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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

A Tale of Two Heavens

July 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Heavens

Blackberry Farm is the most civilized 4,200 acres on the planet.

I spent my 10th anniversary at Blackberry Farm a few years ago. I wrote about the visit at length, and continue to talk about it, today. Earlier this month, my wife and I dropped our kids off at summer camp in Arkansas and headed east to Blackberry Farm— summer camp for adults.

Located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, just outside of Maryville, TN, Blackberry Farm is truly a slice of heaven on earth. This is how I described the property on my original visit:

“The owners of Blackberry Farm, Kreis and Sandy Beall have fostered a corporate environment in which the organization’s sole purpose is to cater to guest’s every whim. Nothing goes unnoticed at Blackberry Farm.”

“Blackberry Farm has the refined and civilized quaintness of the Little Nell, the personal-service standards of Windsor Court, foodservice to rival The Mansion on Turtle Creek or any Ritz Carlton, the majesty of the Plaza and a uniqueness all its own. Throw in the Smoky Mountains and tastefully decorated cottages nestled among Tennessee hardwoods and you have one of the premiere resort experiences in America.”

Much has changed since my original visit. Today, Blackberry Farm has morphed into two resorts, each a reflection of its leader.

Kreis Beall, the resort’s founder, created a lush, highly decorated environment with a tasteful English-country feeling. Sam, the son who took over the reins several years ago, has only improved on the theme. His focus has been on the food and wine experience and sustainable agriculture.

The difference can be seen in the dining rooms each created. The main house is Old-South formal, the new dining room— housed in a building designed to look like a barn— is state of the art, with a massive 8,000-square foot, 160,000-bottle wine cellar, an open kitchen, and a demonstration classroom. Both are tasteful, both are unique, and both serve world-class cuisine.

The highlight of our stay was a lengthy visit with Blackberry Farm’s master gardeners John Coykendall and Jeff Ross. The two men oversee a two-acre organic garden filled with heirloom vegetables, and a collection of over 500 heirloom seeds which they can trace to the original family who grew the vegetables, most of which date back to the mid-19th Century. They spent several informative hours with us, taking time to give us guided tours of the gardens and grounds.

Today Blackberry Farm grows its own vegetables, raises sheep, and operates a full-scale dairy and creamery. They also have a larder building for canning and drying fruit, beehives, fruit trees, and a charcuterie operation where an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and talented chef/butcher named Michael Sullivan is working miracles with meats. Blackberry Farm is a foodie paradise.

There is a scene in the Chevy Chase film “Funny Farm” where members of the town of Redbud band together to create a Norman Rockwell-type atmosphere for the benefit of a visiting couple looking to move to the town. At one point someone hidden from sight, holding a deer in a cage, is cued to surreptitiously release the animal in view of the visiting couple. The deer goes bounding by a serene, wood-lined pond completing the feeling of “the perfect place.”

Cue the deer

As I was eating lunch on the veranda of the main house on my third day, a fawn came bounding across the back lawn, not 10 feet from my table. It was as if a Blackberry Farm employee was off camera, waiting for the precise moment to release the deer. Every visit to Blackberry Farm is filled with such events. They are not contrived. It’s just the way things happen when one is visiting the closest thing to heaven on earth.

Today, Blackberry Farm is a tale of two heavens, each unique, each refined, and each world-class. In the end, the vacation cost as much as my first car. But the memories created will last much longer than my 1978 Pontiac Sunbird.

Savory Asparagus Bread Pudding

1 cup asparagus, cut into one-inch long pieces

1 Tbl Olive Oil
1/2 cup White Onion, diced
1/2 cup Red Pepper, diced
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
1 /2 cup Riesling Wine

12 Tbl Fresh Basil, chopped
1 tsp Dry Mustard
1 cup Sour Cream
1 cup Half and Half
1 /2 cup Whole Milk
4 Egg Yolks
2 Eggs
6 cups French bread, crust removed and small diced

Preheat oven to 325.

Place three cups of water into a small saucepot and bring to a boil. Place the asparagus pieces in the boiling water and cook for 45 seconds Strain the asparagus and run it under cold water until cooled completely. Drain and dry the asparagus pieces and set aside.

In a medium-sized sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions and peppers for two-three minutes. Add the cooked asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for one more minute. Add the wine and allow it to reduce by half. Remove this mixture from the heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the basil, dry mustard, sour
cream, half and half, milk and eggs. Blend them together and fold in the cooked vegetables and French bread. Cover and allow the mixture to set for one hour before baking.

Place the pudding mixture into a lightly buttered 2 quart Pyrex baking dish. Cover the pudding with a piece of parchment paper, and cover the parchment paper with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes covered. Remove the foil and paper and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Allow pudding to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Yields: 8-10 servings

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