Apple Harvest Time in the Shenandoah Valley

posted by Neil Myers

No visit to the Valley in September or October is complete without an expedition in search of apples.  It’s the perfect excuse to travel the back roads and see some countryside.  Having lived here since 1995, we are happy to recommend our favorite spots to get apples.  Each orchard has its own personality but all have one thing in common:  they are all family businesses, as in fourth or fifth generation orchardists.  Not something you see very often.

Rinker OrchardRinker Orchards is a classic pick-your-own (PYO) operation.  Started in 1972, one of the first in Virginia, they are now seeing the return of a third generation of apple pickers.  We have guests at the inn who remember coming out as children with their families every fall to pick at Rinkers.  There are large bins of pre-picked apples, but picking from the tree really takes no longer that picking from the bin.  You can probably get all the apples you want from just a few trees, so it’s not like you are wandering around the whole orchard.  Things to know:

  • PYO is available Friday through Monday only.
  • The minimum purchase is a bushel, although it’s fine to mix together different types of apples.
  • Apple butter will be made on site by the Stephens City Lion’s Club on September 14, 21, and 28.  Just personal opinion, but Neil says this is the best of the local apple butters.
  • Rinkers is maybe best known now for their cider, available at the orchard but also at other markets, including the local Martins Food Store.  Made only from fresh fruit and flash pasteurized, we serve it at the inn until the supply vanishes, along about New Years.


Marker-Miller Orchard is a PYO operation that has grown into a destination all its own.  There are 20 varieties of apples, 12 of which you can pick from the trees yourself.  There’s a full bakery onsite, producing lots of treats including their famous cider donuts.  The mountain view from the front porch rockers is the best of the local orchards and there is a wide variety of local products for sale.  Things to know:

  • The market is open daily in September and October.
  • Their Fall Farm Festival in September 28 and 29, featuring live music from 1 to 3.
  • Their Apple Harvest Festival is October 12 and 13.


Richard’s Fruit Market has a nice assortment of already picked apples, and mixing the different types is encouraged.  You’re quite likely to meet at least a couple of generations of Richards while visiting.  Listen to their banter, and get a little peep into life in the Valley while you are at it.  The apples are sorted and graded right there at the market, and there’s almost always a small collection of “freak” apples or vegetables that have caught someone’s eye.  A little off the subject of apples, Neil is a huge fan of their home-canned jars of Tomato Mix, which is the perfect starter for a quick midweek meal at home.  Exactly what you would can if you had the time to do it yourself.  Things to know:

  • The market is open daily.
  • Their Apple Festival is Saturday October 19.
  • Richards is host to the Virginia State Gourd Festival November 2 and 3 (don’t giggle – there are fascinating things to be seen, and purchased).



Woodbine Farm Market in Lebanon Church offers 16 varieties of apples including at least two heritage varieties not found at the other markets – Spitzenberg and Ash Mead Kernal.  The drive from the inn down Middle Road is lovely, and if you will be heading west on Route 55 to go hiking or touring in West Virginia, you can pick up some great pork or chicken barbeque there as well as a tasty dessert for a picnic.  We’re definitely going back in October to try the Spitzenbergs.  Open daily.

Long before Fresh-and-Local became a “trend”, these Shenandoah Valley families were out making the best of our sweet limestone soil by planting orchards.  We’ve developed a great affection for them and respect for their hard work.  We hope you’ll enjoy visiting them.

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American Impressionism Comes to Winchester

posted by Neil Myers

American Impressionism:  The Lure of the Artists’ Colony, on exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia, now through August 4, 2013, follows the Golden Age of American impressionism through several artists’ colonies from the 1880s through the 1940s.  Paintings are grouped by artist colony, from Cos Cob and Old Lyme in Connecticut to Taos, New Mexico and several in California.

Winchester is the first stop for this travelling exhibit from the collection of Pennsylvania’s Reading Public Museum.  As quoted on the Winchester museum’s website, “‘The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see such a wide variety of approaches to impressionism in America,’ said Scott Schweigert, The Reading Public Museum’s Curator of Art and Civilization.   ‘I think visitors will be delightfully surprised by the tremendous scope and depth of the Museum’s collection in this area.'”

"Winter in the Valley"My favorite may well have been the Edward Willis Redfield (of the New Hope, Pennsylvania Colony) rendition of Winter in the Valley, maybe because it reminds me of Jeff Chumley’s painting of the shuttered Vaucluse in the snow all those many years ago.  It was a pleasure to be able to sit quietly for a few moments and enter into another world.

New visitors to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will want to see its permanent collections for a great introduction to the Shenandoah Valley, its people, history and decorative arts.  Although the historic Glen Burnie house is currently closed for renovation, a visit to the museum’s Founder’s Gallery exhibit, Moveable Feasts:  Entertaining at Glen Burnie, gives a glimpse into the world of Glen Burnie’s last owner and his partner.  The exhibit takes a light hearted look at everything from brunch on the patio (with tame quail and a squirrel) to formal-dress cocktails in the Pink Pavilion (with the guests wearing Planet-of-the-Apes type masks).  The gardens and grounds are also open for touring and well worth a visit.


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Antiquing in Front Royal

Arleen Brown Antiques

posted by Neil Myers

Who knew what a positive effect eBay and facebook could have for small storefront antique shops.  A recent visit to Arleen Brown Antiques and Beau Monde Boutique in nearby Front Royal, Virginia, uncovered two shops who are able to keep an amazing inventory of fascinating things because a large chunk of their sales is made all over the globe through the internet.  All the better for those of us who can walk in the front door and see a cornucopia of goodies first hand!

Arleen with Cloche

The savvy owners of these two shops are clearly a mutual admiration society, most interestingly because they make such a study in contrasts.  Arleen Narron, whom Barry and I have known since our old days of shopping at Law’s Auction in Manassas, has been in the business for 34 years.  Several of the prints hanging at the Inn were purchased from her years ago, and I just saw two more that I really would like to have.  Her current shop, Arleen Brown Antiques on Main Street in Front Royal, has fabulous accessories, fine art and vintage jewelry.

Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld Jewelry

Classic Chanel and Lagerfeld Jewelry

I was particularly intrigued with Arleen’s collection of Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld jewelry, classic!  Check out her facebook page to get a flavor of what she carries.  Closed on Tuesdays.






Beau Monde Boutique

Beau Monde Boutique

Cassandra Eckert, proprietor of Beau Monde Boutique, has only been in the antique business for about four years, starting out online with eBay.  She opened her shop on Main Street, just a few doors down from Arleen Brown Antiques, in August 2012.  Although newly opened, it gives the appearance of containing a long lifetime of collecting.




Beau Monde vignette

Vignette at Beau Monde

This is not one of those spacious shops where someone has done the work of putting together a whole grouping of coordinated items that you might scoop up and take home.  You need to spend some time looking and thinking, which truly is the fun of antiquing.  The mood is eclectic, exotic, even a little edgey (in a good way), a study in contrasts.  See Cassandra’s eBaycollection too.  Open daily.



Beau Monde Beauty

Beau Monde Beauty

Have you been to either of these shops?  Buy anything?

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Strawberry Balsamic Freezer Jam

posted by Neil Myers

Local strawberries are in!  Yay!!  But what to do when your loving husband brings you a flat of berries (8 quarts) rather than the 4 quarts you needed?  And the “shelf life” of these berries is maybe 8 hours.  Make freezer jam of course.

And what do you do when the weather has not been hot enough to bring out that full strawberry flavor you remember as a child?  Add a little balsamic vinegar of course.

With plenty of berries to experiment with, I made 3 batches according to the directions for strawberry freezer jam using Ball’s Instant Pectin.  The first batch was the “control”, just to see if adding the vinegar to the other batches had any effect on the jelling.  The vinegar batches were no soupier than the no-vinegar batch.  (Freezer jam by its nature tends to be soupier than cooked jams.)

I added 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar to one batch and 2 teaspoons to the other.  The 1-teaspoon batch tasted better than the control batch–more depth of flavor, and you couldn’t taste the vinegar until the very end.  The vinegar just enhanced the flavor.  In the 2-teaspoon batch, the flavor was still great, but the vinegar was a little more prominent.  It’s amazing what a difference such a small amount made.

We are currently serving the 1-teaspoon batch with rhubarb bread at breakfast.  I think the 2-teaspoon batch would be a great sauce over ice cream and pound cake.  What a treat to have either version stashed in the freezer.

Recipes that I saw online called for reducing the basamic before adding, but I really didn’t want that intense a flavor for breakfast.  What do you think?  Have you played around with freezer jams?  Any good combinations we should try?



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Getting the Most from your Virginia Winery Visit

posted by Neil Myers

We are asking the folks “on the other side of the counter” for their thoughts on how our guests can get the most from their wine tasting experience when visiting local wineries.

Guy at Sunset Hills Vineyard says the most important thing is to keep an open mind.  Maybe you know that you don’t like red (or white) wines or sweet (or dry) wines.  Maybe you would rather just skip tasting wines that you know you won’t like.

You can be a “skipper”, of course, if your only goal is to sample wines to see if you want to purchase any to enjoy later.  Nothing wrong with that.

But Virginia wines may surprise you.  Because of the unique terroir of the vineyards and the vagaries of Virginia’s weather in any given growing cycle, a particular varietal you think you dislike may, here, be unlike any you have tasted from other areas.

Why not take advantage of the opportunity to taste the difference Virginia makes.

If you are the type who likes to research things before you go, check out Swirl, Sip, Snark, a blog devoted to one couple’s visits to Virginia wineries.  In their words, SSS is “sort of a cross between a serious wine blog and a vaudeville act.”

(WARNING!  It is entirely too easy to fritter away an excessive amount of time on the SSS blog vicariously visiting wineries.)

If you are the type who likes to make up your own mind, read SSS after your visit to compare notes with them.  Even their snarkiest reviews look for (and find) something positive in each experience.

Which reinforces Guy’s point to always “keep an open mind”.

What’s your advice for winery visitors?

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Neil’s Take on Contemporary American Cuisine

posted by Neil Myers

For those of us of a certain age, modern menus (including ours at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring), can look a little strange.  And the plating can be fascinating, even dramatic, but maybe a little confusing.  Here’s a brief guide for (and by) the clueless.

Menu writing has evolved as dining has evolved.  “Back in the day,” as we oldsters say, a menu would list a classic dish which you knew (or were expected to know) how it was prepared and what the primary ingredients were.

Well, Chef Adam is bringing us up to date.  Now, on our Saturday night menu, you might see:

Scallop, Corn Purée, Chorizo, Chili Oil,
Confit Tomato, Leeks, Machê, Plantain Chips

So, you might wonder, “What is this, a list of ingredients?”  Well no, the items listed for each dish reflect the primary flavor components.  Adam strategically places these components on the plate so that each bite you take will be a somewhat different combination of flavors and textures than the bite before or the bite after.

Unless, of course, you are the type who stirs up all those intersting components of your soup, getting the same effect you got when you mixed all your finger paints together in kindergarten.  Adam says, since you don’t tell him how to cook it, he’s not going to tell you how to eat it.  Neil says, pay attention to each exquisite bite and savor the moment!

You can see recent menus posted on our website to get an idea of what is in store for your dining pleasure on Friday and Saturday evenings.  We also have a collection of past menus here at the inn that are fun to leaf through.



Adam’s Musings on our First Beer Dinner — March 16, 2012

Let’s face it:  the world of beer has changed!  Today, many breweries are veering far from the old standards and creating craft beers which have all the nuances of fine wine.  I’ve seen (and tasted) such concoctions as green tea IPA’s, chipotle chocolate stouts and everything in between.

With this evolution and experimentation, one can understand why pairing beer with tasting menus is also valid and oftentimes more interesting than wine.

Don’t get me wrong, I love wine . . . I love pairing food and wine; however, the wide variety of hops and different combinations of toasted malts give beer a grassy freshness that interacts with food on many different levels.

Further, beer is usually not as high in alcohol as wine.  Alcohol can sometimes numb the palate, making it more difficult to detect some of the more finite tasting notes.

With all this said, I have decided to pair a tasting menu with the beers from Tröegs brewery in Hershey, PA.  This brewery produces a wide variety of beers which range from fruity and loaded with citrus all the way to chocolatey with a finish of burnt caramel.

I look at each of these beers almost as ingredients when I constructed this tasting menu so one is constantly asking, “Is this beer a supplement to the food, or is the food a supplement to the beer?”

Each one of these beers is drastically different, and can be enjoyed by seasoned craft beer drinkers or someone who is tasting these styles of beers for the first time.  Either way, this is an event not to be missed!


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The Inn at Vaucluse Spring is a fifteen room bed and breakfast spread throughout a small village of six guest houses surrounding a large limestone spring in Virginia’s fabled Shenandoah Valley.

Set amidst 100 scenic acres in rolling orchard country, the Inn is ideally located between the historic sites of Winchester and the outdoor activities near Front Royal and Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive. Choose from a wide variety of accommodations, from the elegance of the historic Vaucluse Manor House to the log and stone warmth of an 1850’s log house, to the privacy of individual cottages.

Spacious guest rooms indulge your senses with Jacuzzis, fireplaces, queen and king beds, and bucolic views.  Sitting rooms, porches, and outdoor seating abound, providing plenty of nooks for intimate conversation and daydreaming.

The Inn’s modern Southern cuisine uses the best local ingredients, including herbs, heirloom tomatoes and wild watercress from the inn’s gardens and grounds and fruit from nearby orchards.

Special Event Dinners:

Each year the Inn hosts a series of Vintner’s Dinner Weekends. Working with the evening’s vintner, we develop a special menu, and paired wines are selected. During the serving of each course, the vintner provides a brief description of the characteristics of the wine chosen to accompany each course.

Come discover why Washingtonian Magazine and American Historic Hotels  both named it one of their “Top 10 Most Romantic Inns”.

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