This weekend we did a quick overnight trip to Humphrey Cabin, a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club property near Elkton, Virginia. Souzz’s cousin Maureen joined us, as well. Mo and Souzz were born just days apart, grew up as besties, and are frequent partners in crime to this day. Add in Mo’s high energy and wacky sense of humor and you have a recipe for a fun weekend!
Since I am temporarily hobbled by an ankle injury, I offered to serve as a shuttle driver for their day hike on Saturday afternoon. So I dropped the cousins off at the Hazeltop Ridge Overlook at 3,265 feet on Skyline Drive, at the start of the Powell Mountain Trail. The plan was to circle around and pick them up at the base of the mountain (elevation 1400) after a 3.5 mile mostly downhill hike that ends near the cabin.
Despite intermittent rain, Souzz and Mo had a nice hike, saw a lot of wildflowers (trillium dots?), and happened upon an eastern box turtle. I met them at the lower Powell Mountain trail head on Jollett Road, and from there it was a quick drive to the cabin.
Humphrey Cabin (formerly Weaver Cabin) is named after Robert Humphrey, a volunteer who has built and renovated countless cabins in the PATC system over the years. It is a unique two-story structure of tongue and groove logs that dates to 1800. There’s electricity and spring water, a modest kitchen, lots of sleeping space, a horseshoe pit, and even a small ping pong table upstairs. There is also a nice covered porch with a spring-fed sink.
For dinner, we tried a new (to us) recipe called coulibiac–a traditional Russian dish featuring salmon, rice, mushrooms, onions, hard boiled eggs, parsley, and dill, all wrapped in a pastry shell. The recipe dates back to before 1900, and it first gained attention outside of Russia when it was included in the famed French cookbook Le Guide Culinare in 1903. There are many variations; we used a recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook, one of our favorites.
As expected, making coulibiac was an ambitious project, nearly four hours from concept to plate–but well worth the effort. To help things along, we brought a propane stove, some pots, mixing bowls, cutting boards, a good knife, measuring cups/spoons, and an instant read thermometer (for working with the yeast).
Without question, Souzz and Mo were the brains of the operation–but it took all three of us to pull this off. We did all of the prep under a lantern on the porch while sipping wine and nibbling on cheese, crackers, almonds, olives, and iberico ham. It’s really no wonder that my pants had to be surgically removed after the weekend.
The cabin’s indoor kitchen was pretty basic, but it was adequately stocked and included an electric stove. That said, it can be a challenge to find exactly what you need for fancy meal prep in such a rustic setting. At one point during a search for a slotted spoon, Mo opened a utensil drawer and instead found a white-footed deer mouse scampering among the cutlery. In true Mo fashion, she quickly closed the drawer, named her new friend Humphrey, and refocused on dinner prep (umm, now using one of our own spoons). At that point, it dawned on me that cabin cooking might not be for everyone.
We cooked up some asparagus while the coulibiac baked away. And once the main dish was done, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The coulibiac was quite nice, not too rich, but with a lot of different textures. The pastry dough, which included sour cream in its ingredients, came out very nicely. If I was doing this dish again, I would include a bit more salt in the filling, but otherwise we gave it high marks. Bonus points: us foodies had never heard of coulibiac until we read the recipe…in fact, we kept forgetting what it was called!
Sunday dawned a bit rainy, perfect for sitting on the covered porch. We enjoyed coffee and French toast along with sausage, eggs, and fresh fruit. This time of year, the porch is definitely the center of the Humphrey Cabin experience, and we took full advantage.
From there we did a little clean-up to leave the cabin in good shape for the next folks. Then it was about 2 hours and 15 minutes home, interrupted only by the requisite stop at Roy’s Orchard in Sperryville for fresh produce and locally harvested honey. We spent the last part of our drive eating strawberries and laughing about the weekend.
Looking back, it’s clear that both Maureen and the PATC cabins (and Souzz!) never disappoint in creating memorable experiences. We had lots of fun and a nice culinary adventure, and we are confident that our coulibiac dish was the first of it’s kind in the cabin’s 215 year history. No wonder Humphrey was so curious.