Tehachapi has been home to a variety of ethnic groups in its history. Among these were the Basque people, who have one of the oldest continuous cultures in Europe. The Basques are a hardy people inhabiting the Pyrenees Mountains and valleys that straddle the border between Spain and France. Basques, many of them sheepherders, are well-represented in history of Kern County and the Tehachapi Mountains beginning in the 1860s.
To honor this cultural legacy, and to raise funds to help preserve and maintain the historic Errea House Museum in Downtown Tehachapi, the Tehachapi Heritage League hosts an annual Basque dinner. This year's is on Saturday, August 24 from 6 to 8 p.m.. This will be an opportunity for guests to enjoy delicious Basque food and music at a little block party — the section of Green Street between the Tehachapi Museum and the Errea House is closed for the event each year.
Among the guests will be Mike Mendiburo, a Stallion Springs resident of Basque descent whose father was one of the leading sheepmen in Kern County. Mike will share some stories about his family's fascinating history in the Tehachapi Mountains, and Mike and his wife, Peggy, are also providing some of the food for the event.
The Errea House is the oldest structure in the city of Tehachapi, since it was actually built in Old Town in the early 1870s and moved to its present location around 1900 using log rollers and teams of horses. Beginning in 1917, the handsome building was home to the Erreas, a Basque family who occupied it for more than 70 years.
The historic home was slated for destruction to become a potential parking lot when the Tehachapi Heritage League stepped in and first leased the house and later bought it. It was in good shape for a building of that age, but still required a new roof, paint and many other repairs.
The Errea House is now one of the jewels of Tehachapi, a dignified 145-year-old home from a simpler, earlier time when those who passed by the house did so on foot, wagon or horseback. The large inviting porch wraps around the full length of the front of the house and on the north side, and the vibrant garden is a welcoming little oasis.
The upcoming Basque dinner is a tribute to the remarkable, resilient Basque people, whose culture predates the establishment of many current European countries. Basques fought alongside Hannibal and his elephants when they invaded Italy more than 2,000 years ago.
Basques are also noted seafarers, and were some of the toughest, most skilled sailors on the famed voyages of both Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan. In fact, when Magellan was killed in the Philippines in 1521, it was a Basque mariner named Juan Sebastian Elkano who successfully sailed Magellan's ship back to Spain.
While area residents are most acquainted with the food eaten by inland shepherds, the League's Basque dinner will also include food representing the wider Basque culinary heritage. THL President Charles White traveled throughout the Basque country a couple of years ago, sampling a variety of traditional foods. He and Mary Cunningham are both gourmet cooks, and the two of them spend several months researching Basque foods and trying different recipes.
The results of their hard work will be a four-course meal starting with tapas and ending with a Basque almond cake, which is served with cherry sauce. There will also be Picon Punch, a Basque cocktail made from Amaro liqueur, soda water, grenadine, a spritz of lemon and a splash of brandy floating on top. The meal will include sweet peppers stuffed with cod, manchego cheese with quince, chicken with a traditional Basque sauce, a lamb main dish with a different sauce, beans made using the famed Woolgrowers Restaurant recipe, bread from the Pyrenees Bakery and pickled tongue. There will also be live music performed in several different languages.
I would encourage any dining enthusiasts to make reservations to participate in this unique and festive event. It's a rare chance to enjoy the distinctive regional cuisine of the Basque people, and all proceeds from the dinner will go to a great cause: insuring the continued good health of the oldest structure in Tehachapi, the sublime and graceful Errea House.
Tickets are limited, and they sell out each year. The cost is $50 each for tickets purchased through Aug. 16, and $55 for any remaining tickets sold after that. To make a reservation, call Charles White at (661) 972-0958, or stop by the Tehachapi Museum at 310 South Green St. during the regular hours of noon to 4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org