Tag Archives: Virginia

Small Town Vanilla Extract

18 Sep


I just found this interesting little nugget on the web …

Bakers who live in the small Virginia town of Warrenton (pop. 8,877) have an especially sweet life. They can walk into Rhodes Gift and Fly Shop on Main Street and pick up a bottle of freshly made, secret-recipe vanilla extract.

The story of how this came to be starts with pharmacist J.W. Rhodes, who devised the formula and began selling his own extract in 1938, at his Rhodes Drug Store. It was only available during the late fall and winter holidays, when the need to make cakes and cookies was at its peak. It was packaged in medicinal bottles that made it seem like a tonic for whatever might ail a pudding or eggnog. Rhodes kept the recipe to himself, and started a tradition that has lasted more than 70 years.

After he died, a man named Russell Herring owned the store (from the mid-1960s to mid-’70s); he inherited the recipe and kept making the extract. Warrenton resident Duane Thompson worked at the drug store as a pharmacist for a few of those years, moved away and returned to buy it in 1976. The extract has been solely his to produce since then. One other person knows the recipe, he says, but that person’s promised not to tell.


Due to demand, Thompson began making it year-round, but always in small batches. When visitors came through and bought bottles of extract to use at home, a small mail-order business was born. He remembers when “a lady from Seattle called me and asked, ‘Can you send me six bottles?’ ” He did. A short time later, she called and ordered six more; she was giving them to her friends as gifts. “Then she sent me the check and a nice box of chocolates,” he says.

Thompson “semi-retired” in 2005; the Rhodes Drug Store ceased to be. The gift shop that had been upstairs moved downstairs and store manager Amy Leach bought the place in January 2009. “People walked in with checkbooks when they found out I was closing,” he says. “They were ready to buy every bottle I had left.”

The gift shop offered to sell the extract for him, so Thompson agreed to keep making it, maintaining his exclusive, one-man operation. Customers have asked for other flavors (non-negotiable) and for clear vanilla extract to make white wedding cakes and confections (he will leave out the caramel coloring, upon request). He reckons his annual production was more than 80 gallons, and slightly more than half that now.

The bottles are plastic, still medicinal-looking, and can be found in a homey basket at the store’s front counter with a sign that says, “Rhodes Drug Store Famous Vanilla Extract.” Google doesn’t know much about it.

Thompson lists five ingredients on the label: vanilla, glycerin, caramel, water, alcohol. (In comparison, a bottle of Nielsen-Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract lists water, alcohol, sugar and vanilla bean extractives.) “Dusty’s original recipe card had ‘cumadin’ [a drug used to thin the blood] written on it,” he says. “It might have been a flavor enhancer. But I guess that ingredient was dropped long ago.” The ex-pharmacist will be 62 in December, but sounds like a politely stubborn kid when pressed about the main ingredient. Is it the scrapings from vanilla beans grown in Tahiti? Common chemicals?

“I have a supplier,” is all he’ll say about that. “I had to get a special permit from Virginia to get the grain alcohol, though. And this stuff is nasty to taste all by itself.” Kept in a cool dark place, Thompson says his extract can remain potent for half a decade.

Leach is a devoted fan. She uses his vanilla extract in cooking and baking, to flavor her coffee and in oatmeal. “It’s really good, and the price makes it a deal,” she says. “It tastes genuine to me.” Thompson has stuck a small list of suggested uses in the gift shop basket that include placing a drop of extract on top of a light bulb; the heat from the bulb will “send out” the fragrance. A dash added to a can of paint will take away the paint’s strong smell. And so on.

Unscrew the cap and the aroma is instantly there — not as insistent or harsh as imitation vanilla, not as complex and deep as pricey imported extract. The color’s a soft brown, and the consistency seems soft, too; the extract clings ever so slightly to the lip of a measuring spoon. It flavors a pound cake and panna cotta admirably. Sold at relatively bargain price for vanilla extract, it’s easy to see why people want Thompson to continue making it. Plus, a bit of Virginia-grown, locally made pride is always in style.

Rhodes Drug Store Compound Extract Vanilla, $7 for eight ounces, available at Rhodes Gift and Fly Shop, 77 Main St., Warrenton, 540-347-4162. (It is sold at the store on consignment.) To order by mail, call 540-270-7412; also available at Remington Drug Store (540-439-3247) in Remington, Va.

Smithfield Foods Closing 6 Plants

18 Feb


This is a sad state of affairs, y’all. Even the mighty Paula Deen (a paid spokesperson for Smithfield) couldn’t prevent this from happening. What is the world coming to???

SMITHFIELD, Va. — Smithfield Foods Inc. said today that it plans to cut 1,800 jobs and close six plants, including a plant in Elon, N.C., affecting 160 employees, as part of a restructuring.

The company said it would save about $125 million a year by 2011.

The plants are expected to close by December, the company said. The packing plant in Elon, which handles country ham, is slated to close by late summer.

Other Smithfield plants in North Carolina are expected to gain production from the closing of a packing plant in Smithfield. The other plants being closed are in Plant City, Fla., Great Bend, Kan., New Riegel, Ohio, and Hastings, Neb. The company said it offer the opportunity to transfer to another plant to an “undetermined number of employees.”

The company also said it is combining seven of its independent operating companies into three main units: The Smithfield Packing Co., John Morrell & Co. and Farmland Foods Inc.., with John Morrell and Farmland combining sales forces.


Whitley’s VA Peanuts are Truly Special

31 Dec


I recently discovered these gourmet peanuts from my home state of Virginia. The Old Dominion has long been known as a top peanut producer and we have long been fans of the gourmet nuts sold at the Virginia Diner in Wakefield, VA.

The select super extra large peanuts we received from Whitley’s are perhaps the finest we have ever tasted. That is a bold claim because we love our peanuts and have sampled some of the finest the USA has to offer.

Whitley’s peanuts are massive and super-crunchy. In addition, they are not oversalted like many brands currently on the market. Forget about Planters peanuts and order some of these tasty little babies today. We guarantee that you will not be disappointed. In fact, I predict you will never go back to the generic store bought goobers again.

What follows is a brief blurb from Whitley’s web site …

Whitley’s “Home-Cooked” peanuts have a wonderful, crunchy freshness and distinctive flavor because our peanuts are still made the old-fashioned way-hand cooked, slowly roasted to perfection. We choose only the highest quality, super extra-large Virginia peanuts which are hand selected for their size and freshness. Each batch is individually cooked with proven, traditional recipes to ensure the crisp, fresh flavor and unique taste for which our peanuts are famous. We are very proud to have been selected by the National Association for Specialty Food Trade as a Finalist in the Outstanding Hors D’oeuvres or Snack Food category. We offer you only the finest products available and we combine our fine quality with good, quick service.

For over 20 years, Whitley’s Peanut Factory has been producing the finest quality gourmet Virginia peanuts on the market. Our delicious “Home-Cooked” peanuts are still hand cooked and slowly roasted to perfection the old-fashioned way. Hand selected for their size (super extra large) and packaged at the peak of their flavor will assure your customer of always receiving a fine quality product from Whitley’s.

In our first year as a member of the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade (1993) we were selected as a finalist in the Outstanding Hors d’oeuvres or Snack Food Category. We are proud to have been selected as a member of the Virginia’s Finest program, which supports and promotes Virginia manufactured products. The display of the Virginia’s Finest logo on our packaging confirms our status as producers of some of the finest quality products Virginia has to offer.


Speaking of Potatoes …

7 Dec

Unlike former VP Dan Quayle, we can spell potato.  We also know a good ones when we taste ’em.  We love Zapp’s Chips out of Louisiana, but we also crave the “spudilicious” taters created by our friends at Route 11 in Middletown, VA.


Every year about this time, Route 11 sends us a delicious assortment of chips for holiday snacking and our annual DixieDining.com Christmas bash. God bless ’em … these hard working folks are the salt of the earth. They make chips the old-fashioned way and you can taste the TLC in each and every bite. They have been blissfully “Chipping Away since 1992.”


Of all their wonderful flavors, my personal fave is Sweet Potato. These chips are delicious … naturally sweet and just a hint of salt. Trust me, they are so amazing — you simply must try them!


Now if you like the Sweet Potato Chips, I’m betting you’ll also dig Route 11’s Mixed Vegetable Chips. The beet and the parsnip chips are especially near and dear to my heart (or should I say belly?).


However, if you’re crazing a spicy snack, look no further than Mama Zuma’s Revenge Habanero Potato Chips. Just make sure you have a cold beverage nearby. I would also suggest that you wash your hands before rubbing your sleepy eyes. These chips are high octane and certainly not for the faint of heart. But remember … “Some Like It HOT!”

OK, so now we have your mouth watering. Pick up your phone and order some Route 11 Chips today. Or better yet, surf right on over to www.rt11.com and tell them that DixieDining.com sent ya!

Roast Ham with Orange Glaze for Christmas

4 Dec



SERVES 15 – 20

Fresh uncured ham makes a wonderful holiday roast: It’s a good, big cut for a party, tender and marbled but not fatty. Oranges, with their clean, citrusy spark, are an excellent foil for the pork’s rich taste.

1  15–20-lb. fresh ham on the bone
6–7 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 lbs. shallots, peeled
2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice

1 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp. dijon mustard

1. For the ham: Place oven rack in lower third of oven, then preheat oven to 325°. Put ham in a large heavy roasting pan. Trim off tough outer skin, then score the fat in a crosshatch pattern. Make small incisions all over the ham with the tip of a paring knife, inserting a piece of sliced garlic in each slit as you go. Rub ham with salt and pepper to taste. Roast in oven for 2 hours, then remove ham and set aside.

2. For the glaze: Combine orange marmalade, orange juice, and mustard in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Brush entire surface of ham generously with orange glaze. Scatter peeled shallots around ham in bottom of roasting pan, add orange juice, then return to oven to roast. Continue to baste ham every 30 minutes. Roast ham until browned and internal temperature reaches 170° on a meat thermometer in thickest part, 3–4 hours more.

4. Transfer ham to a cutting board or platter, cover loosely with foil, and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Carve slices perpendicular to the bone and serve with roasted shallots and pan juices.

A Friend’s Visit to VA’s BBQ Ranch

11 Nov


Our good friend Martin lives in Blacksburg VA and is a big VT Hokie fan.

He recently sent us this review from the BBQ Ranch. It’s located just off I-81 exit 251 on Rt. 11 (north of Harrisonburg) at 3311 N. Valley Pike


Nice homey country surroundings. Piggie decor and wood paneling throughout.


Fare consists of pork & chicken BBQ, burgers/dogs/fries, etc. Slaw on the side.

The platters seen above came with hush puppies and curly fries.


Large collection of pig figurines (if that’s your thang). OINK!

Call ’em at 540-434-3296.

SFA Tackles “Wine in the South”

21 Oct

Don’t laugh, folks — Dixie is producing some serious vino these days.

The Southern Foodways Alliance has always done a terrific job with its Oral History projects. We really enjoyed their take on Florida’s Forgotten Coast. In fact, that piece inspired us to plan out a long weekend in Apalachicola. Can’t wait — we’re blasting off soon!

Their “Wine in the South” study covers NC, GA and my home state of Virginia. The stories and photos brought back some wonderful memories of Fall day trips to beautiful places like Barboursville, Oakencroft, and Monticello. They even include Duplin Winery in Eastern NC and, of course, wines made at the amazing Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC — another former DD home base. Yup, we get around! 

Take a big sip at http://www.southernfoodways.com/oral_history/wine_in_the_south/index.shtml