History, and a Nice Menu

I’ve long had an interest in the history of Shenandoah National Park, just a few hours west of us–and this past weekend we found a way to get up close and personal. On a last minute whim, we decided to take a quick overnight trip to Doyles River Cabin. The cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936–the same year that the Park was established–and is now managed as a rental property by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC).


As you probably know, the CCC was created during the Depression as a way to provide employment, housing, and food to young men that were facing grim job prospects. CCC “enrollees” were paid roughly $30/month to built roads and bridges and cabins and more. They built a lot of structures still standing in the park (many of the original structures were removed when settlers were forced out by the state of Virginia to create the park; more on that here).

The CCC did a lot of work across the country. In addition to roads and bridges and cabins, they also planted trees, built flood and erosion control projects, erected fire towers, stocked trout—basically did whatever they could to improve the infrastructure of our country.


The CCC built this enclosure to the spring just below Doyles River Cabin

More than three million young men enrolled in the CCC, including some that later went on to great notoriety–like baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial and Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager (I’m imagining fireside chats about curveballs at the speed of sound).

Doyles River Cabin is a primitive (no power or water) one-room structure, but it is sturdy and accommodating and in a great location. It also has a lovely covered porch and a beautiful view. PATC has done a nice job maintaining it, and we were thrilled that it was available on short notice.

The hike to the cabin is just a half mile from Skyline Drive. And with such an easy hike, we figured we could carry some fancy food (shocking for us, I know). We brought a small cooler bag full of our dinner, along with some frozen water bottles to keep things cold (figuring we could drink/dump the water before heading home). We did most of the food prep ahead of time, including cracking and freezing some scrambled eggs (for Sunday breakfast) in a Nalgene bottle.


We dropped our food and overnight gear at the cabin and then headed down trail another mile or so to Doyles River Falls (very pretty, despite the low-flow conditions). We shared the trail with a bunch of friendly folks, and saw quite a bit of bear scat. The black bear population is growing in the park, although we weren’t lucky enough to see one on this trip.


After our hike, we spent time lounging around the cabin and soaking in the view.

For dinner, we fried up some trout (just as the CCC might have done), made our favorite frybake French potato dish, Potato Gratin Savoyard (probably not what the CCC would have done), and enjoyed steamed mussels (definitely not what the CCC would have done).

As we cooked dinner, we admired the stonework and hand hewn logs that make up the cabin, as well as the beautiful view of the night sky. It’s pretty amazing to think that Doyles River Cabin has been providing cozy nights under the moonlight for 80+ years. The cabin looks fantastic for its age–which apparently is only a compliment if you are talking about a cabin (ask me how I know).

There’s something rewarding about finding an adventure close to home—and even more so when it includes a bit of history and a nice menu. And we have the mussels to prove it.


Hollow Full of Memories

This weekend we joined good friends for a quick getaway to the nearby Blue Ridge mountains and a stay at the Rosser Lamb House. The house was built in 1915 as the home of Hiram and Lucy Lamb and their nine children, and it is now one of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s primitive (no power or water) rental cabins. It is located in Lamb’s Hollow (of course), adjacent to Shenandoah National Park.

Shenandoah National Park was created during the Great Depression, and the formation of the park resulted in more than five hundred families being forced by the U.S. government to leave their homes. Many of these families had been on land that they had occupied for generations, and entire communities were uprooted and moved to the east—including some to a subdivision in nearby Madison County called “Resettlement Road” (seriously).

In 1934, the Lamb family–which had been in that hollow since 1845–got the word that they needed to relocate. But in a twist of fate, the government ran out of funding for the park before the Lambs were forced to move. The park border stopped just short of the Lamb house, and they stayed there well into the 1960s–when the house was eventually sold to be used as a hunting lodge.

In 1995, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club acquired the house and its surrounding property and began what became a 17-year project to restore it. The house has been described by a park historian as “a tribute to a mountain family living out the American dream in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.” And a fine tribute it is.

We spent our weekend hiking on the nearby trails, enjoying the stream-side setting, cooking in the spacious and renovated kitchen, and imagining life here some 100 years ago.

Our visit was made even more memorable by some family history that was shared with us by Larry Lamb, a sixth generation member of the family and a volunteer with the Blue Ridge Heritage Project, and Kristie Kendall, who is a historian with the Piedmont Environmental Council.

Larry and Kristie were incredibly gracious in sharing the history of the house and the surrounding area, and both of their organizations are doing amazing work.



A mill on the Lamb property. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb

Larry’s father, Thurman, was born in the house in 1925, and Larry visited the house often as a kid. He shared that his grandparents, Rosser and Rosetta Lamb, were “kind, humble people who loved the mountains and their home.” There were also stories of corn growing on the hillside, a smokehouse, a big garden, and family gatherings that featured banjo music and dancing the Virginia Reel.

As for food during our trip, we tried to use recipes that we thought might be common back in Rosser and Rosetta Lamb’s day. Cherry trees were popular in the Blue Ridge, so we made a cherry pie. The Lambs made sorghum molasses, so we baked molasses cookies and muffins. They grew corn, so we had corn on the cob. They likely ate wild ramps, so we had some ramps. The streams in the park had wild trout, so we made a trout dip. They had a smokehouse, so we smoked some fish.

Of course, it’s a lot easier when you get your food from the local supermarket and keep it on ice in a giant cooler—a little different than in Rosser and Rosetta Lamb’s day.

Later on the trip, we visited Far Pocosin Mission, which is about a two mile hike from the house. The Mission was founded in 1902, and historians describe it as the center of the community at the time. Now, 115 years later, the Mission is slowly fading into the forest–but there are old foundations, stairs, and chimneys that are still visible. Rosser Lamb attended church at the Mission, and his children went to school there.

I’ve enjoyed hiking and backpacking in and around Shenandoah National Park for more than 30 years now, and I confess that I haven’t always thought much about the human history. But we found the house and the mission to be powerful reminders of the people that were here before the park. The house is a fine tribute to the Lamb family, and to a lot of other families that lived in the neighboring hollows. I really can’t imagine what it must have been like for those that were forced to leave.

Lastly, it turns out that Pocosin Mission was founded by a very distant relative of mine, Frederick William Neve, a fact which was fascinating to me—but was either irrelevant or annoying to Souzz and our friends. After all, how many times can you listen to someone say “hey, I’m related to the guy that built this!” without wanting to scream?

Actually, I know that answer, and it’s four.

Another Birthday Thai

My birthday was last weekend, but Souzz was out of town so we postponed the celebration by a week. That means I’m technically seven days younger–and I feel so much better that I am considering postponing future birthdays entirely. Add in the fact that I was born in Japan, which is across the International Date Line, and I’m pretty sure I’m still a teenager (well, at least emotionally).

Calendars aside, this year’s birthday outing took us to yet another of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club‘s fabulous cabins. This time we headed to John’s Rest, near Stanardsville in central Virginia. John’s Rest is on 240 private acres adjacent to IMG_2085Shenandoah National Park, and it’s one of the nicer primitive (no power or water) cabins in the PATC system. The cabin is a short hike in to a great setting with a beautiful little stream (Entry Run) trickling right in front of it. We took backpacks to haul in our hundreds of pounds of lightweight gear.

IMG_5303  IMG_5306 DSC_0598

As for the weekend fare, an Asian food theme seemed to make sense for someone born overseas (never mind all of those pizza birthdays as a kid). Pad Thai was at the center of a meal that included chicken satay, homemade egg rolls, sushi, Sapporo beer, and a small bottle of saké. It was a geographic melting pot of a menu, for sure (and we learned to say “where are the rolaids?” in Japanese just in case.)

It turns out that pad Thai has a tie in to Thai nationalism (yes, I really did write that sentence). So here’s the story: in the late 1930s, Chinese wheat noodles were very popular in Thailand—too popular in the eyes of Thailand’s Prime Minister, who was trying hard to reduce the influence from nearby China. The government launched a big campaign to promote rice noodles, and the rice noodles used in pad Thai–called sen chan–were born.

With history behind us, we spent the day hiking a great circuit up past the PATC Rosser Lamb Cabin and then up onto a nearby ridge. We both agreed that November is a great time to be out. While it’s a bit late for the fall colors, there were no crowds at all and the bare trees revealed sights that one can’t see most times of the year.

IMG_2079   Map-Loop-Trip


       Lamb Family Cemetery

The highlight of the hike was a visit to the Lamb family cemetery, nestled among the trees in the saddle of the mountain above Pocosin Hollow. The Lambs were one of the first families to settle in Green County, and the headstones date to the 1800s. The cemetery was free of leaves, having been recently raked, and it is clearly still an important destination for the family. It was interesting to try to imagine the lives that these people lived–especially later in the day as we hauled water and nursed sore muscles from splitting wood.


                   Filtering water






Apparently all are welcome at cabins

As for dinner, we got great use out of the propane stove, a rare luxury at a PATC cabin. For the pad Thai, we included shrimp along with the traditional noodles and sprouts, and we were glad that we’d carried in a good pan (PATC cabins provide basic cookware, but not much in the way of fancy woks, go figure).

We seasoned the chicken satay with Pensky’s sate spice and we served the satay with peanut sauce. We made the filling for the egg rolls ahead of time, but fried the rolls in peanut oil at the cabin and they came out crispy and hot, just right.

DSC_0512  DSC_0521DSC_0497  DSC_0515DSC_0527 DSC_0576

Oh, and just for fun, we made our own fortune cookies ahead of the trip (I like a recipe that lets me write my own fortunes). Unfortunately, I got the cookies mixed up, and mine said “I see a lot of dish cleaning in your future.”

DSC_0604    DSC_0606

Cookin’ Cousins

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 Ithumb_DSC_0004_1024 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.

DSC_0006 flower turtle DSC_0009 map

thumb_DSC_0149_1024Humphrey 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.

thumb_DSC_0014_1024 thumb_DSC_0027_1024 thumb_DSC_0018_1024

For dinner, we tried a new (to us) recipe called coulibiac–a traditionagourmet-cookbook2l 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).


Apps before dinner

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.

 DSC_0037  thumb_DSC_0046_1024 DSC_0028


thumb_DSC_0051_1024  thumb_DSC_0069_1024

thumb_DSC_0078_1024 DSC_0092 thumb_DSC_0097_1024

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!


the finished product, complete with a star and a moon


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. 


The shop at Roy’s Orchard

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.