Creating gastronomically satisfying meals is an adventure these days on Big Sur Island. As Highway 1 is shut down between rockslides and a collapsed bridge, buying groceries involves a significant hike or a drive of several hours. Many of us are raiding our pantries for rice and beans, and preparing sardines on toast. But, recently, my friend Julia got inspired.
She invited us to a foraged gourmet dinner. Julia is an artist, her partner Carl is a teacher, and both travel all over the world. Their small home feels like a temple, with décor ranging from cozy to eclectic-international. Julia’s paintings ll an entire third floor loft studio.
What a surprise it was (after all those sardines) to enjoy dish after dish with ingredients foraged from the wild, as Big Sur folks did decades ago. One entrepreneurial neighbor braved storms to harvest mussels off rocks in the cove, while some Chumash gentlemen hunted down golden chanterelles in a secret spot in the forest. Julia also found abundant watercress growing near a local spring.
The mussels, chiseled off the rocks earlier that day, were the main course. Julia soaked them in fresh water for 20 minutes, then sautéed them with crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil and white wine. Result: a pot of shell sh steamed open in a savory ocean broth. She served this with crusty, fresh-baked, hot sourdough bread made with 50-year-old starter from her mother’s Mount Shasta kitchen.
Watercress from the spring, with miner’s lettuce gathered from the cove, made our salad, along with Tuscan olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. The peppery and buttery flavors of these foraged wild greens mixed perfectly.
There’s an ongoing quest for chanterelles when they’re in season and Julia sautéed the precious forest fungi in olive oil with sage, rosemary and thyme fresh from her garden. She cooked polenta with burrata cheese and placed the chanterelles on top.
Organic apple crisp was our only non- foraged course, unless you consider that we drove over Paul’s Slide and Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to Highway 101, then up to Costco in Seaside for the Fuji apples, in an epic roadtrip that took almost four hours. The apples were topped with lemon juice, cinnamon, and our, baked and served with vanilla ice cream from the Big Sur Deli. (Some of the unsung heroes of this emergency, the deli folks have bravely brought in supplies for the local community since the road slid and the bridge fell.)
In what was by far our most creative dining experience in all our years on the Big Sur coast, we feasted and laughed until midnight. We shared stories of dark and stormy nights, the finner points of community diplomacy, and the joy of reading by candlelight. It was an evening that opened our hearts.