Blackberry Farm

Friends of the Farm

A Timely Release

This season heralds the proud release of our latest cookbook: “The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm.” It is a reflection of the efforts of the entire staff at the farm, and a testament to the ways of the past that our talented group of artisans revere. In it, the chapters are divided, not simply by season, but the times that tasks were and are undertaken on the farm. Each section is a season within a season, where nature tells the farmer, be it weather, animal migration, plant fruition or even the phases of the moon, what is needed to be done to ensure a sustainable life.

Beginning in Spring, or Come Grass time, new growth appears in pastures, fields and glens, to alert the farmer to send livestock to graze, and gather wild greens to eat and make tonics to build needed energy for the new growing season. During the waning days of a seemingly relentless winter, a farmer would daydream about the coming chartreuse that will soon reveal itself. “Come grass, I’ll get that ground fixed for plantin,’” he might muse. Recipes in the book during this time reflect the earliest spring greens and pones of bread from the last of the winter corn to sop up the gravy of slow-cooked beans.

In Plantin’Time, most or all danger of frost will be over, and the farmer would begin and complete the timeless endeavor of sowing the prepared garden rows with treasured heirloom seeds. Pole beans, peas, butterbeans, okra, corn, potatoes and the like would create a patchwork quilt in the fields, as the building hours in the day quickly pull the seedlings up through the soil. Time is of the essence now, so the farmer goes “all in,” and gambles that a late frost won’t settle on the tender plants. Now is also the time when sheep are milked to make creamy spring cheeses, villages of otherworldly wild mushrooms are gleaned from the forest floor and the hens begin working in broody overtime to lay clutches of eggs with beautiful butter-yellow yolks. Dishes during this time make use of gathered morel mushrooms, Spring lamb, mild green garlic, fresh ricotta cheese and tiny new potatoes, robbed from the garden hills.

When the deadlines of planting are complete, like a runner after sprinting from the starting gate, the farm hits its stride during Lay-By Time. The crops have been side-dressed with manure and compost and are growing vigorously, the potatoes have been hilled for the last time, livestock are happily browsing the pastures and gaining valuable weight and early Spring vegetables are ripe for the taking, in order to gain real estate for the later Summer crops. In these sultry days, watering, weeding and shearing of sheep spell out the farm agenda. As East Tennessee is “Chlorophyll Central” during the Summer, rampant growth threatens to overtake the entire area, so the ordered rows of Spring give way to a leafy chaos. Our weather becomes more akin to Africa or South America, so vegetables native to those places – tomatoes, beans, okra, sorghum – begin to spill forth from the fields. Meals that now come to the shaded table, a welcome respite from the garden heat, are filled with chin-moistening tomatoes, candy-sweet strawberries and catfish lazily caught from the beckoning ponds.

Harvest Time is best illustrated by the farmer’s hands. Stained purple from the juice of foraged wild blackberries, fingernails encrusted by the dirt of harvesting potatoes, fingers green from endless tomato tying and relentlessly itchy from a billion okra spines, his hands become an abstract painting depicting the end of Summer. During this time, there never seems to be enough bushel baskets to contain the food bursting from the gardens and orchards. The chef now has a tapestry of ingredients to create a toothsome menu: tomatoes continue to be the standard bearer, along with squash, corn and wagonloads of fruits to preserve.

It is no wonder that Puttin’ Up Time is such a major section of the book; it is a visceral indicator of how well the farmer’s investment in time and effort will pay off for the coming lean times. If properly planted and tended, the garden, pastures and forest have yielded a bounty to stock the larder. There is no area within the farm where our efforts culminate more than in the preservation of all things edible. From butchery, canning, baking, cheesemaking, brewing and saving of heirloom seeds, we can blur the lines between seasons to enjoy the high season harvest throughout the year. There is nothing like opening a jar of pickled okra in the Winter to reflect on a long-forgotten season in the garden. In our region, this time is like a second Spring, when carrots, beets, lettuce and greens make an encore appearance alongside the late-bloomer eggplants and peppers, who know frost approaches and their days are numbered.

Hog-Killin’ Time and Huntin’ Time bring all things beastly onto the farmer’s sideboard. Hogs and deer have gorged on the mast of fallen acorns and hickory nuts and ducks flock to cover, wary of unseen gunsights. Before the advent of refrigeration, these cool days afford the mountain denizen time to dress and butcher meats with less worry of spoilage. Even with our modern contrivances to keep meats and fish fresh, we continue the tradition of smoking, drying and curing to carry on the rich and unique flavors of our local foodways. In this season, nothing is wasted. Lard and tallow are used in sausage and soap-making, skin is fried for cracklins and organs are made into indulgent terrines and pates. Obviously, the recipes from this time are quite meat-centric, but the addition of frost-hardy collard and kale greens, storage pumpkins, corn hoe cakes and winter herbs, the garden is well represented.

In Restin’ Time, the fire is stoked, cats are stroked and yarns are spun. Life on the farm slows like snowflakes leisurely drifting to earth. But all is not fully asleep. Pregnant ewes lumber in the pasture, enjoying the crisp air, an occasional oyster mushroom colony is found on a bare maple tree, dried corn is ground for ubiquitous dodgers of bread, hard cheeses are oiled and slowly aged and the butcher’s eye is cast toward his salumi mellowing at its own pace. Food is all about comfort now – flavorful meatloaves, savory sausages and mashed potatoes, chased with gooey cookies and winter tarts warm one from the inside out. The farmer enjoys his time before the glowing hearth, but his mind, never content with the present, is already tuned into the next Come Grass.

Jeff Ross
Garden Manager