Day three: luxuriating in Lanark at Clyde Hall Bed and Breakfast
The word ‘quaint’ means attractively unusual or old-fashioned and the little village of Lanark, just 20 minutes outside of Perth, is as quaint as they come. The 199 year old town was first settled by Scottish immigrants who established lumbering and textile enterprises. These businesses were supported by the presence of the Clyde River which runs through the village; it served as a power source for the mills and a transportation route to convey logs eastward to the Ottawa River. Amazingly, the textile industry thrived for almost 170 years, finally felled by the flood of inexpensive Asian products. Logging, however, continues today, though on a smaller scale. Farms continue to dot the surrounding countryside, as they have done for generations. Today, Lanark is also popular as a recreational hub thanks to great hiking and snowmobile trails plus two picturesque, well-maintained golf courses.
The jewel of Lanark, in my opinion, is Clyde Hall Bed & Breakfast. Housed in a stately stone building originally constructed in 1846 and almost destroyed by fire in 1999, the property was lovingly and painstakingly restored by its previous owners, Sherri and Brian Lillico. They expanded the footprint to include living quarters for themselves, but in keeping with the character of the home. While the original stone walls were mostly intact, they located stonemasons to hand-carve new stonework for the entranceway. A neighbour had rescued the mahogany banister from the central staircase and returned it to them. Multi-stepped cove mouldings, generously-proportioned baseboards and antique furnishings add to the feeling of travelling back in time to an elegant Victorian-era mansion. The restoration took two full years, and in 2003 Brian and Sherri began welcoming guests. They retired in 2017 after selling the property to Robert and Liisa Salzmann who have continued to operate Clyde Hall B&B.
Robert and Liisa made the move to Lanark two years ago after successful careers in Toronto. They co-owned a bakery for many years and Robert worked as a chef at a variety of establishments as well as teaching in the culinary program at George Brown College. Their experience in the hospitality industry makes them well-suited to their new semi-retirement career as bed and breakfast hosts; Robert continues to keep one foot firmly planted in the culinary world by teaching at Algonquin College.
While the bed and breakfast’s aesthetic is vintage, the amenities most certainly are not. A pool and hot tub are tucked into the hillside near the house and plastic tubing snakes through the maple forest for spring sap collection. The Clyde River rushes nearby and through the trees, it’s easy to spot Clyde Hall Cottage, recently-acquired a cozy three-bedroom house on the river’s edge that is also available for guests. Inside Clyde Hall, you’ll find spa tubs, in-floor heating, air conditioning and comfortable beds, plus the most welcoming hosts imaginable. There are four suites in the main house plus a gorgeous, secluded suite in a separate building, called Poolside Clyde. Shared spaces include the parlour, dining room and sunroom.
After a gloriously restful sleep in the Caldwell suite, with its massive ensuite as well as nice views of the pool, the laneway and the sugarbush, we were eager to join our hosts in their kitchen for two culinary demonstrations, both involving….you guessed it….maple syrup! The first was a gourmet breakfast which they made look effortlessly simple. Robert believes breakfast should awaken the palate so he chose to incorporate lots of different sensations (soft, crunchy, sour, sweet, warm, cold and spice) into the first dish, which was a sublime yogurt and granola parfait enlivened by peaches sautéed in cinnamon and maple sugar.
We learned that as a talented gourmet home cook with decades of experience, Liisa tends to handle the savoury elements of their menus while Robert, a pastry chef by trade, likes the precision involved with baking. During each phase of their cooking demos, Liisa and Robert explained every step clearly and effectively, patiently answering my many questions.
Liisa explained how she is a big fan of boosting flavour and presentation with fresh herbs and microgreens; to support this she plans to establish a small greenhouse at Clyde Hall this year. She then showed us how she makes her pan-roasted seasoned potatoes as well as her candied bacon, coating it in maple syrup, brown sugar and smoked Applewood seasoning, then baking for an hour at 250F.
Some of this scrumptious bacon was served with our eggs Benedict which Robert put under the broiler for a few minutes after adding the Hollandaise sauce, ensuring the dish was served piping hot.
Immediately upon the conclusion of our very delicious breakfast, Robert started in on the dessert demo, featuring maple cheesecake with poached apples and maple sugar snap cookies. He showed us a unique spattering and swirling technique to allow both plain and maple-flavoured cheesecake batters to be visible once baked and removed from the small pans he was using. He also explained his preferred method of baking the crust separately, in the form of perfectly-sized, crisp cookies, then placing the cooked, cooled cheesecake on top at serving time.
I was similarly intrigued by Robert’s technique for making the maple sugar snaps which he broke into shards to top the cheesecakes but my biggest takeaway of the demo was his tip for poaching the apples. He explained his preference for Granny Smith apples, because they stay firm when cooked and have great flavour. His method involved bringing the peeled, diced apples to a boil in a simple syrup, then removing the pot from the heat and covering the top with plastic wrap. This creates a vacuum seal which gives the apples the ideal environment in which to steep for an hour. Once the apples were ready, he mixed up a little glaze of cornstarch, sugar and water which he blended with the drained apples to give them a glossy sheen and help them adhere to the cheesecake.
Robert’s plating tips were also memorable; using melted chocolate he drew a swirly design on each plate, then filled in some of the spaces with fruit puree. By the time he added the cheesecake, with its apple and cookie toppings plus a few berries, each dessert was a work of art begging to be devoured and which provided delightful contrasts of flavour and texture.
While all overnight guests are served a gourmet breakfast, the demos we enjoyed are a new offering for Clyde Hall Bed & Breakfast where the spacious kitchen island can accommodate up to 6 guests per session. Liisa noted they have also hosted high teas, wedding rehearsal dinners, cocktail parties, corporate functions and many more events at Clyde Hall. Based on our wonderful experience, I can only offer the highest of recommendations for a gathering or stay here.
We were in no rush to leave Lanark County when we departed Clyde Hall, so we took a walk over to the nearby Lanark Timber Run Golf Course and then drove a short distance away to Blue Heron Golf Club, both of which looked to be very attractive. We then wandered through the village of Lanark before heading off to the hamlet of Balderson to visit Balderson Village Cheese where we marvelled at the incredible selection of cheese and other food products on offer. We were interested to learn that the Balderson Cheese Factory began operations in 1881, when Lanark County’s dairy farmers decided to form a collective, pooling their excess milk production and building a factory at Balderson’s Corners to produce a local Cheddar cheese. This same farmers’ collective was among the groups who participated in the making of the Mammoth Cheese which was sent from Perth to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
Had we not been so full from Robert and Liisa’s amazing breakfast, we certainly would have bought some ice cream in addition to our cheese purchases. I guess we’ve just added one more item to our very lengthy list of reasons we’ll be going back to Lanark County soon and often. Interested to hear about our other recent adventures in this beautiful part of Ontario? Here are links to day one and day two of this fun getaway.
Note: We were invited to visit Clyde Hall as guests of Lanark County Tourism. Opinions, as always, are my own.