normally open during the festival that you’ll be able to visit as well.” The trail comes with a passport, where visitors can get stamps from each camp and go into the chamber for prizes.
Bloody Mary Brunch
At any time during the year if you’re looking for a tasty Virginia food gift, visit to see our gift baskets and gift boxes that feature one of  Monterey, Virginia's sugar maple camps, Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Pretzel-and-Peanut Cheese Ball

Super Bowl parties make some us think as much about food as football. A Southern Living recipe for a Pretzel-and-Peanut Cheese Ball piqued my interest. I strongly recommend using The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg's super large blistered Virginia Peanuts. 12 (serving size: ¼ cup)

1 cup miniature pretzel twists
1 cup salted roasted peanuts
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Crackers, for serving


1. Place pretzels and peanuts in a ziplock plastic bag. Seal bag, leaving a 1-inch opening at one corner. Lay bag flat on a work surface, and lightly crush pretzels and peanuts with a skillet, meat mallet, or the flat side of a measuring cup. Set aside.
2. Combine cream cheese, mozzarella, dill, mustard, salt, and pepper in a bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir or beat on low speed until combined. Shape mixture into a ball, and chill 15 minutes.
3. Place pretzel mixture in a shallow dish. Roll cheese ball in pretzel mixture, pressing gently to adhere. Serve with crackers.

Monday, January 6, 2020

National Pie Day - January 23

National Pie Day was born in 1975 in Boulder, Colorado, thanks to a school teacher named Charlie Papazian. On January 23, his birthday, he declared that this day would be forever remembered as National Pie Day. Why did he do that, you ask? Well, for one good reason: Charlie really loved pie. In fact, he loved it so much he would have a “birthday pie” instead of a birthday cake. Since then, his idea for a National Pie Day has spread all over the United States.
Enjoy a slice of your favorite pie or try this staple of any Southern gathering: Crunchy Peanut Pie
Virginia Handcooked Peanuts
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped Virginia Handcooked peanuts
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Next in a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Now add the sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and vanilla. Continue to beat until thoroughly blended. Now stir in the peanuts. Place the pie shell on a cookie sheet, pour in the filling, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden. Cool in the refrigerator and serve!

Pie can trace its roots all the way back to the Greeks. The Greeks created what is believed to be the first pastry shell by mixing together water and flour. They would then fill these pastries with a variety of different things – everything from honey to fruits to meats. The Romans adopted these pies and began to improvise with them by filling them with a variety of fruits and nuts, meats, fish, and even mussels.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Ancient Greek and Roman dishes evolved into a more modern version of a pie. These dishes were called pyes and they were usually filled with meats. These meats could be filled with either beef or lamb, wild duck or even pigeons and vegetables. The whole dish was then spiced liberally and was baked in an oven. Encasing the meat and vegetables in a pie kept them from drying out during the cooking process. It also made it easier to transport and preserve the dish as well.
Of course, while the pies of the Middle Ages were closer to modern pies than what the Greeks and Romans offered, they would still probably be unrecognizable to most Americans or Europeans today. That’s because these early pies were covered in a ton of dough. This kept the food inside from drying out and preserved the food once it was done, but it made the pie crust just about inedible. No one would eat the dough of the pie, it was pretty hard so they just ate the fillings. Another interesting thing about these early pies is that sometimes the crust would be reused for another dish. Yes, that’s right, Medieval crusts were that tough.
During the 17th century, the pilgrims made quite a few pies – namely pumpkin and pecan. Like their Medieval fore bearers, they did so to preserve their food. As the colonists began to spread across the American continent, they took the idea of pie with them. This led to many new pies being created as the colonists used the natural resources around them. From about the 18th to the 21st centuries, there would be an explosion in the number of pies made in the United States and around the world.