Darlene’s Tea House
by Kellie Underhill
Much has been written about Darlene’s Tea House on the Barnettville Road just outside the village of Blackville. The turn of the century building, with its hardwood walls and floors, filled with antiques, fine china teacups, lace and hand-embroidered tablecloths, was once a country store at the centre of the community, where people gathered to swap stories and learn the news. Stocked with puncheons of molasses among other things, later one could buy nickel bottles of ginger ale and lime rickey there.
Not much has been written about the woman responsible for Darlene’s Tea House, whose passion for feeding people ignited with her first batch of cookies at age 11. Yet, it’s difficult to speak of the Tea House without speaking of Darlene Jardine and vice versa, she’s part of the whole experience. People come from all over the world as much for the rustic décor and home cooking, as they do to visit with Darlene and enjoy her company. Her passion for her Tea House is infectious and people are naturally drawn to the business woman who has turned her dreams into reality. But success hasn’t always come easy and Darlene has overcome her fair share of obstacles to get where she is at today.
She has many fond memories of growing up in a large family with six brothers (one deceased) and one sister.
“It was the best childhood that any kid could have,” she says. “We always had lots of food, lots of fish.”
She recalls how much she loved it when her father would make Yankee toast, bread and molasses fried in bacon fat.
In 1956, the family suffered a set-back when their home burned to the ground. Darlene and her siblings were separated and scattered amongst relatives for about a month. Her father was away working, cooking in the Quebec lumber camps, and didn’t know his home had burned until he returned.
She remembers the family seemed to be poorer after that. “But there was always a lot of love.”
At the age of 15, Darlene was the first one in her family to get married. “I was just a child.” She says there wasn’t much work around in the 60s and they had some hard times. In the early years of her marriage she saw more empty plates than meals. “I was poor. You live and learn. Just because you have bad times, doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Darlene’s mother-in-law worked at the hospital and would bring leftovers home to her and her two children. “I was a child, raising a child,” Darlene remembers. She didn’t have a lot of support at that time. Her parents were raising young children of their own. Her husband had a drinking problem. One time one of her boys got really sick from being malnourished. Eventually, her husband’s drinking meant they just couldn’t live together, so they separated, though never divorced.
“I don’t regret marrying him,” she says. And she’s not the kind of person to let tough times hold her back. “I think hardship makes a person stronger.”
“Those were different times,” Darlene recalls. Store-bought packaged food wasn’t a big part of people’s lives, like it is now. Mothers cooked meals everyday and baked any sweet treats. Darlene had to learn to cook to feed her family. And she learned well.
She wouldn’t go to culinary school until her early 30s, but she fed her family and worked in many restaurants.
“Graham Tricket taught me a lot,” Darlene says. She worked with the chef for years at the Village Inn restaurant. “I didn’t realize that Graham was teaching me all the time, until I went to school.”
She loved her courses. At the Village Inn her focus had been on meat, but in culinary school she was drawn to baking. After school she continued to cook in restaurants, but Darlene never felt quite satisfied in those kitchens. She longed to create her own menus and felt stifled when she had to produce whatever menu management wanted. Itching to feed her creativity she took a position at an outfitter’s lodge where she gained total menu control. And once she experienced the adrenaline rush of being able to design her own menus, she knew she wanted her own restaurant.
Darlene is the kind of loving caring person who always wants to feed somebody. She’s happiest when she’s in the kitchen. She’s especially happy when the people she’s preparing food for are family.
“Food made with love tastes better,” she says. And Darlene has a lot of love to give. Her granddaughter, Aisha, is a big part of her life. “I love her very much,” Darlene says. “I wish my husband had lived to see her.”
The years of being on her feet working in kitchens for 16 hours a day took a toll.
Her health became an issue, and she had hip replacement surgery. The surgery was successful and after a lengthy recovery period of six weeks, she felt better than ever.
This was a good thing, not just for Darlene, but for the many loyal customers who trek from all over to enjoy her old-fashioned hospitality. “It’s like falling from Heaven into Grandma’s house,” one guest signed in the guestbook. The adoration of her customers is obvious from all the gifts she has received. She receives gifts regularly from people who want to give her things to add to the charm and ambiance of the Tea House. She has been given everything from hardwood flooring and antiques to teapots and teacups.
Customers were heartbroken when Darlene encountered a personal obstacle a couple of years ago which forced her to close the Tea House.
“I never intended to give it up,” she says. She took a position with the Irving’s Boston Brook Lodge and enjoyed cooking for the Irving family and their guests.
“They were very nice people, but the whole time I was there, my heart was here,” she says.
Darlene’s Tea House was closed for two summers. A close family member remembers those years, “A lot of people kept asking when she was going to re-open. The entire family was harassed by ex-customers.” They laugh about it now, but Darlene couldn’t stay away. “I miss this place when I’m not here.”
Soon after re-opening in 2005, she hosted a beautiful wedding of over 80 people, and never looked back. The dining room is licensed now, serving beer and wine, and the Tea House now accepts VISA, MasterCard or debit cards. Darlene opens every spring on April 15th when the salmon season begins, and she closes for a winter break after hosting many Christmas parties in mid to late December. To learn more about Darlene’s Tea House, find specials or view the menu visit www.DarlenesTeahouse.com.