As Labor Day weekend approaches, Coho salmon return to Cordova, the last of the season’s berries are ripe on bushes, and foragers spend every moment of their free time hunting mushrooms in nearby forests.
Colors of Cordova’s landscape begin to change, an indicator that the annual Fungus Festival is right around the corner.
One of the biggest highlights of the holiday weekend’s activities is the Copper River Watershed’s Wild Harvest Feast, at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 in the Cordova Center.
Only 120 tickets at $65 apiece are sold for this annual fundraiser for the Copper River Watershed Project, which supports sustainable development and education projects in the watershed.
“I think the biggest highlight is getting to eat local food that is prepared in new and creative ways by a guest chef,” said Shae Bowman, CRWP’s operations manager.
Jeff Qualls, chef/owner of “rye. craft food and drink,” in McKinney, Texas, is Copper River Watershed Project’s guest chef for the Wild Harvest Feast.
Qualls attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and later the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, Calif., where he fine-tuned his skills in patisserie and artisan bread baking.
Copper River coho salmon will be the centerpiece of the menu Qualls has created for the event.
The feast will also include smoked, pork belly grilled cheese, with manchego strawberry-rhubarb jam; fried green tomatoes, golden beet cured coho tartare and red chili remoulade; roasted wild mushroom vol-au-vent; xo sherry, tarragon, and gruyere Mornay almond puff pastry; kohlrabi and green apple slaw; sweet chili minus-8 vinaigrette, pickled red onion, and toasted cashew; miso-roasted Copper River coho salmon, fermented garlic jus, wild mushroom and scallion bread pudding, tamari-roasted Brussels sprouts, and pork belly braised collard greens with charred carrot and mushroom salt.
A variety of fine wines and beer, included in the price of dinner, will also be served. Desserts are donated by some of Cordova’s finest bakers. In previous years they have included everything from sugared, edible flowers to local, handpicked berries, homemade cream pastries, signature cakes, pies and more.
Money raised at the feast supports sustainable development and education project, “particularly those projects that don’t have direct grant funding,” said Kate Morse, program director for CRWSP. “For example, in Cordova, we’re able to use these funds to support our plastic recycling efforts, and are working towards building a recycling depot for collecting recyclables. We can also use these general funds to respond to unexpected events, such as assisting with response to small-scale fuel leaks and convening local organizations to discuss strategies for improving local response to home heating tank spills. Our general fund also helps sustain our K-12 education efforts, and makes sure all students in the Copper River watershed are able to get out of their classroom and literally immersed – in chest waders, in the ecosystems they’re learning about,” Morse said.
The event will also feature a silent auction to raise money for annual scholarships awarded to graduating high school seniors in the Copper Basin and Cordova who want to pursue education to support economies, ecosystems and communities in the watershed, she said.
The list of donated auction items so far this year include pottery, mushroom dyed silks and yarns, a wood bird carving, Copper River fleece, homemade jams and jellies, gourmet cheese from Fromagio’s Artisan Cheese in Anchorage, and a Sparkle Sisters’ gift certificate.
A membership drawing will take place during the event. Top prizes including a trip to Child’s Glacier for two, and life jackets, are an extra incentive for people to sign-up for a membership, Morse said.
Being a fundraising event, CRWP said can’t do it without volunteers.
“We need volunteers. We need servers, help with food prep in the kitchen and food plating, decorating and festival setup, we need volunteers to manage the silent auction, door greeters, and volunteers for teardown and cleanup,” Bowman said.
Each volunteer will receive a free CRWP T-shirt, she said.
To purchase dinner tickets, or to donate items for the silent auction, call the Copper River Watershed Project at 424-3334, or purchase them at the CRWP office on Main Street.