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NORTH CONWAY, N.H Aug 24, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Swallowtail butterflies deposit their larvae on parsley leaves. Folks in the Middle Ages thought scorpions would hatch in their brains if they ate too much basil. Persephone, goddess of the underworld, caught Minthe seducing her husband; she turned the beautiful nymph into a plant, and that’s how mint got its name.
It’s almost enough to turn me off herbs forever.
But I end up forgetting that checkered past after scarfing back tasty herb-based treats – think apple and thyme breakfast patties, lavender cookies, lemongrass-infused iced tea – during the annual Inn to Inn Herb Tour centred on North Conway, N.H.
Over two days, my wife and I visit 10 charming inns to sample a rainbow of herb-based dishes, pick up recipes, and take away seeds and cuttings to grow herbs at home. The bonus: a chance to check out the inns – visitors can wander around the properties – and savour gorgeous Mount Washington Valley scenery.
Visits to breweries, family farms, an organic market, even a chocolatier, have now been added to the mix.
”We wanted to broaden the appeal and get more people coming,” explains Craig Cox, co-owner of Riverbend Inn in nearby Chocorua and a member of the organizing committee. “Limiting ourselves to a focus on herbs just doesn’t get everyone excited. You don’t have to cook to enjoy breweries or visit a farm.”
Cox points out there’s such a bounty of local produce – meats, maple syrup, cheese and produce – that the innkeepers decided to highlight it, too.
The herb tour traditionally attracts about 100 participants, Cox says. But the 10 inns mount a similar holiday cookie tour each December which attracts four times that number. Innkeepers hope the newer spring tour eventually reaches that size.
At the moment, however, the low number means the self-guided tour never seems crowded or rushed. Participants can sign up for a weekend package at any of the participating inns, each independently owned, or can pay $40 to drop by every inn without staying at one.
Armed with detailed driving directions provided when you register, you’ll drive to five inns each day. With less than 35 kilometres separating the two most distant properties, it’s not difficult to fit them all in, and enjoy scenic back country roads at the same time.
Each inn is assigned an herb, which changes each year. “Innkeepers submit three choices and usually get first or second choice,” Cox says. Each innkeeper prepares a couple of dishes using their herb, which visitors sample, and hands out the recipes and seeds or starter plants.
Last year, Cox says, he offered fresh homemade ginger ale and bran muffins topped with candied ginger butter or fresh ginger and apricot chutney.
At the 1785 Inn and Restaurant Peter Willis and Michael Reed held four half-hour sessions, in both the inn’s kitchen and porch dining room, where guests enjoyed what Frommer’s has called one of the 15 best hotel views in the world. The demonstrations emphasized basil, the property’s assigned herb last year. (In 2013, the North Conway inn had parsley; I still happily recall its unique parsley ice cream.)
The same four inns also served herb-themed dinners. At Snowvillage Inn in Eaton, for example, Chef Ben Frieden showcased products from brewer White Birch of Hooksett, N.H., with foods prepared using dill. The featured main course – marinated lamb kebabs with tzatziki and stone baked flatbread – was enhanced with a sherbet palate-cleanser made with the brewery’s weisse (white) beer.
”I aimed for simple preparation highlighting the choice ingredients sourced from around New Hampshire and New England,” Frieden says. “We aimed to inform our guests of the local abundance of Mount Washington Valley and the surrounding farms.”
The inns themselves are worth seeing – from the colourful gardens at Darby Field Inn to the wrap-around porch at Eastman Inn, built in 1777, to the funky pub at the Inn at Crystal Lake, located across the road from New England’s most photographed country church.
The area has a host of other activities to make a trip worthwhile, of course. Big draws include tax-free outlet shopping; scenic drives up Mount Washington or along the picturesque Kancamagus Highway; backcountry hiking or biking; a rock-climbing school; family theme parks, such as Santa’s Village and Story Land; and a dozen golf courses.
For details on the tour or to make reservations, visit www.countryinnsinthewhitemountains.com, which contains links to each of the participating inns. For general information on the area: www.mtwashingtonvalley.org.
Candied Ginger Butter
From Craig Cox, Riverbend Inn
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon honey
Generous dash of salt
In a small bowl, stir together butter, ginger, honey, and salt until combined. Serve butter immediately or cover and refrigerate. To serve, let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature to soften. Makes about 1/2 cup.
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