This week, Gilt Taste is proud to offer a spectacular opportunity to visit Blackberry Farm, one of the premier culinary and outdoors resorts in America. Capping the visit is a dinner hosted by Ruth Reichl, and here she shares impressions from her visits there. Check back in through the week for recipes from Blackberry Farm’s chef, Joseph Lenn, and to meet some of the artisans who make it so special. – Ed.
The first time I visited Blackberry Farm was with the actor Fran McDormand. We were there to shoot a television show, and I had no idea what to expect. The ride from the airport did not prepare me for the astonishing beauty of the place, and I remember getting out of the car and feeling the soft air on my skin. I looked over at the view: The Great Smoky Mountains towered all around us while we stood in emerald green grass. Up above the sky was very blue, and animals were grazing peacefully. I remember, very clearly, thinking, “I have never seen a lovelier place.”
You might get used to that kind of beauty after a couple of days, begin to accept it as your due. What you do not get used to—ever—is the determined passion of the people who work here. Proprietor Sam Beall has assembled a remarkable group of artisans, and as you spend time with these master gardeners, bakers, chefs, butchers, and cheese-makers, you begin to understand exactly what Mr. Beall is trying to accomplish. Blackberry Farm isn’t a resort so much as a living museum. Farm-to-table eating has become a modern mantra, but Beall wants to do more than merely feed people. He is conducting an experiment in Southern sustainability, and people come from around the world to live in his fantasy—and to learn.
You could come to simply enjoy the romantic scenery, luxurious resort, and superb homegrown cuisine, but that would be to miss the best Blackberry Farm has to offer. The more curious come to shadow the gardeners, learning about saving ancient seeds and harvesting according to the phases of the moon. They forage with a man who was raised in these hills and knows every leaf and branch by heart. They fish the streams, walk the land, and learn about animals from the remarkable man who trains the dogs to hunt for Tennessee truffles. Indoors they spend time making cheese in the dairy or cutting meat in the butcher shop. And very soon they will be able to learn the art of making whiskey: Beall’s latest project is what he calls, “the most truly Southern whiskey ever produced.” Made entirely from local products—corn, rice, buckwheat and sorghum—it sits, as we speak, aging in American oak.
During the time that we spent there, Fran reverted to the soft Southern accent of her childhood, and the night before we left she sat in our room, singing old country songs. It was a wonderful moment, and I thought that in a perfect world every American would get to spend a few days at Blackberry Farm.
But those who can’t enjoy the place itself can at least get a little taste of this farm. This week, Gilt Taste will introduce you to a few of the people who make this place so special, share recipes for a pair of chef Joseph Lenn’s favorite dishes, and offer Blackberry Farm’s jams, cheeses, and salami, as well as a visit to the farm, where I’ll be sharing dinner with you. Here is true Tennessee flavor. But beware: after only a few bites, you will be longing to stand on that grass.