Roast Quail from Jack London Country
April 1, 2012
Jack London had traveled the world, but he knew home when he saw it. He knew home when he found it. And he said he would forever escape the mantrap of city life in the thick forests and untamed canyons of California’s Sonoma Valley.
He once wrote: “The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountains wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smolders in a drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive. I am filled with dreams and mysteries. I am all sun and air and sparkle. I am vitalized, organic.”
For Jack London, there was no better place on earth.
He should know.
He had seen most of them.
Even as a young boy, Jack London had wanderlust and always had to fight for what he earned. His would not be an easy life. He wrote: “At age fifteen, I was a man among men, and if I had a spare nickel, I spent it on beer instead of candy.”
He joined the oyster pirates off the coast of San Francisco. He worked in the factories and on the waterfront. Jack London wanted to write, but a newspaper could never hold his interest. As he said, he did not want to be chained to a machine.
But who would publish his words?
Who would pay for what he wrote?
He was just a boy, for God’s sake.
In disgust and probably in frustration, London headed for the gold fields of Alaska. He didn’t find gold, but he found his writing voice. In the Klondike, he wrote, “I found myself. There nobody talks. Everybody thinks. You get your perspective. I got mine.”
London did not strike it rich. An outbreak of scurvy chased him home, and he sailed nineteen hundred miles toward California in an open boat.
He sold one story for five dollars.
Another magazine paid him forty dollars for one his tales.
A spark had been lit. It ignited. London’s experiences in Alaska formed the basis for two of his most famous works: Call of the Wild and White Fang. From 1900 to 1916, he produced fifty books, both fiction and non-fiction, and hundreds of short stories. He wrote passionately on the great questions of life and death and the struggle for survival while maintaining both dignity and integrity.
Jack London was fiery, eloquent, and combative. He was forever on the side of the underdog battling back against oppression and injustice. He became the highest paid and most popular novelist and short story writer of his day.
And he found his home at last in the Sonoma Valley. It was where he and his wife, Charmian, began building their dream home on a place he called Beauty Ranch. In 1913, only weeks before they were to move in, a blaze broke out on a hot August day and burned the house down to its bare stone walls.
London remained undaunted. The fire broke him financially, but he vowed to build from the ashes. He still had his unquenchable thirst for adventure. As he wrote: The proper function of man is to live, not exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” London used every minute he had.
He still had his energy. He didn’t have his health. A doctor told him to take it easy. London didn’t. A doctor told him to lay off alcohol. London didn’t.
In 1916, he was at the top of his game, the top of the writing world. He had beaten the odds but could not beat the uremic poisoning in his stomach. Jack London was only forty years old.
His ashes were laid to rest near the ruins, the stark bare walls, of his dream home on Beauty Ranch. Only his wife, his work hands, and a friend, George Sterling, were in attendance. Sterling wrote: “Amid the profound silence of the on-lookers, a huge boulder – a great block of red lava, long pitted by time and enmeshed by the moss of uncounted years – was urged by rollers and a crow bar over the sepulcher. Then the party dispersed as quietly as it had gathered, the stillness making it a funeral impressive beyond all memories of those in attendance. No word aside from a brief whisper had been said. The thirteen strong men of the ranch faced the bearers of the remains in silence, and as silently departed.”
Beauty Ranch, not far from Glen Ellen, California, serves as Jack London State Park. Trails wander past forests of oaks, madrones, Douglas fir, and coastal redwoods. The stone walls of London’s dream house still stand. And the House of Happy Walls, where Charmian lived when she wasn’t traveling, is open as a museum. It contains photographs and exhibits of London’s life and his adventures, including the big roll top desk from his study. Stay awhile and it’s easy to see why it was written of him, “No writer, unless it was Mark Twain, ever had a more romantic life.”
Jack London is no longer with us. But as long as his words remain in books the world over, he has never really gone.
The following is a recipe from his beloved Sonoma Valley.
Sonoma Valley Roast Quail
2 firm tart apples
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 shallots, diced
1 cup crumbled cornbread
¼ cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 thyme sprigs, leaves removed
1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
4 semi-boneless quail, rinsed and patted dry.
1 tablespoon olive oil
- Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
- Quarter and core apples. Dice half of them, and set aside. Thinly slice the remainder lengthwise, and set aside.
- In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the carrot, celery, shallots, and diced apples. Saute about 5 minutes until softened.
- Transfer to a bowl, and add the crumbled cornbread, then add the chicken broth, melted butter, thyme, and chopped pecans. Toss thoroughly to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle the cavity of each quail with salt and pepper, then stuff a little of the cornbread mixture inside. Season outside of quail with salt and pepper. Tie legs together with twine.
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy ovenproof sauté pan just large enough to hold quail without allowing them to touch each other
- Add the quail and sear, turning once, until golden – 4-6 minutes. Transfer the pan to oven, and roast quail for 6-9 minutes. The breast meat should still be a rosy color. Remove the twine from the quail before serving.
- Serves: 2