Read Roberta's reflections on the Bar Harbor bed and breakfast experience. The following items are included in the forthcoming collection by Roberta Chester called “Be My Guest: The Inside Story of a B & B in Maine.”
“News and Notes from the Shorepath Cottage”
The rain in Maine falls mainly other places (but of course) than Bar Harbor, but when it does, my guests enjoy different activities than climbing on slippery rocks in Acadia National Park, biking the carriage roads, or going to sea in a kayak. Those include area sight seeing car trips, the local museums, art galleries, craft shops, and antique stores that might not appeal to their children, especially those who are too old to fall asleep in the back seat.
The was the case with the Perello kids (Nicholas and Alexandra - an inspired choice of names - ages 13 and 14 respectively) from Florida who weren't pleased with their parents' rainy day suggestions, even after looking through my rainy day activities notebook . After listening to the conversation at the breakfast table, I had a suggestion which I thought the children might enjoy while their parents were busy being out and about.
Just the (sunny) day before. after enjoying lunch at the Jordon Pond House - the only restaurant in Acadia National Park - both the children and parents were euphoric about the popovers, served with real butter and strawberry jam, a famous staple at this restaurant which is almost as old as the park itself.
Anyone who has ever tried to make popovers - a confection whose main ingredient is air - knows it is certainly not a piece of cake (no pun intended). Just flour, milk and eggs (lots of them), they should come out of the oven plump, lightly brown, not too doughy on the inside, and so high they seem to defy gravity. Then the cook has to get them from the oven and hit the ground running to carry them to the table before they deflate.
I have a long (and sorry) history with making popovers, even though I bought the popover pans - heavy black metal with cups that are deeper and narrower than those in standard size muffin tins - and followed numerous recipes hoping to recreate from my own kitchen the popovers I had also enjoyed at the Jordon Pond House. Although I have often taken liberties with recipes, and most of the time with good results, I was always careful to follow the popover recipes to a “t;” when the recipe indicated a starting temperature of 450F which should then be reduced to 350F I was meticulous about the specified time, and each tin was exactly 3/4 full of batter and not a drop more or less.
One of the difficulties with turning out perfect popovers is the fact that it is impossible to test their doneness with a toothpick, unlike all other baked goods. After numerous trials and errors, I still hadn't had any success. Although my guests were polite in their praise, I could always depend on my children for brutal honesty. “Yuck, Mom... maybe you should just give up.”
Nor was I alone in my quasi-obsession to make successful popovers. Several yeas ago, a doctor guest from New Hampshire spied my new, professional Thermador and asked if he could try making popovers with my oven. Apparently, he was determined to make the perfect popover and had been trying for years. “Be my guest,” I offered and soon he your entered the kitchen with all the ingredients, ready and eager to give it a try. Sorry to say, they were literally and figuratively a flop.
So, as I looked at the glum faces of my young guests, I quite impulsively (and dangerously) said , “Why don't we make popovers? I'll supply all the ingredients including the butter and strawberry jam.” Their eager, happy expressions made any retraction impossible, even though I had my doubts that a new attempt would be any more successful than those in the past.
I had tried every single recipe for popovers in my considerable number of cookbooks, but the popovers that emerged from the oven were either too well done on the outside or a bit mushy on the inside. I figured that over the years I wasted several dozens of eggs and a considerable amount of milk and flour on my failed attempts. Even popover mixes didn't work for me; as far as popovers were concerned I had the equivalent of a black thumb.
It was bad enough to fail in the past, but this time I had two co-cooks and I really wanted them to succeed. I knew better than to try any of the recipes that had already failed. However, there was one cookbook - Wake Up and Smell the Coffee - that I had bought several months previously on a trip to Israel that had a recipe for popovers that I hadn't yet tried. Feigning enthusiasm for the sake of my young guests, I opened the book to the pristine page (no baking stains here) and we started. Immediately, I noticed two differences in this particular recipe: pre-heating the popover pans and adding amoretto to the batter. While I folded laundry, Nicholas and Alexandra did everything including diligently watching the clock to lower the temp at the appropriate time.
Voila! The popovers were perfect!! I had two happy kids devouring their hard work, and I was delighted with my winning recipe. The only pity was that their parents had no evidence of this success; popovers have to be eaten immediately as they have a zero shelf life. Nicholas and Alexandra baked another batch the next morning, and these popovers were just as good.
As for me, thanks to Nicholas and Alexandra, I repeated their success for the rest of the summer... unfortunately enjoying too many popovers myself.
- Roberta Chester, Spring 2009