Throughout its history, the Shenandoah Valley has celebrated its strong agricultural tradition. In 1748 George Washington, then a young surveyor, wrote in his diary that he found the land to be “exceeding Rich and Fertile.” Ongoing research reveals that thousands of years prior to European settlement, the Valley was a hospitable place for Native Americans to hunt and to plant crops. By the time settlers had arrived in this part of the New World, American Indians had developed a trade route that eventually became Route 11. The large numbers of Germans and Scots-Irish who settled here were pleased with the “lush meadows and forested mountainsides” of the region, and built farms, mills and villages during America’s frontier days, while establishing a tradition of a rigorous work ethic that still brings businesses and agri-business to the area. www.thinkrockingham.com/Living-Here/History .
Today tourists can follow the “Fields of Gold” Farm Trail that runs the length of the Valley; check out www.fieldsofgold.org for a list of working farms and other related businesses you can visit–along with the traditional venues for poultry, eggs, dairy, beef and grain, you’ll find impressive new ventures in vineyards, cideries, and breweries. And in November, the traditional harvest time of year, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to give thanks for a wide variety of foods and potables.
In 2012, Virginia became the first state to have an official Cider Week, designated by the governor. This year you can celebrate Cider Week—November 9 through 18—in many ways, including a stop at Old Hill Cider in neighboring Timberville; along with hard cider, visitors can sample sweet cider, apple cider donuts, and sweet cider slushies. This family enterprise, which began in the 1960s, is a 40-acre orchard with 26 varieties of apples, including heirloom cider-specific apples that go into making their artisanal hard cider. Want to learn more about the art of cider making? Reserve your tickets now for their Cider Makers Workshop, November 17 at 10:30 AM.
Stop by the tasting room and choose your favorite hard cider—even the names are evocative: Yesteryear, Heritage, Cidermaker’s Barrel, Betwixt, and Season’s Finish. Do you detect an aroma of ripe pear, apple, or strawberry? What about the soft, creamy undertones of clove, toffee, or pineapple? You can even sleep among the apple trees; the Showalter family has transformed a former wash house into a cozy, romantic refuge with all the amenities—you’ll find everything you need, including a furnished kitchen—check it out on the Airbnb website, under “Old Hill Cider House”—and dream about apples!
Finally, reserve a place at Local Chop & Grill House, and let new executive chef Colin Auckerman treat you to a fabulous four-course meal pairing Showalter’s Ciders with the perfect food accompaniments. Auckerman’s career illustrates the ‘Burg’s penchant for locally sourced food; after growing up in Bridgewater and going to school at JMU, this talented young cooking star worked at Bella Luna, in downtown Harrisonburg, where his priority was using produce and meats from dozens of local producers, preferably within a stone’s throw of the restaurant.
Old Hill Cider is also a prime example of many other local agricultural enterprises that marry business with tourism. Showalter’s orchards provide apples to Eastern Mennonite University and to Harrisonburg City Schools, as well as to those in Rockingham, Augusta and Hardy Counties. The rest of the crop goes into the sweet and hard ciders that local Valley stores sell.
Visit Food.Bar.Food for unique “global comfort food” and unusual hand-crafted cocktails such as a Spiced Cider Caipirinha—a luscious blend of limes muddled with Masala Chai syrup and Brazillian Sugar Cane Rum, made with apple cider from Ryan’s Fruit Market in Timberville. If you love both pecan and pumpkin pie, check out the Montpelier restaurant in the new Hotel Madison, where you’ll find Pumpkin-Pecan pie with Whiskey Butter Sauce, made from local pumpkins, with butter and eggs from Mt. Crawford Creamery.
For decades, locals have loved The Little Grill Collective, which has a justly deserved reputation beyond the ‘Burg—Time Magazine put it on its list of “240 Reasons to Celebrate America Right Now” in 2016. A look at the Grill’s menu demonstrates their commitment to local, organic foods—such as famous Polyface chicken, raised in nearby Swoope, Virginia. The week of November 6-11 you can enjoy “Desayuno Gualemalteco,” or a Guatemalan Breakfast, featuring eggs, plantains, local tortillas, black beans, queso blanco, cilantro and green onion, with a unique crema sauce. Just another example of Harrisonburg’s amazing ethnic diversity, branching out from established tradition. Sabor Galore! Proceeds from this dining week go to www.appalachianvoices , a grassroots advocate for sustainable economies striving to preserve the natural beauty our region for over twenty years.
And while we’re talking local—be sure to shop the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, currently open from 8 to 1, Tuesdays and Saturday, with winter hours, beginning in December, Saturdays only, 9-1. Located in Turner Pavilion, you’ll be under cover in all kinds of weather. Expect to find treasures such as purple or orange cauliflower, artisan breads and other bakery items, free-range meats and eggs, and non-food items such as locally handmade soap, jewelry, lotions and clothes. This unique market showcases the produce of local organic farmers and gives them a venue in which to sell the fruits of their labor.
In town for Thanksgiving Day? Check out listings for local restaurants, which often serve special holiday dinners, or buy your tickets online for a tantalizing feast at the Pollock Dining Room at Skyland in Shenandoah National Park, featuring “farm-to-fork regional dishes” and gorgeous, breath-taking views of the Shenandoah Valley www.goshenandoah.com/dining/buffets. The dining room closes for the season on November 25, so enjoy the end of another wonderful year in this world-famous National Park—right in our backyard!
Written by Guest Blogger, Carol Mishler. Carol is a Travel Specialist for Harrisonburg Tourism.