Do not open the oven door.
While this may seem like an appeal kids would shout to Hansel and Gretel, it is actually the key step to one of my favorite foods: popovers.
For those who may not know, popovers are fluffy, buttery rolls, hollowed on the inside and are about 3 inches in height and 2 inches across. They can be baked in muffin tins or in specially designed popover pans. The key to their puffiness is to not open the oven door while they bake or else they will deflate.
My first introduction to popovers began on one of my family’s yearly summer trips to Acadia National Park. At the southern tip of a pond within the park stands a restaurant, Jordan Pond House. Originally built in the late 1800s for wealthy summer residents, the restaurant still retains the charm of Victorian yesteryear by offering afternoon tea. Unlike other teahouses, though, the prized dish served with this beverage is popovers. Popovers are so linked with the restaurant that rather than receiving your standard dinner roll while you wait for your meal, you get a popover. And forlorn is the patron who mistakenly orders a meal that only comes with one, not two, popovers.
Between the restaurant and the bottom of the pond sprawls a rolling green lawn populated by a tight grid of tables and benches. It was always a treat to come down from hiking a nearby mountain and partake in afternoon tea while sunning at a table on the green. (Well, nice until the wasps came sniffing out the strawberry jam that accompanies the popovers.)
About seven years ago, I decided I wanted to be able to enjoy this treat more than just once a summer. So I bought my own popover pan along with a pot-holder printed with the pond house recipe. I’m sad to report it took me almost three years before I released the pan from its factory-wrapped plastic and another two before I used it.
Numerous excuses held me back, like being afraid of making a mistake with the recipe or wanting to save them for a special treat. Or the fact that the pan makes six popovers, and I knew, no matter how much I loved them, I would not be able to eat them all myself. And since I lived alone, that meant I would have to invite others over to enjoy them, which made for even more stumbling blocks and excuses.
Finally, two years ago, I ran into a neighbor while I was out and about and heard how she was going to make popovers for dinner that evening for her kids. Her ease at which she seemed to approach this marvelous pastry inspired me. No more would I let my excuses hold me back. That night I took out my pan, dusted off the pot-holder with recipe, and baked my first batch of popovers to accompany our soup.
And wow! They were delicious! Why had I waited so long to try baking them? The recipe wasn’t as complex as I had imagined. I didn’t need a window in my oven to check for puffiness; my timing was fine without that. I didn’t need to let the batter sit overnight to rest first before using; they still came out well without that additional time. So well, in fact, that I have not made them since.
This time, however, the reason isn’t about perfectionism. Shortly after this meal, a doctor diagnosed my grass allergies as causing a cross reaction with wheat. Meaning? If I want to stop sneezing and taking allergy medicine year-round, I need to stop eating the ground grain. Why did I wait so long to make popovers, again?
And so I find I am back to where I was two years ago: holding onto a popover pan I do not use, but cannot let go of due to a long list of excuses for why I need to keep it. Maybe one day I’ll find I can use it again. For now, though, it’s a reminder that I shouldn’t wait for special occasions or let the fear of failure hold me back from using a kitchen tool or container that will make a delicious treat that I love. Life is too short.
Do you have an item in your home you no longer (or never) used, but you find you still cannot get rid of it?