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Mother and daughter win top prizes in Last House essay contest

The Last House, where MFK Fisher spent her productive final years at the Bouverie Ranch in Glen Ellen, announced the winners of its second annual writing contest this month, with two unusual results: a tie for first place in the adults (18 and over) category, and a mother-daughter team scoring wins in the Grand Prize and first place in the youth (13-17) category.

Grand Prize winner of the 2021 MFK Fisher Last House Writing Contest was Emma Rose of Rancho Cordova, whose well-crafted “Fed by Nature” explores passing along the lessons of gathering to a younger generation. It also tied for first place in the Adult category with “Letter to My Californio Son,” by Nick Heitkamp of Santa Rosa.

The judges found Rose’s short, introspective story of gathering wild fennel worthy of the top prize - a $200 gift certificate to the Glen Ellen Star restaurant.

Emma Rose, Grand Prize winner of the 2021 M.F.K. Fisher Last House Writing Contest. (Submitted)
Emma Rose, Grand Prize winner of the 2021 M.F.K. Fisher Last House Writing Contest. (Submitted)

“I am fortunate to have gone to Mills College, where I met some of the most outrageously wonderful people of my life, including Kennedy Golden,” said Rose, Golden being the younger daughter of Fisher. “She is a wise person who has believed in me during moments of doubt. She knows I am working on becoming a writer, and encouraged me to enter the contest.”

Rose’s daughter, Leah Burch, took top honors in the Youth category with “Just Breathe” which describes making contact with nature even during a stay-at-home pandemic. The two tales brought family honors to the Sacramento-area family.

“This family has shown us how to be fed by nature, and by love. I suspect MFK would have been delighted and moved,” said Clark Wolf, a longtime contributor to Last House event programming and a host on KSRO radio.

The Last House Writing Contest, directed by program coordinator Susie Allen for Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR) which owns the Bouverie Preserve, put out the call in June for stories that “honor the style and spirit of MFK Fisher,” the celebrated food writer (“How to Cook a Wolf,” “Consider the Oyster” and “The Gastronomical Me” among many other titles).

Nature, gardening, wild animals and cooking during the pandemic were themes for many writers. Others explored the joy of sharing food and new cooking adventures with loved ones. A full list of winners, and links to their award-winning work, is online at egret.org/mom-and-daughter-pen-winning-essays.

The Last House was built for Fisher by her friend David Bouverie, and she lived there from 1973 to 1992, when she died at 83. The Last House itself is still standing – it narrowly escaped the 2017 Nuns fire that ravaged the rest of the extensive preserve – and efforts to restore it and turn it into a gathering place for culinary writers continue.

Writers were invited to submit an original, unpublished essay, short story or poem that examines “how leaning into nature — ours inside and the world around us — helps us always, and, in particular, during challenging times.”

“Do the foods we prepare, eat and share, and the ways we engage with the natural world around us, affect our very ability to survive and thrive?”

Rose, 33 with five adopted children, said she intends to continue working on the book she is writing, her first. “There is a Jewish line of Talmud in Pirkei Avot, ‘You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.’ That is my guiding principle.”

There is another writer named Emma Rose, whose many romances bear little resemblance to the work of the Last House-award winner.

Entries were submitted between June 14 and Aug. 2, and reviewed by a panel that included writers, chefs and naturalists including Dr. Marion Nestle, Ruth Reichl, Tanya Holland, John Ash, Kennedy Golden, Kathleen Thompson Hill, Mayukh Sen, Traci Des Jardins, Celia Sack and Alice Waters.

All winners received books donated by Sonoma independent bookstore Readers’ Books. Participants received a commemorative certificate designed by Fisher’s grandson, Alex Wright.

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