I still remember the first Bed & Breakfast I ever stayed in. James and I had just arrived in London on a post-university backpacking trip around Europe. Hoarding money was essential as we could only stay until our funds ran out, so we found ourselves in a small English townhouse, not far from the train station, on our first night overseas. We were the only guests in a tiny little room with a shared bath and breakfast was served in the kitchen. This was a proper English breakfast: two fried eggs, sausage, fried potatoes and baked tomatoes. It was 1977.
Some say the concept of the Bed & Breakfast was imported to the United States in the 1960’s. Other sources trace the B&B to our early settlers, traveling west and stopping to find shelter in private homes. In the 1800’s the “Boarding House” was an important part of Asheville’s history. Thomas Wolfe wrote extensively about the boarding house in which he grew up in his semi-auto biographical novel, “Look Homeward Angel”. And the Carolina Bed & Breakfast which started its life as a private home became a boarding house in the 1930’s and was established as a Bed & Breakfast in Asheville in 1983. There are now more than 40 B&B’s in Asheville. But these inns are nothing like the classic British B&B we visited in the 1970’s.
Here in Asheville, the Bed & Breakfast Inn has been elevated to an art form. Beds are made with luxurious linens; private baths come with jacuzzis and whirlpools; rooms are furnished with beautiful antiques and artworks and equipped with every kind of amenity. Far from feeling like you are intruding on a family’s private space, you will find yourself feeling like the pampered lord (and lady) of the manor! But with all the glitz and glamour, romance and relaxation, the Bed and Breakfast Inn maintains its roots as a private home. Innkeepers are expected to live on the property and often, as in our case, are required to live in the house. There is no trade school for becoming a B&B owner. Some innkeepers have always wanted own a B&B (I know one who claims he was obsessed by Petticoat Junction as a child) and others never really thought about it much until the opportunity presented itself.
Which brings me to the food. Few if any B&B owners have professional training as a chef. Of course you would never go into this if you didn’t like cooking and felt comfortable in the kitchen but for the most part we are home cooks. The structure of the B&B supports this. There is no “menu” or wide variety of choice although a good innkeeper will vary her (or his) menu and try to make sure that guests find something in the meal to enjoy. Sometimes this presents a challenge!
When you book with the Carolina Bed & Breakfast you will be asked if you have any dietary restrictions. This encompasses allergies as well as specific alternative diets. If I know you only eat raw food then I can make sure you have some carrots sticks! But in reality, it’s more than that. We really do want to serve you a meal you will enjoy and giving me a heads up that you don’t eat eggs, for example, helps me to ensure this. Remember that bit about being a home cook? I am not going to pretend that I specialize in alternative diets. But I will do the best I can to make you a passable meal. There is a learning curve involved when one has to start serving food to people with restricted diets: gluten-free, lactose-intollerant, vegetarian, pescatarian, raw diets, vegan, and all manner of allergies require advance planning and sometimes a trial run to make sure the dish works. So I was recently delighted to have Tamasin Noyes as a guest at the Carolina.
Tami is a vegan chef whose blog, Vegan Appetite, has a large following among both vegans and vegetarians. She has worked as a recipe-tester for several cookbook authors and has two vegan cookbooks of her own. She and her husband were here for a book signing for her new cookbook Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day! at Malaprops, Asheville’s best known independent bookstore and they stayed with us for five days. I have to admit my heart sank when I first saw the reservation: five days was going to be a stretch for me with my limited repertoire of vegan dishes and knowledge of the diet. But Tami and Jim couldn’t have been kinder. It was a real pleasure for me to have them critique my dishes. They gave me solid, useful feedback of the type every cook can use and the practice of preparing their dishes every day was invaluable! I had to laugh when I checked with Tami as to whether Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry was safe to serve her and she told me it was on a list of “Accidentally Vegan” foods and definitely useable.
The following recipe resulted from her visit and is one I am happy to serve to Vegans and Non-Vegans alike:
Apple Dumplings with Cider Reduction
For the Apples:
4 small Golden Delicious Apples
3 tablespoons softened butter (or vegan substitute)
3 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon
3 tablespoons chopped raisins
1 sheet defrosted Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry
For the Cider Reduction:
2 cups Apple Cider
2 teaspoons corn starch
4 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon butter (or vegan substitute)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Peel and core the apples from the top, leaving the bottom intact.
Mix two tablespoons of the cinnamon sugar with the softened butter and the chopped raisins and stuff the apple cavities with the mixture.
Cut a sheet of puff pastry into four squares and carefully wrap one square around each apple, folding it over at the top. Make a small slit in the top of the pastry. Sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar.
Bake 25 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden brown.
Apple Cider Reduction:
Boil the cider rapidly until it has reduced to one cup (about 15-20 minutes).