I am not prepared to dispute these points, but I am tolerably certain that a few other things besides bacon and greens are required to make a true Virginian. He must, of course, begin on pot-liquor, and keep it up until he sheds his milk-teeth. He must have fried chicken, stewed chicken, broiled chicken, and chicken pie; old hare, butter-beans, new potatoes, squirrel, cymlings, snaps, barbecued shoat, roas’n ears, buttermilk, hoe-cake, ash-cake, pancake, fritters, pot-pie. tomatoes, sweet-potatoes, June apples, waffles, sweet milk, parsnips, artichokes, carrots, cracklin bread, hominy, bonny-clabber, scrambled eggs, gooba-peas, fried apples, pop-corn, persimmon beer, apple-bread, milk and peaches, mutton stew, dewberries, battercakes, mushmelons, hickory nuts, partridges, honey in the honey-comb, snappin’-turtle eggs, damson tarts, catfish, cider, hot light-bread, and cornfield peas all the time; but he must not intermit his bacon and greens.—George Bagby, The Old Virginia Gentleman, “Bacon and Greens”. (1912)



4 comments on “The Best Quote in Virginia Food History

  1. Pingback: Afroculinaria: Virginia food. | Chickenfoot Soup

  2. How the 1% lived: You might be interested in this segment of a manuscript, written in Williamsburg around 1774 about the eating habits of Virginians — “I observed above that the natives of Virginia eat greater Quantities of animal food than the Inhabitants of Britain. A short account of their manner of living may afford you some entertainment. Their breakfast like that of the English consists of tea coffee and chocolate; and bread or toast and butter, or small cakes made of flower and butter which are served to Table hot, and are called hoe cakes, from being baked on a hoe heated for that purpose. They have also harshed meat and homony, cold beef, and hams upon the table at the same time, and you may as frequently hear a Lady desiring to be helped to a part of one of the dishes as a cup of tea. Their tables at dinner are covered with a profusion of meat: And the same kind is dressed three or four different ways. The rivers afford them fish in great Abundance: and their swamps and forests furnish them with ducks teal blue wing, hares, squirrels, partridges and a great variety of fowl. Eating seems to be the predominant passion of a Virginian. To dine upon a single dish is considered as one of the greatest hardships. You can be contented with one joint of meat is a reproach frequently thrown into the teeth of an Englishman. Even many of the fair Sex would be considered as Gluttons in England. Indeed I am inclined to believe more disorders in the Country arise from too much eating than any other cause whatsoever. In the afternoon tea and coffee is generally drank, but with bread or toast & butter. At supper you rarely see any made dishes, Harshed and cold meat roasted fowls, fish of different kinds, tarts and sweetmeats fill up the table. After the Cloth is taken away both at dinner and supper; Madeira, and punch or toddy is placed on the table.”


  3. Michael, I always enjoy your blog. History fascinates me. But I have a particular interest in Virginia because my paternal grandmother’s people were there since the early 1600s. The quote here mentions sweet milk and light-bread. I don’t recall ever hearing those terms from anyone but my father and grandmother.


    • Very Virginia Tidewater terms for fresh milk and leavened yeasty bread. When Bagby was writing about this stuff he was reflecting on the world of plantation Virginia before the Civil War. He talks about black eyed peas, watermelon, “mushmelon,” and cow-cumbers!?”


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