One of the oldest continuous cultures in Europe is that of the Basques, 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 the 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 is hosting a Basque dinner on Aug. 26 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 will be closed 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 league stepped in and first leased the house, later buying 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 include food representing the wider Basque culinary heritage. THL president Charles White traveled throughout the Basque country last year, sampling a variety of traditional foods. He and Mary Cunningham, the league's secretary, are both gourmet cooks, and the two of them spent 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 dessert called gateau Basque, which is similar to a shortbread tart 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 shrimp and cod, manchego cheese with quince, chicken with a traditional Basque sauce, a pork main dish with a different sauce, beans made using the famed Wool Growers Restaurant recipe, bread from the Pyrenees Bakery and pickled tongue.
Tickets are limited, so dining enthusiasts should make reservations quickly 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: ensuring the continued good health of the oldest structure in Tehachapi, the sublime and graceful Errea House.
The cost is $35 for tickets purchased before Aug. 12, and $40 for any remaining tickets sold after that. To purchase tickets, call 822-8152 and leave a message or buy them in person at the Tehachapi Museum, 310 S. Green St. in Tehachapi, during the regular hours of noon to 4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.