Sinful Chocolate

Jenner Ranch
For five generations, the Jenner family has worked the ranch founded by pioneer ranchers Ignace and Mary Wagner (pictured).
– Courtesy Jenner Family / JennerFamilyBeef.com –

Water and crackers are all that sustained Ignace Wagner for a week when he arrived in San Francisco, California, in 1852. He borrowed some money and then headed to the American River to mine. He struck it rich in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, making more than $5,500.

Ignace married Mary Lichtenthaler, who, like him, hailed from the German territory of Alsace, France. They  purchased land in Scott Valley, California, on March 17, 1874, building a farmhouse and a home.

The Jenner Family Ranch traces its roots to the Wagner Ranch. A decade before the Wagners, E.P. Jenner founded the Union Flour Mill, outside the mining town of Rough and Ready, now called Etna, about two miles from the Wagner property.

A good picture of Scott Valley in its early years is provided by pioneer butcher and rancher Lucius Fairchild. In the 1850s, he shared observations of his home in letters to his family: “This is the best county in the state for making money, though we live hard in the mountains, where the elegant [fixtures] of life would cost a fortune. I have now, for the first time, a good room, nicely lined with calico, and a good bed, with at least one sheet and one dirty pillow case. So I think I am one of the aristocracy of this burg.

“You never dreamed of such a rowdy hole as this is.…Everybody drinks freely, even myself have swallowed enough cocktails to float a skiff—still I am very temperate according to our standard of morals. Gamblers, loafers, loose women and all the scum of society are here (or have been) in full force—and all manage to live well on the better classes of men….This is the dark side of us—We have good men here too and some pretty good society (all men).”

With gold miners needing food and supplies, Frank followed Uncle E.P. to the valley and established a ranch in 1872, where rich bottomland produced and still produces good feed for cattle.

Frank married Mary “Muzzy” Wagner, the only one of her six siblings to have children. Every day, Muzzy cooked on a woodstove for at least 20 hired hands.

Fourth-generation ranch wife Gail Fiorini-Jenner recalls what Aunt Betty (Jenner) Cogburn told her about Grandma Muzzy: “Grandpa and Grandma lived at the ranch with no electricity or indoor plumbing for the first few years. Brother Jack and I often had lunch with our grandparents and at all times looked forward to a piece of Muzzy’s devil’s food cake. She had a big garden, lots of berries and was most of all famous for her dandelion wine.”

Devil’s food cake is appropriate for a place with a history as rowdy as Scott Valley’s. Grandma Muzzy’s recipe was unbelievably rich because she used eggs, milk and butter from the ranch, Gail says, and flour from the flour mill adjacent to the original Wagner Ranch. Sinful chocolate, and oh so good.

Jenner Family
In this circa 1860s photo of the first Wagner house, ranch hands stand in front of the “cellar,” which is still in use today.
– Courtesy Jenner Family / JennerFamilyBeef.com –

Sherry Monahan has penned The Cowboy’s Cookbook, Mrs. Earp: Wives & Lovers of the Earp Brothers; California Vines, Wines & Pioneers; Taste of Tombstone and The Wicked West. She has appeared on Fox News, History Channel and AHC.

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