Gus Thomson's Media Life appears Fridays in the Auburn Journal

Media Life: Gold Rush grub with a twist of Lyme

49er fare on unique menu; Author Jordan Fisher Smith featured in movie “Under Our Skin”
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Today’s California cuisine is a long way from a Hangtown fry or other Gold Rush grub but it traces its roots to mining communities like Auburn and Coloma (and Deadwood and Murderer’s Bar for that matter) back in 1848. The 160th anniversary of the 1849 California Gold Rush is upon us and what better way to mark the occasion than a feast featuring fare from a bygone era that all started Jan. 24, 1848, in the tailrace of a sawmill on the south fork of the American River. A partnership involving the U.C. Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and California State Parks is bringing a vintage Gold Rush menu to life for one night Jan. 31 in Sacramento and it’s interesting to see what they pull out of the well-thumbed cookbook for an evening of talk and food. The menu begins with acorn and pine-nut cakes and warm huckleberries – not your average starter at Chevy’s but historically correct. It’s a tip of the top hat to Native American fare of the period. The Hangtown fry that follows is a story in itself, that you can read about further at the Media Life: Etc. blog post at Suffice to say, it’s a tantalizing combo of eggs, bacon and oysters that became a big hit in California mining camps after a miner struck it rich and wanted the best an eatery had to offer – on one plate. San Francisco’s Boudin Bakery was around then and still serves its sourdough to the faithful. So it’s fitting to have a few loaves on hand from a bread-maker that was established in The City in 1849. The bread will be a historically correct accompaniment to salmon with wild greens sauce, Lyonaise potatoes, a savory beef stew and “Yankee” baked beans heavy on the bacon and molasses. For dessert, diners will be tasting historical treats like blackberry and dried-apple pie, poundcake and tapioca pudding. Libations will also be part of the occasion, with U.C. Davis’ brewing program combining with Sacramento’s Brew It Up brewery to produce a batch of “California common,” an authentic American beer that would have been produced in California for the first time during the Gold Rush. Barton & Guestier bottles of Bordeaux and sauternes will be circulating. The French winemaker dates its vintages back to the early 18th century and was one of the first to have its wines enjoyed in the miners’ camps, taverns, boarding houses and hurdy gurdies of that far-off time. The dinner, a $75 a plate affair at the California State Railroad Museum’s Roundhouse, also will include a talk from nationally recognized food historian Ann Chandonnet on the diets of those who struck it rich and the others who had to scrape for three squares a day. She’s the author of “Gold Rush Grub: From Turpentine Stew to Hoochinoo.” The Web site AUTHOR IN MOVIE Has it really been three years since former Auburn State Recreation Area ranger Jordan Fisher Smith impressed critics and readers nationally with his “Nature Noir,” a book that cast a nuanced eye at the American River canyon, Auburn dam politics and life as The Law in the rugged parkland next to the city? Smith zeroed in on the case of the long-missing Auburn woman Janet Kovacich and suspicions about her husband, Paul. There seemed little coincidence to many that the book came out just as the case very publicly came off the back burner. Next week, attorneys will be making their closing arguments in a murder case against Paul. While the follow-up book from Smith is something readers will have to wait for, the Nevada City resident is playing a big role in a new documentary about Lyme disease. Smith contracted the disease while on the job in the Auburn State Recreation Area and his story is featured in the award-winning “Under Our Skin.” He suffered through a series of misdiagnoses before a Lyme-literate physician started treating him with the right antibiotics. In one particularly telling scene, Smith drops a box of pill bottles on the floor and explains how a $25 bottle of pills after he was bitten by a tick could have prevented the subsequent expenditure on medications he estimates cost $75,000 to $100,000. The film played at the recent Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada County and won a coveted Freddie Award last Fall in Philadelphia at the International Health and Medical Media Awards ceremony for Best Production in the Category of Infectious Diseases. Its producers are now suspending DVD sales and community screenings with plans for a nationwide theatrical release in March. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at