In the heart of the Sonoma Valley, perched on a grassy hill, sits a seemingly unremarkable house. The stuccoed walls have cracks, the roof needs work and the only identifying feature is a large half-circle punched into a side porch, where an old woman named Mary Frances once spent sunny afternoons contemplating meals long past.
Known to the rest of the world as the culinary luminary and writer M.F.K. Fisher, she authored more than 30 classic food tomes including “The Art of Eating” and “How to Cook a Wolf.”
But this Glen Ellen home she called Last House was nearly lost to time.
Built by her friend, architect David Pleydell-Bouverie, within walking distance of his own estate, both properties were trusted to Audubon Canyon Ranch in 1994 as part of the Bouverie Reserve, where they’ve remained relatively untouched.
“The moment I saw Last House empty, I had to step in,” says chef Sheana Davis of Sonoma’s Epicurean Connection, which offers catering and culinary education services. Davis, who once did odd jobs for Fisher, learned the house was vacant after a serendipitous meeting at the preserve with the curator of the ACR’s mountain lion research program, Dr. Quinton Martins. Until recently, Last House was occupied by caretaker John Martin.
“I went home and could not stop thinking about Last House,” Davis says. The ACR had been contemplating renovations as well, so with the support of Fisher’s daughter, Kennedy Golden, “First Meal at Last House” became the first of a series of fundraising events to restore the space. Davis will lead fundraising programming at the house.
In June several dozen invitees, many of them friends of Fisher, gathered at Last House for an inaugural event curated by Davis. With a fresh coat of Chinese red paint in the bathroom and mementos and furniture brought in by Golden, the afternoon event included some of M.F.K.’s favorite foods: fresh cheeses, sardines with butter, ratatouille and a startlingly strong gin punch.
One by one, items are coming back to the home, which after an estimated $2 million renovation will serve not as a museum but as a living space for chefs and writers, according to Golden, who lives in the Bay Area and attended the June event.
Fisher’s old Coronomatic typewriter sits quietly in one corner, along with a faded 1977 royalty check. A silk robe hangs on a closet door, the pantry is filled with dishes and Mary Frances’ spirit can rest easy on her favorite porch as life comes back to Last House.
“I hope that Last House will become a place where people gather to celebrate and communicate with good food, wine, literature, and conversation — all in celebration of M.F.K. Fisher’s legacy as a writer and someone who lived life fully,” says Golden.
Upcoming events to raise money for Last House renovations and programming include “With Bold Knife and Fork, M.F.K. Fisher and Cassoulet” — a dinner curated by the Epicurean Connection and held at the General’s Daughter in Sonoma on October 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. The cost is $125. For details and tickets go online.
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