by Tom Gogola
Want to have a real locavore Thanksgiving? Best set your sights on next year. At this point, the key is whether you’re really going to make those acorn crackers with chèvre and prickly pear chutney in time. You’ll probably want to start gathering the acorns on Black Friday—at the very latest.
The acorn appetizer recipe, largely sourced from foraged ingredients, is one of 11 from a West Marin Thanksgiving menu featured in the autumn issue of the Inverness Almanac. A minty yerba buena julep kicks off the celebration, chips and crackers precede the meaty mains (more on those in a minute) and panna cotta rendered from candy cap mushrooms closes out the feast with a dessert that’s definitely not grandma’s pumpkin pie.
“You are foraging year-round to make this menu,” says farmer and menu co-author Molly Myerson, who created the menu with Leah Fritts. Fritts hails from the Sierra Foothills town of Paradise and has worked at and enjoyed restaurants up and down the coast, most recently as maitre’d at Sir and Star in Olema, a post she left to focus on events management and “helping to support and grow the amazing creative talents of West Marin, from chefs and farmers, to musicians, artists and naturalists.”
Fritts credits Myerson with most of the recipes. “She was able to paint the picture and with my experience in restaurants (mostly loving them and eating in them), I was able to offer suggestions, and a few personal touches I felt would be intriguing and delicious.”
Myerson grows vegetables and tends to a thriving quail-egg enterprise at Little Wing Farm on an acre in Bloomfield, between Petaluma and Tomales. The dinner, Myerson says, is grounded in a traditional Thanksgiving menu, with upgrades and substitutions plucked from the obscurity of the deep woods and meadows of the greater Point Reyes wilderness and beyond. You’ll pour a rich, spicy sage gravy over that wild turkey stuffed with porcini, fennel and apple, as you reach for the rose hip-cranberry sauce.
Myerson, 34, is a native of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, and has been farming in the North Bay for eight years. Her home neighborhood is definitely known more for its Cubano sandwiches and plantain-based platters of mofongo than prickly pear chutneys and mushroom tortes.
Myerson graduated from Bard College and headed west without any of the knowledge that would come to sustain her and her farm, she says. She supplies produce to the Point Reyes Station restaurant Osteria Stellina, and quail eggs to numerous Bay Area businesses. Her knowledge was earned through accrued “dirt time”—walking, finding and digging in West Marin.
Though Myerson loves foraging, she knows it’s a touchy subject because its popularity can trample the land. Foraging should be slow food, with an emphasis on the sloooow.
“People come here and don’t respect that there are people who have been watching over and tending to forage spots for decades,” Myerson says. “The pushback comes from a good place: The invasive species of out-of-town foragers. The menu is not an invitation for everyone in San Francisco to come here to forage rose hips.” Instead, it honors the idea of intentionality around food, she says, with a menu that respects the land and those who live from it.
“It’s all about how you forage,” Myerson says. “You are on the land you love, and you protect [it], and you are getting food from that land as you harvest in a respectable way.”
Of course, there are shortcuts and supermarkets that will help you out, but if you want to get hardcore about it over the course of the year, you’ll need to shoot or otherwise acquire a deer; you’ll have to dive for an abalone—for which a license is required, and a guide if you haven’t done it before; and you may be driven to grab one of the numerously unhinged wild turkeys that seem to wander about everywhere.
The abalone will be crusted and feature a crab-butter dipping sauce (give it up for the currently toxic Dungeness and rock crab as you bow your head in prayer this year), while the venison will be matched with roasted salsify root and huckleberry.
Note that it can take hours to gather enough of the berries for one pie. But you will experience the taste of that pie differently, Myerson says, even if it actually tastes the same as what you’d buy in four minutes at Whole Foods.
Try to wrap your head around that one as you start to gather the acorns. It will be worth it, Myerson insists—and may reveal your inner “balanoculturalist,” your archaic acorn eater, who appreciates the nutritional value of the nut of an oak and is willing to work for it.
“The process is part of the reward,” Myerson says. “You are changed by the food.”