“If the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you.” —Mark Twain
The year was 1972 when a friend drove me to the small town of Angels Camp in Calaveras County, the home of author Mark Twain, who also was responsible for writing the famous story of “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County,” which in turn led to the also famous frog jumping contest held annually at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds.
I immediately fell in love with Murphys, a little old mining town whose streets were lined with dogwood trees, yards filled with lilacs, daffodils and climbing roses, and arbors filled with grapes, wisterias and jasmine. There is a creek with trout that runs behind Murphy’s Hotel, an old-fashioned ice cream shoppe and a museum filled with artifacts from the past. Well-kept homes there date back to the early 1800s…oh the peace and solitude one can find in Murphys.
May 18, opening day for this county fair, is just around the corner, and my mind is filled with memories of those days when my hubby and me, along with eight other friends, would board our airplanes and fly into Angels Camp and land on a very short landing strip in front of the grandstands. We would unload the Styrofoam coolers, which housed our live frogs that we were hoping would qualify on Saturday’s jump for the “Main” jump on Sunday.
To qualify, your frog was allowed three jumps to reach a required total of 18 feet, and those jumps must be in a straight line. Believe me, frogs cannot be trained…it is simply luck and as far as I am concerned, the frog simply wants out of the situation he has found himself in and will go in any direction to free himself.
The Fairgrounds boast a very large outdoor center stage, and the seating is on a hillside above, looking down upon the stage. Around the bench seats the ground is grassy and always filled with those who have brought their picnic basket filled with the great smells of Barbecued Ribs and potato salads. I’ve even spotted home baked biscuits and apple pies.
The atmosphere is one of pure homegrown happiness…to me it is different there. It may be the people who have lived their lives well and decided to retire to Calaveras County (to get out of “Dodge,” so to speak) to blend in with the farming, cattle and timber community.
The artwork being shown at the Fair is some of the best I have ever seen, thanks to the artists who retired there. And the wine exhibits are filled with labels I have never before encountered. Small vineyards that only produce 200 bottles or less a year, most for their own use, but so good they want to show off a little.
Murphys is also home to the ‘“Clampers,” a men’s Fraternal organization with 45 chapters throughout California. I know there is at least one member of this organization living here in the Ben Lomond area. Known as a “drinking society,” members try to commemorate the obscure and weird in the California Gold Country with plaques fixed to sides of buildings. Clampers, however, have been known to take widows and children under their “wings,” as well as other good deeds helping the less fortunate in our society.
From our valley, the Frog Jumping contest is only a three-hour drive away and you and your kids will find something for everyone. There are many reasonably priced motels and historical hotels, such as the Black Bart Hotel, where the well-known outlaw Black Bart himself frequented. Food is delicious at most of the small restaurants, especially their early morning Flapjack Breakfasts.
Believe me, the smells of hayfields, roses clamoring over old fences and sheep and cattle filled hillsides bring back memories from my past and I know, yours will too.
By the way, the famous frog in Mark Twain’s story was named Daniel Webster, and if you do go to the contest, you just might hear Daniel’s grandchildren croaking away in Froggie Pond next to the fairgrounds in the early evening.
Frog-Jumping Barbecued Ribs with Sauerkraut and Baked Potatoes
3-4 lb. Rack of Baby Back Ribs:
Remove the protective silver skin on back of the rack of ribs by slipping a sharp knife between the bones at the rack’s end and the silver-looking thin membrane that covers those bones. Pull skin firmly from one end of the rack to the other. Discard skin. You can always ask your butcher to remove this membrane for you.
Make a rub of:
6 garlic cloves crushed.
2 Tbsp. Smoked Paprika
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Mix ingredients together and rub on the ribs. Let marinade for two hours.
Grill on medium heat until each side reaches a golden brown. Turn heat down to lowest temperature. Wrap rack tightly in Aluminum foil and return to grill. Roast for 2-3 hours until meat falls from bones.
One 32oz. jar of Claussen’s Sauerkraut
6 slices of bacon, diced
1 cup of diced onion
2 cloves of minced garlic
Fry bacon onions and garlic together and add the sauerkraut. Cover and simmer on med. heat for 20 min.
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].