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All’s Fair In Love And Gourds

Dinner At the Pumpkin Patch wraps up the 2011 TLVC dining series with a bang.

photo by John Lemaire

Autumn, we love you and your glorious days of bounty. Since the time we first dared to conspire with the soil to not merely sow but intentionally reap, autumn has been our time to hail the fertile goddess with thanks and celebration. Between summer’s toil and winter’s chill lies the splendid autumn and its iconic horn of plenty.

And as autumn is the season of plenty, so must the jolly pumpkin be its poster child, as it shows up fat and sassy, clad in a technicolor hue that on a lesser being might be considered outrageous. Whether it’s lying wanton on the soil, still in the embrace of the vine, or stealing the show in the cornucopia, or bearing candle-fired expressions from jolly to sinister on Halloween night, the pumpkin is surely autumn’s first born native son.

Though we’re not tied to the seasons as in the pilgrim’s days, where a summer’s toil and the autumn’s reaping spelled an unequivocal margin of survival through an implacable winter, we still take their example and honor the autumn feast. Even if with the impending winter we no longer fear the specter of starvation, the will to feast dwells deep. And feasting aplenty was on hand last week when TLVC closed out their hit al fresco dining series “Dinner At the…”, this time, appropriately, with Dinner At the Pumpkin Patch.

photo by John Lemaire

The evening began with a reception featuring Cantara Wines, the beers of Surf Brewery and spirits of Tequila Alquimia, complementing appetizers by Main Course California and preceding a tour of the historic McGrath House.

Designed and built by A.C. Martin in 1909, the house is one of just a handful of the famed builder’s homes on the Oxnard Plain. Martin left his mark on the area not just in residential endeavors; those in attendance at Ventura’s City Hall for Dinner At the City this summer might recall that the famed municipal seat was also an A.C. Martin design. “Growing up, I was able to tell a Martin house the minute you walk in,” notes Mary McGrath, who hosted the evening and is a principal at Great Pacific Pumpkins — and who, not incidentally, grew up in the house and with her relatives, assumed the mantle for the family business, and took up her place in the sowing and reaping of the McGrath soil.

And what soil, indeed: the very reason for the fete, the bed of the bounty of Ventura County agriculture, the bedrock of the community. The soil that yields the food, in this case the evening’s main attraction. While the mutli-course affair arrived from Main Course California kitchens, such was bequeathed by this soil – the soil of the McGrath Brothers Farms, of Petty Ranch, of Dave Palmer, Rio Gozo Farms, and California Mushroom. “We had 138 people seated at a king’s table down the middle of a pumpkin patch,” notes TLVC founder and Dinner At the… master-mind Kat Merrick – “a perfect setting, perfect weather, perfect food, a full moon: we could not have asked for a grander finale to the season.”

Among the culinary highlights were Watkins Beef with figs, and afterward, from Marie Shannon Confections, diners were wowed with a spice pumpkin cake with a dark chocolate ganache topped with caramel sauce. “Then people took their dessert with Main Course’s spiced warm cider to hay bales,” recounts Merrick, “where Richard Senate told story after story of the ghostly histories of the community. Everyone said it all felt so magical, they left feeling like little kids.”

Other standouts Merrick notes, “Of course, the Food Share volunteers – they’re just unbelievable. They work their tails off, and put everything they have into it, because they care. They’re just amazing. And Cantara Wine paired perfectly with the evening, offering FrankenZin and The Bride – perfect names for a perfect evening. Surf Brewery was back, as was Ventura Limoncello and Tequila Alquimia – they all just bring so much.”

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