Culinary gold mine

Illustration By Mark Stivers

The first in an ongoing series at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, last week’s California Gold Rush: What We Ate dinner and lecture had an air of pomp and fantasy. Period-costumed attendants and oompah sounds of the El Dorado Brass Band at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sac complemented the night’s spunky keynote speaker, Ann Chandonnet, who battled clanking silverware while regaling diners with gold rush miners’ tales of malnutrition and hardship. We were more in danger of contracting gout than scurvy, however, as we dined on beef stew, beans with bacon, salmon and watercress, and three rich desserts—all while striving to consume historically accurate quantities of wine and beer. My favorite dishes were the hangtown fry—a scramble of eggs, oysters and bacon (a famous dish originating in Placerville)—and the dried apple and blackberry pie, made by Kira O’Donnell of Real Pie Company fame, and who now is the event coordinator for Good Life Garden. Not only does O’Donnell make the best all-butter pie crust, she now also helps bring informative, monthly culinary events to the Sacramento region. Learn more at