We pass fields of bleached cornstalks, swales of goldenrod, and horse-drawn buggies. The afternoon’s soft September light peeks through barn boards. Display cloths are adorned with fleur-de-lis. Pecks of produce. Bins of bread. Jars of honey. A handful of pullet eggs.
A trickle of nostalgia seeps into my heart.
No, this is not Maxatawny Township. It is Central Pennsylvania—The Barn at The Hummingbird Room. The formal address is 4188 Penns Valley Road, Spring Mills, but as you travel east on Route 45, about 20 minutes from State College, you pass a sign that says Village of Penn Hall. Then you’ll see a stately brick home with turquoise shutters on the right. Just past that, you turn at the tall, globed lamppost into a gravel parking lot. The barn is tucked behind the house.
Eric and Claudia Sarnow bought the place 21 years ago. He was a trained chef who had worked for three years at two five-star restaurants in the Loire Valley of France and six years at Le Be Fin in Philadelphia. After their son Evan was born, the Sarnows decided to move to the country. The couple brought a taste of French cuisine to Central Pennsylvania with The Hummingbird Room. But after a dozen years, running a restaurant full-time wore thin. It was time to change course. Eric spent the next nine years as a chef on private yacht, cruising and cooking on the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, with Claudia and Evan joining him at foreign ports.
Two years ago, the family returned to their home and opened The Hummingbird Room for weddings, celebrations, and cooking classes. “Miss Ruby” sends out email invitations for Supper Club dinners in the elegant dining rooms of the 1847 mansion: Christmas in Paris, Miss Ruby’s New Year’s Eve Speakeasy, a seven-course Cupid’s Dart Dinner. Although these events were intriguing, they have been too pricey and over-the-top for my current lifestyle.
Last fall, we did go to their holiday open house for gourmet gifts like strawberry-basil syrup, caramel chipotle sauce, and smoked salmon mousse to fill holiday baskets and tables. This month, an email suggesting a drive in the country and a visit to The Barn at The Hummingbird Room for Gourmet-To-Go (Or Stay) Weekends made not one, but two, Sundays very special.
There were French baguettes and olive bread loaves to carry home, tastes of thin slices of wild Pacific Salmon that Eric smokes over apple wood at the farm, and an array of desserts such as Plum Torte and Lavender Shortbreads to sample.
The mouthwatering menu included Charred Penns Valley Sweet Corn Salad, Chesapeake Crab Cakes, Mojo Marinated Grilled Cuban Pork, Garden Tomato Basil Salad and Massaged Kale Salad.
I had heard about Massaged Kale Salad but had never tasted it. “Massaged Kale” is just what it says, kneading bits of kale, stripped from the stem, in a bowl with a splash of olive oil, sprinkle of sea salt, and a teaspoon of lemon juice for about three minutes. This process breaks down the rough leaves of the kale and makes it easier to digest. It also turns the kale a vibrant green and gives it a softer, chewy texture.
Claudia’s version had a light, lemony dressing with Craisins, chopped, dried apricots and sunflower seeds. In my version, a few days later, I substituted quartered fresh figs for the apricots. For the dressing, I used the juice of one lemon (minus the teaspoon used for massaging), 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of The Barn at The Hummingbird Room’s honey. Salad heaven! Laurie Lynch
Written on Slate: “September showed up right on schedule and lasted a whole month.” Jenny Wingfield