Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring has Sprung

Since spending a couple of days in Amador County last April to research Great Escapes: Northern California, I've been looking forward to another spring trip there. (It's also the Great Escape of the Month on my Web site). On a recent weekday morning, a friend and I drove up to Jackson, Sutter Creek, Amador City and the tiny burg of Volcano. Without traffic, this trip is easily accomplished as a day trip from San Francisco. Antique hunters already know this. The towns have some of the best antique shops in the state. It's possible to head out in the morning, stop at Water Street Antiques in Jackson or Miner's Pick in Amador City and be home by sundown with a 19th century dresser, Gold Rush-era bottle or rusty wrought iron plant stand at prices well below those in the Bay Area.
But our goal was Daffodil Hill, the pioneer settlement from 1887 just above Volcano where four generations of the McLaughlin family have planted thousands of daffodil bulbs. The slim green reeds and accompanying yellow and white blossoms emerge sometime between mid-March and mid-April, an event that is anticipated for weeks (to find out if the place is open, which means the daffodils are still blooming, call the Daffodil Hill telephone hotline at 209-296-7048). Entrance to the six-acre hillside, with postcard-perfect historic barn and outbuildings, is free. The family accepts donations, collected in old yellow tea kettles. The money goes toward the purchase of between 7,000 and 8,000 bulbs each year that are added to those already in the ground -- a total of 300 varieties and 500,000 blooms. When the flowers wilt and die, it's over for another year. Last winter was a cold one so the daffodil show isn't as spectacular as some years, one of the volunteers manning the entrance said. But for first-timers with nothing to compare it to, it was quite a sight (see photo above).
From there, it was a beautiful drive down the mountain along Shake Ridge Road to Sutter City, the Gold Rush town named the prettiest in the state in this month's Sunset magazine. Our aim was lunch at Andrae's Bakery and Cheese Shop in Amador City, where sandwiches made from freshly baked bread and a slice of the melt-in-your-mouth Basque cake are worth a long drive.
Our other aim was to get a good bottle of wine. We took the sandwiches and drove north to Plymouth, the gateway to Amador County's wine country of rolling hills that during the spring are a lush green. The area is called the Shenandoah Valley, a name pioneers gave because (in the California spring) it reminded them of Virginia's Blue Ridge Valley.
East on Shenandoah Road past several wineries and about seven miles from Plymouth is Sobon Estate, which was founded in 1856 by the Uhlinger family from Switzerland. After a quick tasting to find a good match for our turkey and ham sandwiches, we settled on Hillside Zinfandel, a good value at $10 a bottle.
Sobon is a terrific place to get a sense of Amador County history. The winery is a California Historical Landmark, having been in continuous operation since before the Civil War (it even kept going through Prohibition when it made limited amounts of wine for sacramental use, which was allowed). A barn-like museum contains displays, including casks, crushers, kitchen tools and old appliances (a butter press, lard press, sausage stuffer, cabbage cutter and butter mold, among them).
You'll never complain about doing laundry again after reading late 19th century instructions from a mother to a daughter describing the best way to do "the wash."
1. Build a fire in the backyard to heat a kettle of rainwater.
2. Set tub so smoke will not blow in your eyes if wind is present.
3. Shave a whole cake of lye soap in the boiling water.
4. Sort clothes in three piles -- one of whites, one of coloreds and one of rags and britches.
5. Stir flour in cold water until smooth, then thin down with boiling water to make starch.
6. Rub dirty spots on the board, then boil them. Rub colored clothes, but do not boil. Take white things out of kettle with broom handle, then rinse, blue and starch.
7. Hang clothes on line except tea towels, which should be spread on the grass. Hang old rags on the fence.
8. Pour rinse water in flower beds.
9. Scrub privy seat and floor with soapy water.
10. Turn tubs upside down. Put on a clean dress, comb hair. make a cup of tea to drink while you sit and rest a spell, and count your blessings.

No comments: