Blackberry Farms in Walland, Tennessee is on of the most celebrated hotel and culinary destinations in the country, a mega luxury inn, located on a 4,200 acre working farm from which the kitchen sources much of its ingredients. The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm: Recipes and Wisdom from Our Artisans, Chefs, and Smoky Mountain Ancestors
is the second book from proprietor Sam Beall and focuses on the “Artisans, Chefs, and Smoky Mountain Ancestors” of the area. (Fun fact about Beall: His family founded the fast-casual Ruby Tuesday’s chain, which is just about as different dining experience as you can have.)
The book is gorgeous and oversized, which is all the better to highlight the lush photos of the idyllic landscape, pristine ingredients, recipe steps and gorgeous finished dishes. But oversized cookbooks from acclaimed restaurants often give me pause. They usually feel more suited to the coffee table than the kitchen counter, meant to be displayed rather than used. In this case though it feels like they just needed the extra space to properly represent the exuberant and elegant photos of food and farm.
Beall describes the food as Foothills cuisine — because they are located at the border/ridgeline that separates “country mountain cuisine to our South and the haute cuisine of Knoxville to the North. The food of Blackberry Farm is a “blend of old and new, rural and urban, rustic and refined.”
Although the cuisine is restaurant quality, Beall focuses on making these recipes attainable in the home kitchen — equipment needs are mostly home kitchen stalwarts like rimmed baking sheets, vegetable peelers, and sheer plastic wrap. Measurements are given in both weight and volume.
The book follows the farming year, beginning in early Spring — or Come Grass Time in farm parlance, followed by other times, including Plantin’ Time, Lay By Time, Harvest Time, Hog Killin’ Time. These times aren’t tied to exact months, because the rhythms of agricultural life are based on weather and a farmer’s instincts and internal calendar rather than a paper calendar. Within each “time” are stories about what is going on with the land at the time, what is being planted and/or harvested, the food being cooked, and the artisans involved.
Come Grass Time, which could be as early as February or as late as April, depending on the weather and year, is when the grass starts sprouting and the sheep, cows, pigs, and chickens are put out to pasture for grazing. It’s also when lambs are born, and ewes start producing milk — so this section includes an artisanal craft chapter on cheese making, with an aspirational, yet totally achievable directions for fresh ricotta, yogurt, crème fraiche and cultured butter with clear — and lovely — step-by-step photos. Plantin’ Time — which Beall says is his favorite time — features morels stuffed with creamy scrambled eggs, served with lemon dressed watercress in a salty bacon infused broth, which was a great balance of rich, bright and deep, and an achievable but truly impressive dish of lamb meatballs and Singing Brook gnudi — similarly-sized spheres topped with a green garlic cream sauce, which was like the most elegant version of spaghetti and meatballs ever. The chapter also offers up advice on seed planting, how to get a 365 day onion harvest as well as the Blackberry Farm master recipe for the deviled eggs they serve at brunch and a spin on Southern-style potato pancakes, which are usually made from leftover mashed potatoes and served with applesauce. The Blackberry Farm version elevates the classic by cutting fresh potatoes into thin strips for a springy potato rosti, topped with a rich runny duck egg and serves it with a foraged salad.
Other hits are truly Southern waffles topped with sorghum and moonshine-infused cherries. A simple salad of Caesar dressed ribbons of zucchini, topped with a cheese frico sings and a multi-grain bread topped with a bloomy soft cheese and sweet-tart pickled beets and strawberries.
The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm: Recipes and Wisdom from Our Artisans, Chefs, and Smoky Mountain Ancestors
is a beautiful book, in both spirit and execution. It’s excellent fodder for both culinary and travel fantasies. Perfect for reading and planning while curled up in an armchair, and if you can stomach splashing the pages with duck fat, moonshine, or pimiento cheese, it’s also a great kitchen companion.