At least 8,000 lodging units accommodate visitors to Wisconsin Dells, and the sea of beds includes mega resorts, multi-bedroom condos, standard motel rooms – and the country quiet of what David and Nancy Bowman offer.
The innkeepers since 2003 have operated Bowman’s Oak Hill Bed and Breakfast, two cabins and three rooms in their home. The business – on long-ago farmland – is about as far from the waterparks and thrill rides as you can get, without leaving the vicinity.
The couple moved here from Alabama in 2001, to advocate on behalf of Nancy’s aunt, Geraldine Berndt, then 87 and a widow with no children. “We came to get her home ready for sale,” explains David, a 27-year Christian school administrator. “It was in disrepair.”
They apparently did such a good job that Geraldine bought adjacent property, got a cottage built for herself and persuaded her relatives to stay in her longtime home. “We can’t afford the taxes,” they told her. “Maybe you need to start a business,” she replied.
The Bowmans liked that idea, and David took a job at Home Depot to supplement their income. He also pastors a congregation of 40-60 people at Big Spring Congregational Church, eight miles east.
“It’s not like we were flush,” David says, of their evolving work as innkeepers. “We weren’t then and aren’t now. This has kind of been like another ministry for us.” Geraldine died earlier this year.
The Bowmans are far from thrilled that the exotic dancing of Wisconsin Dolls Gentlemen’s Club is one-tenth mile away, but 26 acres of woods, apple trees and park-like lawns on another 12 acres seem to provide an adequate buffer. A snowmobile trail is just across the road, downtown Dells is a 10-minute drive and Mirror Lake State Park is a couple of exits away.
A simple rope swing hangs from a massive, 200-year-old oak tree in their yard. Breakfast is served in the outdoor gazebo during good weather.
Antiques, quilts and family memorabilia decorate guest quarters, which range from a two-bed room appropriate for traveling friends or parents with a child, to a romantic cottage with fireplace and whirlpool. The other cottage, Geraldine’s former home, contains a kitchenette and sleeps four.
Nancy’s breakfasts sometimes include the harvest from her organic garden. She’s also known for the lemon sauce that she serves with pancakes. A jar of peanut butter appears with that entrée, too, because the Bowman children long ago spread it on pancakes instead of butter.
What else? I sought out the Bowmans because their inn is the smallest that is a Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association member in Wisconsin Dells, site of the organization’s recent annual convention. I liked the odd juxtaposition between big waterpark hotels and intimate inns.
By coincidence, Nancy entered and won the WBBA’s second annual recipe contest, which required entrants to use wild rice and their choice of other local ingredients. As one of five judges, I can attest to the remarkable flavors and textures in her fruit-oatmeal-nut-wild rice mix; this wonderful porridge is perfect for when the air chills and winter nears.
“Not having ever cooked with wild rice before, it stretched me a bit, but then that is good for me,” Nancy decided. “When I read that (wild rice) was actually not a rice but rather a cereal grain, I thought, ‘A-ha! I can do this.’”
Here is the recipe:
Wild Rice Cran-Apple Breakfast Bake
(Eight side-dish portions)
1½ cups cooked wild rice
¾ cups raw oatmeal
2 large red apples, thinly sliced (but not peeled)
¾ cups dried cranberries
½ cups raisins
½ tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans or a mix of the two)
2 cups milk
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
In a large bowl, mix wild rice, oatmeal, apples, cranberries, raisins, cinnamon and nuts.
Heat in microwave until hot: milk, brown sugar, salt and butter.
Mix this into the rice and fruit mixture. Place in buttered, two-quart casserole. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Garnish with a dollop of low-fat vanilla yogurt and drizzle of pure Wisconsin maple syrup. For meat lovers, add a side of sausage with a whole-grain English muffin.
For more about Bowman’s Oak Hill B&B, 4169 Hwy. 13: www.bowmansoakhillbedandbreakfast.com, 888-253-5631.
In second place: Naeset-Roe Inn, 126 E. Washington St., Stoughton (www.naesetroe.com, 608-877-4150). Innkeeper Carl Povlik notes that his recipe can be adapted easily to meet diverse dietary requirements. Forego the crust, and it’s gluten-free. Substitute a soy product for milk/cream, and it’s suitable for the lactose intolerant. Omit bacon, and it’s a vegetarian entrée.
Taste can be varied by using flavored mustards (such as whiskey, maple peppercorn or honey versions). The same goes for the type of onion and cheese; feel free to substitute your favorite, Carl says.
Wonderfully Wild, Wild Rice Quiche
(Up to eight slices)
10 slices thick, smoky bacon or turkey bacon
1 pre-baked piecrust (9- or 10-inch)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup heavy cream, whole milk or light cream
1 cup cooked wild rice
1 cup shredded goat’s milk cheese (optional)
¼ cup minced scallions or green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fry bacon until crisp; drain and crumble. Brush the bottom of the baked piecrust with mustard.
Bake eggs into a bowl and beat well; add Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and milk/cream. Fold in bacon, rice, cheese, scallions and dill. Mix well. Pour into piecrust.
Cover the top of pie loosely with aluminum foil and bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake 25 to 30 minutes more, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted into the center. Serve from the pan.
Add fresh, seasonal fruit or fruit compote, plus a warm croissant to complete the meal.
In third place: Susanne Soltvedt of Sunnyfield Farm B&B, N6692 Batko Rd., Camp Douglas (www.sunnyfield.net, 608-427-3686). She calls this breakfast entrée “an abbreviated version of Wild Benedict,” which takes longer to prepare and was the result of a culinary collaboration with a B&B guest.
Wild Rice Pancake, Cranberry Delight
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons honey
2½ cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons olive oil
1¼ cups cooked and cooled wild rice
Zest of one orange, grated
1 cup minced Craisins, raisins or dried cherries
Mix until moistened. Fry ½ cups of batter on griddle. Top with browned sage butter. Serve with chutney and cran-raspberry syrup.
For browned sage butter:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
15-18 sage leaves, broken into small pieces
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
Heat the butter on high heat in frying pan. Add sage leaves and swirl to coat. Keep cooking until the butter turns brown and the sage leaves begin to turn brown. Immediately remove from heat and drizzle over pancakes.
1 cup water
¾ cups sugar
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup apples (peeled, cored, diced)
½ cup vinegar
½ cup Craisins or raisins
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix ingredients in saucepan, bring to boil, then simmer 10 minutes.
For cran-raspberry syrup:
1 ½ cup cran-raspberry juice
1 ½ cup sugar
¾ cup Karo syrup
Mix ingredients in saucepan, bring to boil for 10 minutes.
More winning recipes are at www.wbba.org, and the state association’s new cookbook also can be ordered there.