THE DOG "Bandit" sat under a tree in the front yard where a boy was gliding on a swing and singing in the early twilight. "Garvey," a golden retriever, was sprawled on the front porch amidst two swings and eight rocking chairs, some of which were occupied by people in the solemn act of digesting huge country dinners.
From the porch the view was of the lovely hills and hollows of Wintergreen Valley that is practically surrounded by the Blue Ridge mountain range. Horses ran in the fields and white Charolais beef cattle grazed in the pastures. Off in the distance woodsmoke curled from stone chimneys and along a white picket fence children pitched horseshoes while Maguerite Wade made preparations for cooking up her famous homemade winesap apple butter in a 60-gallon copper kettle.
When Marguerite Wade starts boiling apples around Oct. 15 or 16, the little village of Nellysford, Va., about 28 miles south of Charlottesville, perks up in this place that is three hours and three decades away from Washington.
Wade is the manager of the Rodes Farm Inn which she leases from "Wintergreen," a nearby 13,000-acre year-round resort community on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But where Wintergreen in the mountains represents the newness of Nelson County, Rodes Farm represents the oldness in home-cooked, home-style meals that are served in heaps with grandmotherly admonitions.
No one has ever gone away hungry from Marguerite's tables. It just isn't possible. Her kitchen door opens onto one of four dining rooms that seat 80 and patrons wander in and out as if they're "family."
There is one male cook in the kitchen, an elderly bachelor "who doesn't need the money," says Marguerite. "He just loves to cook." And that's exactly the atmosphere that Wade, her family and friends strive to create at this cozy, homey inn that specializes in simple, hearty country fare like fried chicken, roast beef and gravy, country ham, vegetables, homemade biscuits, pies, cakes and peach cobblers hot out of the oven.
The four rooms of the circa-1800, two-story brick farm house are painted in attractive Williamsburg tones and each has a fireplace. Hanging from the walls are hand-made quilts, and in the hallway is a mounted 10-pound carp caught by Wade's grandson, Clayton, on the farm pond. They haven't fussed much with decorations. Food has been the main attraction here since they opened 6 years ago.
On another wall is this handcarved sign: "Marguerite and Staff. Down home cooking prepared and served with love." There is also a page torn out of the guest book and tacked to the wall. On one line it has the signatures of "Betty and Jerry Ford" and is dated June 24, 1979. An arrow points to the entry with the notation: "Please note President was here."
Reservations are suggested for weekend "sittings," as Wade calls them. This is a 7-day-a-week operation serving awesome country breakfasts from 8 to 9 a.m., lunches from noon to 2 p.m. and dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. The specialty of the house is the Sunday orgy (all you can eat for $9) that is dispensed at reserved sittings at 12:30, 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday is strictly family-style and features fried chicken and country ham. "But I'll serve home-style anytime you like, honey," says Wade. "And I'll fill the bowls as many times as you like. I don't allow anyone to leave my table hungry. I didn't permit that when I used to serve four and five big meals a day at home to whoever dropped in on a Sunday, and I'm not about to do it now."
Wade, plump and exceedingly jolly, was born in Nellysford and raised a family of five. She goes from table to table hugging her customers and grabbing their hands, giggling and laughing with them.
In addition to the wonderfully festive meals on any occasion, Marguerite is taking reservations for her now-legendary Thanksgiving feasts. To work off the calories there is tennis, fishing, golf, hiking and horseback riding nearby at the Wintergreen complex, and skiing and ice skating in the winter. Overnight lodging is available in 11 farmhouses and more facilities are available at the Wintergreen mountain site.
Dining is low-key and laid-back here, to say the least. On each table, covered by a red and white checkered tablecloth, is a pitcher of homemade iced tea. Upon being seated by Marguerite's son-in-law, Cameron Clark, the Rodes Farm Inn mood is immediately thrust upon you.
The iced tea pitcher is filled without charge, and there is also a large plastic bucket of ice cubes (with tongs) on the table. During the meal, someone always rushes out to ask "Y'all having a good time?" The bill is scribbled on a index card, for want of something else to use.
"Anytime I can serve something fresh from my garden, that's where it comes from, honey," says Marguerite. "My husband, Jack, raises the vegetables, and my daughter, Millie, helps Cameron wait the tables."
Marguerite got into this business in the early 1970s when developers of Wintergreen came into the valley. "I would see these nice folks out in the stores buying snacks for lunch," she recalls, "and I decided to welcome them to our valley. I fixed them a large lunch but I never thought it would lead to this. I was a school bus driver for 8 years and when they asked me to open the inn I was so surprised!"
Another of Marguerite's (she hates being called "Mrs. Wade") dreams-come-true was the recent publication of her own cookbook ($6).
"Have a nice trip, darlin'," she said as I left, waving and throwing kisses from the front porch.
DIRECTIONS: From Charlottesville, continue south on Rt. 29 to Rt 64 West, to Rt. 250 West, and to Rt. 151 South for 10 miles until you see the sign on the right. The phone is 804 -- 361-2200, ext. 813. RODES FARM BISCUITS 3 cups self-rising flour 1 cup buttermilk 3 tablespoons shortening
Mix flour and shortening together until the shortening is mixed in flour. Pour the buttermilk in and mix the dough until it has a smooth texture. Roll biscuits out to 1/4 inch thick and cut biscuits. Bake in preheated 500 degree oven for 10 minutes or less. MEAT LOAF (6 to 8 (servings) 1 1/2 pounds ground beef 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon celery seeds 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1 cup tomato sauce 1 teaspoon baking powder 2 eggs, well beaten 1 medium onion, chopped fine 1 small green pepper, diced 1 cup corn meal 1 to 2 cups catsup
Place ground beef in a large mixing bowl. Mix together salt, pepper, celery seed, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce and baking powder, then pour the mixture over the ground meat.Mix all thoroughly, then add beaten eggs and continue mixing.
Next add onions, green peppers and corn meal and mix well. Pack mixture firmly into a well greased pan. Add catsup when mixing or pour on top of packed mixture before baking. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes more. RODES FARM FRIED CHICKEN 1 chicken (cut up in pieces) Mix: 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon paprika 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1/2 cup shortening 1/2 cup melted butter
Mix together and roll the chicken pieces in the mixture. Have the pan hot with 1/2 cup shortening and 1/2 cup butter melted in it. Let brown on both sides for 10 minutes, depending on size chicken.