I had the good fortune to escape blizzard-ridden New York last week to spend a few days at the idyllic Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. The farm’s proprietor, Sam Beall, is a trained chef who worked at Napa’s famed French Laundry. Over the past decade, he’s turned his family’s 4,200 acre farm into a culinary destination. Fun fact: The Bealls are not all about fancy food—Sam’s father founded Ruby Tuesday.
Farm-to-table cooking is a trendy buzzword these days, but Blackberry Farm offers the real thing. From the hearty breakfasts in the main house to multi-course dinners in the converted barn, practically every ingredient comes from the farm itself or its neighbors. With snow on the ground even in Tennessee, we wondered what the winter bounty would bring. A lot of wonderful things, it turns out.
Sure, Blackberry serves flaky, buttery biscuits, piles of neighbor Allan Benton’s fabulous bacon and irresistible fresh-baked cookies and desserts. But for me, the vegetables were the highlights. Most are grown in the farm’s gardens and others come from just a mile or so down the road. After traveling all day, we arrived at the farm in late afternoon and were welcomed with plates of simply roasted carrots and turnips flecked with herbs, followed by steaming bowls of sunchoke-and-apple soup. This kicked off my winter vegetable obsession.
Every root vegetable was more delicious than the last. The beets were sweet as candy, ingeniously topped in one preparation with crushed pistachios. There’s a preservationist on staff who makes all kinds of jams and pickled veggies in the larder, so I took home jars of pickled beets along with a variety of fruity and savory jams.
One of the most memorable bites of our entire stay was a family-style plate of brussels sprouts presented at lunch. Tossed with a subtly sweet, slightly spicy relish, we polished them off in a heartbeat and were not too polite to ask for a second helping.
Mushrooms of all varieties were all over the winter menus, as well as fresh black Tennessee truffles. Blackberry Farm “employs” a small team of adorable truffle dogs who sniff them out on the farm’s truffle field. From a sublimely rich mushroom risotto to a tasting plate of funghi that looked like a work of art, I never got tired of them.
Despite the cold and snowy winter that East Tennessee has been experiencing, we got lucky with a few mild days, allowing us to hike Blackberry’s Smoky Mountain trails each day to balance out all of that eating.
This place is a haven for food people, no matter the season.
Here’s what I’ll be making to bring back Blackberry memories at home: