Henrietta House: Farm to Table Bed & Breakfast
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h e n r
i e t ta
farm to tablebed & breakfast
by Jennifer C. LavoiePaula Deutz photos
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sparse snowflakes fell softly and silently outside of henrietta house bed and breakfast in ashford on a february day.
The chilly air made me pull my coat collar tighter around my neck as I approached the doorway, but the cold was quickly dissolved by the warmth that enveloped me from owner and proprietor Marian Matthews, and manager Jasmine Lewis.
Henrietta House is a place to relax, unwind and reflect. Built in 1722, the house is surrounded by extensive perennial and vegetable gardens, a beautiful 1800’s barn, stone walls with traces of lichen bordering the yard, rolling fields and a newly planted blueberry patch. “This was the first house that said, you belong to me,” Marian explains, referring to the first time she saw the property, in 1985. It is that
sweet sentiment that is so very apparent when you visit and stay at the house.
Jasmine tells a story about their first guests from Switzerland; she began planning the full breakfast that she would serve the next day (no continental breakfast here!) but became so nervous that she accidentally made so much she had plenty to serve breakfast and then dinner as well! She laid out the surprise evening spread for them, “Beauty and the Beast style.” The guests were shocked but delighted and settled in for the night by a beautifully lit fire, enjoying wine and good company.
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Marian and Jasmine - with their easy nature, humor and graciousness - make guests feel as though Henrietta House belongs to them too. They lovingly create a farm-to-table breakfast for their guests using just about every ingredient from their farm. Jasmine explains that the first step to becoming self-sustaining is to grow or raise what you need on the farm. They started out with heritage chickens, then added goats and finally, pigs.
Jasmine prepares many of the meals; though not a classically trained chef, she sure can cook like one. Guests enjoy eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, fresh yogurt and cheese made from goat’s milk, homemade granola, ricotta cheese, and homemade pork sausage. Ingredients that aren’t grown or raised on the farm are sourced from local farmers and artisans: think smallbatch, fresh roasted coffee beans from Ben’s Beans in Pomfret, or fruit syrups from Ashford Farms.
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Marian grew up in Texas, and there are traces of her southern drawl as she explains how she fell in love with New England. She didn’t grow up on a farm, but always wanted to live sustainably. Early on, she took a Beginning Women Farmers Training Program; it helped Marian come up with holistic goals for the farm, and taught her how to bring in a profit. A local woman taught Marian how to raise and milk goats; the farm now has a herd of seven, with the newest member, Persnickety, born just a few weeks ago.
If the idea of a sumptuous breakfast alone isn’t enough, the historic home is a wonder for folks who love old New England architecture. The house has many of its original features, including a traditional center chimney design. It includes wide hand-hewn chestnut floorboards, worn smooth in places by the inhabitants of this 300-year-old house;
five working fireplaces; a beehive oven; original windows with their characteristic wavy appearance; large stone hearths; and nooks and crannies calling out for deeper inspection. “I just love this house so much. It is so comfortable,” Marian explains. “When you have a house like this, you feel you’re responsible for maintaining the history; [you’re] a curator of sorts.”
The three guest rooms are all on the second floor and have modern conveniences while maintaining historic charm. Marian belongs to the Ashford Clean Energy Task Force, and has installed solar panels on the roof of the barn for both heating and cooling, providing guests with a comfortable stay. Each room has some element of Marian’s travels to Asia, including traditional Japanese clothing; silk duvets from India; and lamps, ceramics and embroidery from Korea.
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“ HENRIETTA HOUSE IS A PLACE TO RELAX, UNWIND AND REFLECT.
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The larger Henrietta suite is a lovely room in the back of the house, overlooking the keyhole garden; it has a perfect view of the barn and fields, with a gorgeous soaking tub and its own entrance and balcony.
There is much to do in and around Ashford, and Henrietta House staff are eager to help guests enjoy local experiences in Connecticut’s “quiet corner.” There’s fishing and swimming at Bigelow Hollow State Forest; visiting Sharpe Hill or Taylor Brook wineries; discovering the antique shops, restaurants and theaters in Putnam; visiting the UCONN Jorgenson theater; or exploring downtown Willimantic’s eclectic restaurant and art scene.
Marian mentioned a book to me during my visit called The Deserted Village, written in the early 1890’s by Henry Sherman Boutell, an Illinois congressman who journeyed to Ashford. His family had in its possession a chest full of artifacts and letters about Captain Knowlton, who led the battle of Bunker Hill and the minute-men of Ashford; these artifacts stoked young Boutell’s imagination. He writes about his desire to visit Ashford: “Everyone has in mind some historic spot that seems more interesting than all others. One wants to locate the Garden of Eden…” The Henrietta House is that Garden of Eden. As a guest, you can relish and appreciate the history of the house; or take a walk on the Josiah Byles Trail, adjacent to the property, celebrating in the New England countryside. You can soak in the sun and fresh air in the beautiful gardens, pick fresh blueberries, commune with the farm animals, or simply revel in the peace and tranquility that Henrietta House offers.
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A HENRIETTA HOUSE RECIPE
1 cup milk 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Add milk, eggs, flour, and salt to mixer bowl.
Beat to mix thoroughly, about 30 seconds; scrape bowl and mix again until flour is fully incorporated. Avoid over-beating; it reduces volume. The mixture may have tiny bumps still in it, which is okay.
Ladle batter into well-greased custard cups, filling cups halfway. Place cups on a baking sheet and place on center oven rack. Bake for about 45 minutes.
Remove popovers from oven, and serve with butter and jam as soon as possible.
Makes seven popovers baked in five-ounce custard cups.
Recipe can be reduced or expanded. For each egg, use 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup milk, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Serve these crisp, brown pockets hot, with lots of butter and jelly or jam.
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