Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I am writing today about a place I never knew but long ago I found the small spiral-bound WOODBINE COTTAGE-OUR FAVORITE RECIPES cookbook in a used bookstore and was intrigued by its handwritten (and copied), old-fashioned style, and New England recipes. I have always been partial to woodbine, too, as it was a common wood plant in Ohio (where we called it "Virginia Creeper") and Woodbine Farm was the name of the Jaffrey farm where my friend Di grew up (and where Willa Cather wrote THE LOST LADY in a tent she pitched in their fields). The woodbine plant seems to conjure up all sorts of romantic associations, of a trailing and meandering vine on old porches and homesteads.
Woodbine Cottage in Sunapee Harbor, New Hampshire was a successful tea room and restaurant for decades. It closed about 15 years ago after Eleanor Hill died, its creator and longtime proprietor.
On Sunday my husband and I were heading up to Sunapee Harbor with our friends Linda and Eric who go up that way frequently. It is a lovely part of New Hampshire but only an area with which I've become more familiar in recent years. We were going to ride the Mt. Kearsarge dinner cruise on Lake Sunapee, a beautiful 9-mile lake surrounded by old camps and cottages (and a few newer ones here and there).
On the way I asked Linda about Woodbine Cottage as I knew she had mentioned it before. She had many meals there--and afternoon teas--in their hey-day and said "they made the lightest, highest pancakes" she'd ever had. She, too, had bought the cookbook which, while it doesn't have the pancake recipe, has other things like waffles, breads, desserts and a few main dishes and soups. I was anxious to at least see the building. [Linda also said that they sold "shelves full of Country Fare," one of my favorite potteries that I've been collecting, made originally by Zanesville Pottery in Ohio from the 1940s-1960s, in an attractive brown and aqua glazing that I have noticed is once again making a comeback in newer lines of dinnerware now sold in stores. Oh the pain of never having gone there for Country Fare, too...]
So before our cruise we walked over to the former Woodbine Cottage. It looks a bit forlorn now and has not been in use since its past ownership. The gardens are overgrown and the woodbine that crawled up the front of the house and over its roof on special trellices is long gone. The property is apparently for sale for $399,000 after a developer attempted to reopen the restaurant and build condos behind it. [A tight location, parking issues, and neighbors, likely nixed that idea.] It was a thrill to see it after imagining it from the cookbook. While it was a bit tumble-bumble, it didn't disappoint. From the outside I felt wafts of tea rooms past when they were dotted all across New England and run by sweet old ladies like Eleanor Hill. May it rest in peace.