Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'd Probably Be Working Yet

“Hundreds of youngsters did see the pixies that lived in the ferns beside the barn!  Very special wee folk, they delighted in serving everything miniature size in their own special dishes.  Tea sandwiches were served in the pixie refrigerator, luncheon was served in their train or boat.  A dog cart and pony wagon were treasures reserved for serving dessert.  During the meal, the pixies busied themselves wrapping tiny gifts of the heart to delight their pint size customers.  The Inn scrapbook contains so many letters written to the pixies, we know the children shared the pixie love of giving, laughing and enjoying.  We knew they would enjoy being remembered by all the ‘young in heart’” (Graeffe & Horner, Favorite Recipes of Watson Hollow Inn, 1972, p.136).

Mimmie worked for many years as a cook at Watson Hollow Inn in West Shokan, New York.  Desserts were her specialty.  My fondest childhood memories are of sitting at Mimmie's enamel kitchen table very late at night, selecting delicious homemade cookies from a tin container, and drinking many cups of tea while she shared stories of her life.  Mimmie liked her tea strong, and always left the tea bag brewing in her cup the entire time she drank the tea.  She preferred Lipton brand, although she would tolerate Tetley, but she disapproved of all other kinds.  I doubt she knew there was such a thing as decaffeinated.  She used evaporated milk rather than lemon or ordinary milk in her tea.

I asked her, "what do you think about time?"

"Time isn’t important to me anymore.  And I mean, I used to do everything on schedule, anyone that got me off of that schedule...  Anymore, I would say, you know, there’s a lot more time to do that.  This can be done some other time.  I have all the time in the world to visit, and read.  That made me very nervous, schedules.  When I was working, I mean Clare caught on right away, that it bothered me.  And I know I heard her say one time to somebody, don’t get Ann off her schedule, or she’ll, I don’t know, she said she’ll kill you or something like that," she replied, laughing. 

"Everything I did, I wanted it done -- and sometimes it couldn’t be, but I thought if they kept on their schedule, it wouldn’t interfere with mine. They just thought that you couldn’t always keep on a schedule.  And I could, you know, if they went to the store on time.  Because if you don’t get it done on time, how are you going to serve the meals on time.”

Watson Hollow Inn was a magical place.  Known simply as “the Inn” to employees, regulars and local folks, I suppose it was somewhat of a bed and breakfast, though it was in business long before B&Bs were chic.  Afternoon tea and Sunday dinner were served at the Inn.  Operated by Clare Graeffe Kearney, Anne Graeffe and Paul (Pat) Kearney from 1942 to 1970, Mimmie worked there from 1958 until her retirement in 1970.

I was a little girl, and did not often get to visit while Mimmie was at work, so my most vivid memories of the Inn come from Mimmie’s late night stories.  Occasionally in the evenings, the owners, guests and a few employees would play games and put on simple performances.  Mimmie greatly enjoyed the antics at the Inn and, at the same time, thought they were silly. “...All leaf lettuce, parsley, baby carrots and corn came directly from Pat’s garden.  Fresh clover was picked daily, washed, and gently pressed into each butter pat” (Graeffe & Hoerner, p.129). Finding four-leaf clover was one of those antics, and was among Mimmie’s many responsibilities.

A recollection of my own is of a time when I did visit Mimmie in the Inn’s kitchen while she was working.  Clare offered to make me a shake.  In my limited experience, a shake was ice cream, milk and most likely chocolate.  Clare’s combination consisted of wheat germ, a raw egg, and other unfamiliar ingredients.  Clare, Anne and Pat practiced a sort of health-food lifestyle before anyone cared about such things.  I reluctantly drank it and said that I liked it, although I was a fussy kid and it was not sweet at all.  But I had been told many times not to practice my finicky ways when I was a guest.

The nice elderly women at the Inn gave me a little package to take with me when I left that day.  I was to open it after we drove away, when the Inn could no longer be seen in the distance.  Although too polite to refuse the wheat germ-egg shake, I was skeptical of the story I was told about what would happen if I did not listen.  The pixies who lived in the ferns would spirit my gift away!  Ignoring the warning, I ripped the little decorated bag open almost as soon as I was in the car.  Inside was a cute plastic deer statue. (I save everything, but don't have it any longer; I suppose it was spirited away after all.) 

The building which once housed Watson Hollow Inn burned down close to Thanksgiving in 1971, a year after it stopped operating as a business.  (The pixies who lived in the ferns may have done it.)

Mimmie remarked, "of course if Watson Hollow Inn was still there, and I lived where I did, I’d probably be working yet.  'Cause if I’d never had to stop, I think I would have kept in good enough condition to work.  I think that they wouldn’t have been working full-time there.  And I know if everything had gone well and they had been living, they’d be running that place today yet, maybe in a smaller way."

Here's a WHI recipe that is perfect for holiday celebrations:

Watson Hollow Inn Fruit Punch

Nutmeg    (to taste)
Cinnamon    (to taste)
Cloves    (to taste)
Cranberry Juice    4 cups
Apricot Juice    3 cups
Pear Nectar    2 cups
Pineapple Juice    3 cups

Put all ingredients in gallon jar and chill.  When ready to serve add one can frozen lemonade, stir and fill remainder of jar with ginger ale.  Add cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to taste.  Fill glasses and add one melon ball cutter, the largest one, of orange or lemon sherbet to each glass.

excerpted from A Visit with Mimmie: Catskill Mountain Recipes

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