Story and Photography
By Cybelle Codish
by Megan DeKok
As we drive down that twisting dirt road, through the forest and across the creek, we roll down the car windows to breathe in the smell of damp earth and cedar. We arrive at a little piece of my family’s history, a rustic red cottage deep in the backwoods of Alpena. We unlock the cabin door, remove the blue shutters and, maybe, make up the beds.
Whether it’s the excitement of knowing we’re about to begin a much-earned holiday or the fresh air wafting across Lake Huron, the minute we arrive, we are famished. Vacation doesn’t officially begin until we’ve had a thick slice of bread smothered with Grandma’s famous cream cheese, olive and chive spread.
Pioneers amidst the Great Depression, my great uncles Fred and Robert Fischer acquired this small plot of land off Thunder Bay in 1933. They felled trees and built this cabin, its furniture and legacy by hand — with a little help: Within a stone’s throw of the front door was a Boy Scout campground where troops would spend weeks on end. One of the Boy Scout leaders married my grandmother, eventually using the cabin as a hub, and gave it the name it still carries today: “Thunderbird Cabin.”
The place is rustic, to be sure, but that’s part of its charm, and though there’s little in terms of modern convention (electricity didn’t arrive until the 1950s!), preparing meals fit for a king was never a challenge.
When I think of the cabin, I think of my Grandma Bickel, who worked wonders in that modest kitchen. She was the kind of grandmother who exists in nursery rhymes, with her demure giggle and white hair kept in a neat bun, and it seems she always had on an apron. Her fruit pies, rich casseroles and fresh salads became time-honored traditions, often filling bellies of small armies after long days on the beach or walks in the woods. No need for recipes on little bits of paper — we know these dishes by heart.
They are as much a part of our cabin experience as the sunrise. ≈
Metro-Detroit resident Cybelle Codish is an award-winning photojournalist.
Plum Ricotta Hand Pies
(Adapted from Grandma Bickel’s Plum Cobbler recipe)
Yields: 10-12 servings
Crust (homemade or store-bought double crust)
¾ cup fresh ricotta1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1-2 small plums, pitted and sliced thin
2 heaping tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1½ teaspoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, honey and lemon zest. In another bowl, toss plum slices with sugar, flour, salt and cardamom.
Roll out the dough until ¼-inch thick. Cut into 10-12, 4-inch circles. Transfer rounds to prepared baking sheets.
Divide ricotta between pies, spreading on half of each circle and leaving a ¼-inch rim. Top with plums. Stir egg together with heavy cream to make an egg wash and brush onto dough edges. Pinch edges of each pie together. Press with a fork to seal, then poke a few times on the top. Brush each pie with egg wash and bake for 15-18 minutes. Serve with ice cream and honey.
Yields: 6 servings
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons butter, frozen for 30 minutes
½ cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk
3 tablespoons honey
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Grate the frozen butter over the dry ingredients. Rub into the flour with your fingers until mostly incorporated.
Whisk together the buttermilk and honey in a measuring cup. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir gently with a wooden spoon. Pour onto a floured surface and knead a few times, adding a few more handfuls of flour until the dough holds nicely together and isn’t too wet.
Cut out shortcakes with your favorite biscuit cutter. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10-13 minutes or until lightly golden and baked through. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack. Top with strawberries and whipped cream.
Yields: 6 servings
1½ pounds strawberries, stemmed and quartered
2 tablespoons honey
Mix strawberries and honey with fork in large bowl. Refrigerate while juices develop, at least 30 minutes. Spoon over honey shortcake biscuits, topped with whipped cream.
Yields: Topping for 6 honey shortcakes
1½ cups heavy cream, chilled
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Using a mixer, beat the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Top shortcakes and berries with a generous dollop.
Cream Cheese Olive & Chive Spread
(This recipe is always our first meal at the cabin. Make ahead the day before so the flavors can meld.)
Yields: 8-10 servings
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
½ cup chives, finely chopped
1-8 radishes, diced
1 jar (16 ounces) pitted green gourmet olives with pimento (reserve ¼ of contents, slice remainder in half)
3 tablespoons olive juice, retained from jar
1 sliced tomato
In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, sour cream and olive juice. Add olives, radishes and chives and mix thoroughly. Spread generously on thick slices of hearty sourdough, top with tomato slices and garnish with basil leaf.
Note: You can add additional diced vegetables such as broccoli, green peppers or cucumbers for a heartier spread. Pita chips or crackers can be substituted for bread. Spread keeps for about one week, refrigerated.
When I think of the cabin, I think of my Grandma Bickel,
who worked wonders in that modest kitchen.
She was the kind of grandmother who exists in nursery rhymes,
with her demure giggle and white hair kept in a neat bun,
and it seems she always had on an apron.
Yields: 4 servings
3 large beets (red or golden)
1 large bunch scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic or apple cider vinegar
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized lemon, squeezed
¼ teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon honey
Boil beets for 45 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool. Peel and slice. In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, olive oil, lemon, honey and garlic salt. Toss the beets in the vinaigrette and top with scallions. Serve in individual bowls and top with fresh ground pepper.
Charcuterie Board/Snack Plate
(This is a great choice for a midday lunch at the beach!)
Yields: 8-10 servings
Cherry Salami (smoked beef and pork with cracked black pepper and garlic), Nowicki’s Sausage Shop, Alpena; sacredrock.com
Honey BBQ Landjaeger Smoked Jerky Stick, Nowicki’s Sausage shop, Alpena; sacredrock.com
Chicken Apple Brat (lean chicken breast with apple and country spices), Nowicki’s Sausage Shop, Alpena; sacredrock.com
Colby-Style Sharp Pinconning Cheese, Wilson’s Cheese Shoppe, Pinconning; wilsoncheese.com
Amish Country Roll Butter, Williams Cheese Company, Linwood; williamscheese.com
McClure’s Garlic Dill Pickle Potato Chips, McClure’s Pickles, Detroit; mcclurespickles.com
Kipfmiller Apple Butter & Dilled Green Beans, Kipfmiller produce, Alpena; 2584 U.S. 23 South.
Rosemary Garlic Ciabatta, Natalie’s Bakery, Madison Heights; nataliesbakery.net
Old Beck Sweet Jalepeno Glaze Stoneground Mustard, Superior Foods, Grand Rapids; superior-foods.com