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A Place To Be Snowed In

Wilderness Lodge Hosts Winter Activities, Serves Seasonal Food

The Highmark QUAD ski race is held at The Wilderness Lodge each year. Submitted photo

“It’s probably the second oldest cross-country ski facility in the nation,” said Ryan Janes about The Wilderness Lodge in Wattsburg, Pa.

Janes’ grandparents, Jim and Nansi Janes, built the lodge, which was completed in 1969.

It was originally launched as a snowmobile lodge, but there weren’t enough snowmobiles at the time so it was transitioned to a cross-country ski facility. Today the focus is on traditional, back country and skate skiing, with a small group of people doing telemark skiing. There is a very large snowmobile clientele as well.

The property is located on the backside of Peek’n Peak on the southwest ridge of the Chautauqua Ridge. Winds coming across Lake Erie collect moisture and drop it there, allowing winter activities at times when other areas have little or no snow. It spans more than 350 acres, with a trail network of over 1,000 acres, “due to generous neighbors.” There are more than 25 miles of trails groomed with the same finish groomers as were used in the last two Olympic cycles.

Janes claims the longest he has been snowed in, where he could not leave the property, was five days.

“We had a nor’easter blow in on a Sunday in the late 90s. The cars in the lot were just mounds. People came for a night and ended up staying until Wednesday,” he said.

He went on to tell how they strategically place snow fencing in order to form drifts where they want them on trails.

“We’re the skiing home of the Highmark QUAD games, as well as the Pennsylvania Championship Race by PACCSA. We are highly family-oriented and have a youth skiing development program with classes for ages four to nineteen,” he said.

His grandfather passed away in 1980, leaving his wife to run the business, which she retired from at the age of 82, after running the business for many years without her husband. The grandson took over in 2004.

“I’ve been in and out of this place my whole life,” Janes said. “We have the most fantastic clientele with the third generation not uncommon.”

The Lodge is modeled after a European-style inn with common space, eating space and kitchen downstairs. It is very rustic with a lot of stone and wood incorporated into the design. A wall constructed from massive rocks is an eyecatcher due to the size of the stones. It is an original wall from a barn on a farm located on the property before it failed during the Great Depression. The older man built a long bar from rocks he salvaged from the structure which had collapsed.

There are no two bar stools that are alike or the same height, as they were crafted on a day when Janes needed bars stools and had a chainsaw.

“I like crafting and creating, making something interesting out of nothing.”

There is a unique round fireplace, designed and built by his grandfather, who cut the sheet steel himself. A counter from a general store with a flour bin tucked inside makes up part of the bar area.

“Everything in here was repurposed. We were green before green existed because we were broke,” said Janes.

His grandparents took down several structures to acquire the materials needed to achieve their goal when building the lodge. It is built from 90% repurposed materials.

“He did all of this on one leg. He survived World War II, but lost his leg in a hunting accident by his own gun,” he said. “I feel I owe it to the ones (who went) before me to work hard.”

The grandfather had thought of opening an antique store before they chose to build the lodge because of their extensive antique collection. Several pieces are displayed in the restaurant and sitting area.

“We have a wonderful antique selection,” said Janes.

A glassware-filled display case and a 1920 Knabe baby grand piano, that may have been found in a jazz club in Chicago in the twenties, are displayed. Drawers filled with various materials from an 1890s schoolhouse are mounted on a wall in a back area of the large room. Lessons were taught about their contents, which cover a broad spectrum. The drawers are labeled: rubber, coal tar products, drugs, gums and resins, vegetable fibers, spices and flavors, animal products and oil seeds and oils and more.

Many collections have placed throughout, including locks, bells, tools, kitchen utensils, musical instruments and keys. There are too many objects to take in on one or two visits, including many oddities such as a philodendron fossil.

A number of paintings have been hung on the walls. “My grandmother was a prolific painter,” Janes said.

The Lodge’s restaurant specializes in farm to table food and boasts craft beers and a “fantastic bourbon selection.”

“We raise our own beef and poultry. I started using the same recipes my grandmother used originally. We’ve expanded and updated to a more current palate,” Janes said. “We do as much from scratch and by hand as possible.”

He went to say he does a lot of roasting and uses that for the base for their soup.

“We don’t take shortcuts. It took ten years before I put ‘chef’ on my business card. I thought I had to earn my way into that,” he said.

A limited menu that changes weekly is served.

“It’s always new. A fan favorite may be brought back once over the winter. We use a small streamlined menu, done without sacrificing quality,” he said. “We have a ton of people who come for the food and beverage. Friday is quiet and candlelit. On Saturday the after-ski party goes from 4:00-9:00.”

There are nine guest rooms located on the upper level that can sleep 36 guests.

“Our goal is to open between Christmas and New Year’s and we usually close somewhere in March. Occasionally we ski into April,” he said.

Janes is a self-taught chicken and cattle farmer and the owner of N-Hance Erie, which is a kitchen cabinet and hardwood floor refinishing company.

“I like to consider myself an entrepreneur. I’m always looking for an opportunity to build something, to create new jobs, to create value, to build my family and friends. It’s all about building-up people,” he said.

“We live in a really unique time. We’re the first generation to walk around with the complete knowledge of humanity in our pocket. We literally have the ability to teach ourselves anything.”

He shared some of his favorite recipes. “I know Pan-Seared Scallops aren’t exactly country, but these scallops are to die for and a favorite around our house.”

The Wilderness Lodge is located at 13488 Weeks Valley Road, Wattsburg, Pa., just 38 miles from downtown Jamestown. Interested parties can get a snow report by calling (814) 739-2946 and may also make room reservations at that number. The restaurant does not take reservations. The Wilderness Lodge can be found on Facebook or at thewildernesslodge.net.

Wilderness Braised Beef

Olive oil

3-4 lb beef roast, brisket or ribs

Coarse ground sea salt

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped

4-5 medium carrots, coarsely chopped

1 c dry red wine (Cabernet or Pinot Noir)

2 qts beef stock

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper

Put a large cast iron Dutch oven or roaster on the stove top over high heat. Add olive oil to coat the bottom. Pat beef dry and then sprinkle with salt. When oil is almost hot enough to smoke, place the beef in the pan. Brown beef, turning once. Once browned on both sides, remove and set aside. In the same pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil, vegetables and a little salt. Turn vegetables a few times while cooking, but not too often. Developing some browning on the vegetables will help develop the flavor. Remove vegetables when they start to soften. Leave heat on high setting. (Don’t worry about any bits or black in the pan, that’s the base of your flavor.) After oil begins to smoke a little, carefully add red wine. It should flash boil almost immediately, deglazing the pan. When it comes to a rolling boil for a few seconds, add beef stock, beef, vegetables and rosemary to the pot. Add water until the meat is nearly covered. Tightly cover pan with a lid or aluminum foil. This can be slowly simmered on the stove on low heat or baked in the oven at 325 degrees. Turn once per hour until meat is tender. Add water as needed to maintain the depth and be sure to never let boil dry. Total cook time will be between 2 ¢ to 4 hours, depending on the cut. Potatoes can be added at the turnover for a one pot meal. The liquid left at the end makes an excellent gravy and can be reduced.

Country Roasted Chicken

5-6 lb free-range chicken

Salt

1/2 c olive oil

1/2 c vegetable oil

Old Bay seasoning

1 can beer

Thaw bird overnight. Rinse and dry. Preheat oven to 450 degrees (convection oven preferred). Rub dried chicken inside and out with a liberal amount of salt and Old Bay. Brush the entire bird with a blend of the oils over the seasoning. Place bird breast-side up on a rack in a large roaster, making sure there is air space under the chicken. Add beer and 1 beer can of water to the pan below the chicken. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Turn chicken over so the thighs are up (this helps keep the breast moist and will brown the skin on the bottom half.) Reduce heat to 400 degrees. Continue baking 45 minutes to 1 hour or until bird is evenly browned, skin is crispy and temperature in middle of the breast has reached 165 degrees. A meat thermometer is needed as a smaller bird will finish much faster than a larger one. Carve and serve.

Optionally the chicken can be brined overnight for an even more tender bird.

Thaw first and then

Combine:

1 c white vinegar

1/2 c apple cider vinegar

1 T Old Bay seasoning

1 c sea salt

Mix everything in a large pot. Add chicken and then add water until bird is completely covered. Store in refrigerator from 1 hour to overnight.

Yorkshire Pudding

Makes 12

2 large eggs

3/4 c whole milk

3/4 c flour

3/4 tsp kosher salt

1/4 c rendered beef or pork fat, olive oil or melted butter.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix milk, eggs, flour and salt. Don’t over mix. Allow to rest 30 minutes. Add 1 tsp fat to each cup of a 12-cup muffin pan. Heat pan in oven 5-6 minutes until hot. Divide batter equally between cups to about half full and return pan to oven. Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot with roasted meat and gravy.

Pan Seared Scallops

1/2 lb jumbo scallops

1 stick Butter

1/2 c vegetable oil

Pat scallops dry. In a shallow stainless or cast iron skillet, place butter and oil. Heat on medium high, melting the butter and stirring the two together with a spatula. Continue heating to the point of smoking. This recipe needs a pretty good exhaust fan as it does generate some smoke. Using a fork and caution, place scallops into preheated oil on the flat sides and cover with a splatter screen. Don’t touch them. If they aren’t evenly browning, lift the pan and gently move the oil around by slightly tipping the pan. Be very careful. Leave them in place in the pan until a ring of golden brown has formed all of the way around. Flip scallops over one time and do the same browning process to the other side. Time varies from 3-7 minutes based on the size of the scallops and should be judged more by color. They should have a wonderful texture around the rims with a buttery soft and almost translucent center. Serve with melted or clarified butter.

Welsh Cakes

1 3/4 c self-rising flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 c margarine

1/4 c sugar

1/4 c currants

1 egg

2 T whole milk

1 tsp lard

1/4 c powdered sugar

Mix flour and salt and then fold in margarine, sugar and currants. Add egg and milk and mix to a fairly stiff dough. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds. Re-roll trimmings. Grease a medium hot griddle with the lard. Cook evenly-spaced on griddle for about 3 minutes per side. Place hot Welsh cakes into powdered sugar, turning to coat both sides. Serve hot or cold.

Chocolate Lodge Cake

Cake:

2 c flour

2 c sugar

1 tsp soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 c sour cream

2 eggs

1 tsp real vanilla extract (preferably Madagascar)

1/2 c cocoa powder

1 c water

2 sticks margarine

Icing:

1 c milk

3 sticks margarine

1 c cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 lbs powdered sugar

1/2 tsp real vanilla

For cake

Grease a 10-inch by 15-inch baking pan and then dust with a little flour. Shake flour around to lightly coat all sides. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk and set aside. Combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk. In a small saucepan, add cocoa powder then whisk in water. Add margarine and stir over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Pour hot mix into flour mix and stir to incorporate. Add sour cream mixture and whisk everything for 1 minute. Pour batter into pan and bake for 20 minutes. Test with a knife or toothpick in the center. Remove from oven and let cool.

For icing:

Combine milk, margarine, cocoa powder and salt in a saucepan. Heat until butter is completely melted and then remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Whisk powdered sugar into hot mix, a little at a time, until smooth and of the proper consistency. Pour icing over warm cake and set aside uncovered to cool.

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