It’s funny but now that I think about it New England introduced me to two favorite bread items – English muffins and popovers.
My first encounter with English muffins was on a trip through history. I was probably 7 or 8 years old and we had traveled back to Massachusetts on vacation that summer. One of our stops was to visit Old Deerfield Village, which wasn’t really very far from Dad’s hometown of Shelburne Falls. We arrived early and excited to get our first look into these old houses that sat quietly along the tree-lined main road through the village yet had so much history to impart to us.
We had heard the tales of how the village was attacked one cold, winter’s night. The snow had drifted around the high wooden fence surrounding the town. As the snow had gotten deeper, the drifts had gotten higher. Eventually the Mohawk Indians and the French had been able to use the high drifts to easily scale the fence and get into the village.
The alarm was sounded and many of the villagers rushed to a single home, which was fitted with defensive holes not only to shoot rifles through from the window shutters but also in the eaves to pour hot oil down upon unsuspecting enemies standing below trying to force the first floor door or windows open.
We arrived that early morning in Old Deerfield, the historic houses had yet to open. So Mom and Dad suggested we go to the Deerfield Inn for breakfast. On the menu we found there was an item listed as English muffins. Of course, we questioned our parents as to what English muffins were.
Dad’s simple explanation to us at that time was that they were bread eaten mostly in England. That made complete sense to my brothers and I at the time. We, of course, had to try them. I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t the round, flat “buns” we were brought. I mean it says English “muffins.” To me muffins were more along the line of cupcakes in shape and size. However, with a little bit of butter melting across those “nooks and crannies” that English muffins are known for and topped with some strawberry jam these “muffins” proved to be quite tasty.
The other tasty bread item was something we tasted on a trip to Maine – to Bar Harbor and the Acadia National Park to be more exact.
We stopped at the visitors center bought a pass to enter the park as well as a tape that would guide us from spot to spot along the park loop route. The tape would tell you about the area you were driving through and direct you to parking areas along the route and explain you would be viewing once you exited your vehicle. It would even tell you to turn the tape off and restart it upon re-entering the car. As we made our way around the many beautiful sights found in Acadia National Park, we came to Jordon Pond House.
According to its website, the Jordan Pond House traces its history back to 1847. “The original farm house was built by the Jordan family of Seal Harbor, for whom the pond and house were named. The Jordan Pond House was founded as a restaurant by Melvan Tibbetts in the early 1870s. In 1895, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas McIntire began their association, which was to last more than 50 years. They were responsible for the character and atmosphere of the original Jordan Pond House, with its birch bark dining rooms and massive fieldstone fireplaces. Near the end of the McIntire’s reign, Mr. John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased the property and gave it to the National Park Service to ensure its continuation. The Jordan Pond House has been operated by the Acadia Corporation, a small group of local people committed to preserving its traditions, since 1946. On June 21, 1979, the original building was destroyed by fire. Through the efforts of the Island Foundation, private funds were contributed for a new Jordan Pond House, which was built in 1982.”
It was this new house that we visited in the afternoon – just in time for the tradition of afternoon tea. We had a choice of sitting inside the restaurant, which we chose, or there were picnic tables outside near the pond with a view of the Bubble Mountains. These two mountains are rounded on top as if they were two gigantic bubbles.
We ordered our afternoon tea, and soon were enjoying cups of hot tea and a tasty popover. According to Wikipedia, a popover is “a light, hollow roll made from an egg batter similar to that of Yorkshire pudding, typically baked in muffin tins or dedicated popover pans, which have straight-walled sides rather than angled.” To me they are like a tall muffin that is hollow inside. At Jordon Pond House, diners are provided with two popovers and homemade strawberry jam and butter. Although each diner receives two popovers, only one per is brought to the table with the tea. The popover is wonderfully hot as if just leaving the oven. The butter melts into the sides as one fills the hollow with some jam.
When the first popover is eaten, the waiter will bring the second popover, also hot from the oven and more tea. In this way the popovers do not get cold as they are best eaten when warm. They are delicious and I’d highly recommend anyone going to Bar Harbor to find the time to visit Acadia National Park and Jordon Pond House.
And if you’re wondering what happened to those early settlers of Old Deerfield, it is a tale that even as a child had me saying, “You have got to be kidding.”
We toured through the house that those early settlers had run to for safety on that horrific night. Our guide led us to the kitchen and told how the children would have been hidden in the large cupboards above the enormous stone fireplace there. According to the tale, the last person making their way into the house to safety did not latch the door after entering. One of the Indians, having gotten to the back of the house, simply had to reach out and try the door to find that it was an easy entry into the otherwise fortified structure. That mistake cost many their lives as the Indians entered the house and attacked those holed up there. The ones left alive were forced marched through the deep snows to Montreal, Canada, some 300 miles away. Many died along the way; others were killed if they could not keep up. Those who survived were ransomed by any settlers who had managed to escape both death and imprisonment.
When I think of that unknown person who left the door unlatched. Did they survive the raid? Were they one of the ones who were made to march 300 miles? Or were they one of the 56 colonists who died that night, 25 of which were children. It happened during the “predawn hours of Feb. 29, 1704. Most of the settlers would have been in bed when the alarm sounded. Half asleep and filled with fear, I’m sure some panicked, not knowing which way to turn. It’s not so difficult in those circumstances to understand not latching a door. Heck I’ve been known to leave the kitchen light on and go to bed when I’m overly tired or half asleep. While that doesn’t have dire consequences for an entire town, my forgetfulness is a result of being tired. Being tired and scared witless, and almost anything could be forgotten, I imagine.
While the sad tale stayed in my memory, the tasty food I’ve found in New England has as well. I cannot wait for another trip to Maine for popovers or the taste of English muffins while sitting in an 1884 inn.