Author: Martin, George

Oooo, bluegrass content at last!

Last month I wrote about the year we rescued a lost dog back in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Today we continue that eventful trip, driving south on Interstate 5 from Lake Shasta City, where we had returned Kass, the dog, to her owner.

By the time we reached Dunsmuir it was getting around supper time, so we pulled off the freeway and started looking for a place to eat. We found a really nice nuevo Italian place. (Nouvelle? Ah, nuovo! Bless the internet.)

It was in the old part of Dunsmuir, down near the Sacramento River. I don’t recall the name [well, actually it just came to me: Cafe Maddalena] but I do vividly remember an exquisite pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions. Oh, my, it was good.

Afterwards we took a stroll along the other side of the river and there we encountered a very odd thing: There was a semi-empty lot occupied by a lovely front porch. No house, just a porch. We were standing there studying on it when an old man walked up and said, “My son-in-law built that. He likes to play music and he wanted a porch to play it on.”

We naturally asked what sort of music got played on the porch and he answered “country and bluegrass.”

Well, dog-gone. How about that.

Turned out the son-in-law lived just next door to the semi-empty lot in an ancient building that was once a gold rush era business of some sort. I seem to recall it was made out of stone and fronted right on the street. No front porch.

When I told the old man that I played bluegrass banjo, he said, “Go knock on the door; he’d love to pick some, I’m sure.”

So we did, and were invited in. The man, his wife and couple of kids were finishing supper (fresh trout out of the river right in front of their house). We waited a few minutes and then the fellow, whose name I naturally have forgotten (let’s call him Joe) led me into the living area where there was a whole cluster of instrument cases sitting on the floor.

And we proceeded to open those cases and have a lovely little jam. We knew a lot of the same stuff and we showed each other songs, and his wife sang and Barbara sang and it was really nice.

After a few hours “Jane” (I have since forgotten her name, too) asked if we had somewhere to stay. We hadn’t yet, so she got on the phone to her friend who owned the Dunsmuir Inn bed and breakfast and negotiated a special “friends” rate.
We did have a very nice sleep and a beautifully decorated room and a great breakfast, but we ended up paying the going rate because we felt our earlier hosts had oversold the “dear friends” aspect of our relationship.

I sometimes wonder if we scored karma points by saving the dog, and cashed them in at the not-quite-a-front-porch jam.

And on a sadder note

On May 24 Barbara and I attended a memorial gathering for Sue Ericsson, who was a well-known member of the 1960s bluegrass community. Sue passed away last November of breast cancer.

In the late 1960s she worked at the original Freight and Salvage Coffee House on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley and was often called on stage to sing with High Country. At the time Sue’s boyfriend was Rich Wilbur, High Country’s guitar player. She had a powerful voice and was a great harmony singer as well. She can be heard on some cuts of the Rich Wilbur CD that Sandy Rothman put together after Wilbur’s untimely death in 1992.

She was our neighbor for a time when she and Rich lived in a little cottage around the corner from us in Point Richmond.

Later in life Sue worked as a color stripper in a graphics company (that’s working on negatives for color printing), a job that was eliminated by the arrival of Apple computers which did the same job much more quickly and cheaply. Later she became a haircutter at the Supercuts in Concord, and also worked as a gardener at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, where she designed and did a lot of the planting of the school’s nature preserve. That was where the service was held.

Sue touched many lives in her 54 years on earth. Her sisters and other members of her family were there, a few old bluegrassers, friends and at least one customer from Supercuts, and other folks I didn’t find out about.

After the service the family invited all to the Ericsson home where a spread of many of Sue’s favorite foods was laid on.

At the original Freight, the staff, including Sue, baked the most wonderful treats for sale. I met a woman who had worked there who said, “Someone once told Nancy (Owen, the woman who ran the Freight at that time) that she could save a lot of money by not using real butter in her baked goods. But Nancy wouldn't do it. The food had to be done right.”

When the Freight moved to Addison Street they had a garage sale of stuff they weren’t taking and Sue bought the original mixing bowl they used each evening to make Armenian orange cake. I remember that cake: brownie-like squares with wonderful orange flavor, and topped with chopped nuts. It was my fave of the many fine desserts from the original Freight. Her sister Kris said she thinks she still has that bowl.

I googled it and came up with this recipe from, which I offer as a memorial to Sue, who I am told was a superb cook:

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated fresh orange peel
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1 egg slightly beaten
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews and almonds)

Combine brown sugar, flour, butter, salt, orange peel and allspice in a bowl. Blend with pastry blender or fork until mixture is crumbly and completely blended. Grease a 9-inch square pan. Spoon in half the crumb mixture. Stir soda into sour cream and mix into the remaining crumbs along with the egg. Pour batter over crumbs and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake at 350 degrees 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm with orange whipped cream.

And to make the topping:

1/2 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
2 tablespoons Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Whip cream until stiff. Stir in sugar, peel and liqueur. Let stand for about an hour to let flavors blend.
Posted:  6/11/2009

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