Posts Tagged With: Blackberry Farm

SFA 2016, The Final Chapter

[This is fifth and final post reflecting on the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium of 2016.  As this posts, we are just a few days away from the 2017 Symposium.  And I.  Am.  So.  Ready.]

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It’s always a little bittersweet as the weekend of the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium comes to a close. Mostly bitter, I guess, because The Wife and I always wish we had another day or three there before getting back to reality. But also sweet – there are desserts involved.
This year’s theme was corn, and it even showed up in the small bites. In fact, some of the edible highlights of the weekend happen in the margins. (Yes – in between all the amazing multiple course meals, there are snacks!)
Truth be told, the bittersweetness starts at registration, because we know it’s going to fly from there. Then they feed us, so we forgive or forget – one or the other. This time it was a corn dog from Chef Kelly English. Corn dogs are simple to pick up, easy to eat, but not so easy to make. At least that’s my experience at home – my one experience. All that to say I can appreciate a good corn dog in my old age.
A Madeleine, so I’m told, is a little French butter cake that seems more like a cookie in the shape of a shell. One website described them as “often decorated with coconut”, which is probably the reason I don’t have them very often. And now I’ve been spoiled, because Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois (Blue Smoke, NYC) made his out of cornbread and gave me warm Steen’s cane syrup mixed with butter to dip it in. Since the cookie is French and the syrup is Cajun, I think it was a match made heavenly in my mouth.
To wash things down, for the first time ever perhaps, we had a choice of fun sodas. I’m not saying we’ve ever gone thirsty – don’t forget the cedar tea, the corncob tea, the nitro coffee, etc. – but sodas are not usually part of the mix. Cannonborough Beverage Company of Charleston takes seasonal fresh fruits and herbs to make their sodas. That’s right: seasonal soda. We got to try Grapefruit Elderflower and Ginger Beer. I am eager to try their Raspberry Mint and Sorghum Thyme.

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The next evening, as we enjoyed another presentation, we had a Corncuit. Give it a minute and you can probably figure this one out. Cornbread. Biscuit. Corncuit. This one was created by Chef Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar in Oxford. It was savory with a touch of sweet, shaped something like a parallelogram, and seemed to have a light glaze. Then the coup de gravy was a little tub of sorghum-curry leaf ghee to dip it in. Had there been a basketful, I would have probably made a fool of myself.

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Of course, another reason they did not pass around baskets of corncuits is because dinner was coming shortly: The Saturday night Lodge Cast Iron Four Sisters Supper. According to our guide, “In Native American agricultural tradition, corn, beans, and squash are the Three Sisters.” All grow together, benefitting each other. Our supper was put together by four sisters, “because, sometimes, three isn’t enough.”
This meal always has a touch of home cookin’, and we saw that again this year. Dora Charles, chef and cookbook author from Savannah, Georgia, gave us butterbeans and okra, along with a crooked neck squash casserole. Helen Turner, pitmaster from Helen’s Bar-B-Q in Brownsville, Tennessee provided the Brownsville-style pork shoulder. These were the anchors – the bookends, so to speak. And solid anchors they were. Then things got twisty.

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Cassidee Dabney of Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee had two wildly different dishes. The first was Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans (a black bean thought to have been carried along said trail) with Smoked Venison and Wild Mint Pickled Onions. I’ve done similar combinations at home, but the pickled onions really cut through the creamy beans in this dish. The second dish was Crispy Hickory King Cornmeal Mush with Hominy, Pepper Jam, Dill Yogurt and Hazelnuts. This one reminded The Wife and me of Shafoot, a similar dish we had in the Middle East made with spongy bread and yogurt.
The other cornbread concoction emerged from the creative cooking of Cheetie Kumar of Raleigh (Garland restaurant): Indian Spiced Cornbread in a little square atop Wilted Greens, Charred Onion Compote and Paneer, with Butternut Squash Achaar (Indian pickles) on the side. This was yet another take on fusion of Southern and fill-in-the-blank food, and it was one of my favorites of the evening.
Sunday’s good-bye lunch has evolved over the years, and for the past two symposia we have been given a “Traveler’s Meal” as the last session ended. It’s a box lunch, but no less fabulous than the others. Chef Jean-Paul (Blue Smoke) was responsible for the smoky and tender beef jerky. Alex Raij (Txikito, NYC) introduced us to Gilda (not Radner) – a little skewer of anchovy, guindilla pepper (a favorite in the Basque region of Spain), and olives. A staple of Southern picnics, Cold Fried Chicken was cornmeal-crusted, crunchy and courtesy of Kelly English and Camron Razavi (Restaurant Iris, Memphis). For a little more corn, John Currence (City Grocery, Oxford) came up with a Sweet Corn Elote Salad. I love Mexican street corn, and this was a neat take on that concept that I intend to adapt early and often. The sweet of this bittersweet last meal was a sweet potato cookie from Chef Edouardo Jordan (Salare, Seattle). This was a hearty cookie – big and thick and chewy. And it had a kick, unusual for a cookie but welcome nonetheless.

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The SFA Symposium is not all about the food we eat while we’re there. We’ve met fascinating folks from all over the South and beyond, as you can tell, from Seattle to NYC. And even corn is a fascinating subject to spend a weekend contemplating.

But I’m glad we get to eat.

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Blackberry Farm Biscuit Brunch

After spending the better part of a decade in a culture vastly different than our own, the Reed family returned to the USA. We had just over a week before school was to begin, a few days to re-immerse ourselves in the American lifestyle. What better way to do that than to head for a cabin in Pigeon Forge?
Truth be told, that is not the main reason we went, but Pigeon Forge is what it is. Aside from seeing family and re-adjusting sleep schedules to a once-familiar time zone, I had one primary goal. After subsisting on restaurant fare and airplane trays in the previous week of travel, I was ready for some good old American grub. But despite the volume of places to eat in Pigeon Forge, finding something that isn’t a pancake or can’t be found on any fast food row anywhere else in America is a bigger challenge. I did my usual digging around and found what seemed to be a highly-rated and unique place called Blackberry Farm. It was a little ways down the road but it had promise. Unfortunately, I also discovered that the restaurant was a part of a resort, and a stay at the resort was required for dinner. Man.
So it didn’t work out that time, and I still haven’t found an opportunity to spend a night there, but I’ve kept the idea on the back burner since then, just waiting for my chance. Then at the International Biscuit Festival, my ship came in. Since the beginning of the Festival, Blackberry Farm has been involved in the form of a Biscuit Brunch. The only concern I had was that I knew I would be cruising Biscuit Boulevard for a round of power eating before the brunch began. It was a dilemma, but I knew what I would do. This was my best shot to enjoy a Blackberry Farm meal “off the farm”, and I wasn’t going to miss it.
The meal began with biscuits. Surprise! The menu showed two varieties, but the one I found in front of me was a Benne, Sorghum and Onion Biscuit. It had elements of the same flavors you would get from pouring sorghum molasses on a biscuit – rich, dark sweetness, but in a much more subtle way. The onion wasn’t strong, just enough to send the taste buds over to a savory corner. The benne added a nutty note. But for those who wanted to add a little sweetness, there was farm-made blackberry and blueberry preserves.
The first course had a lot of promise: Citrus Cured Sunburst Trout with pickled vegetables and Georgia olive oil. I love grilled fish with fruit salsa, and I had downed a shot of Georgia olive oil once before, so I was looking forward to the flavors. What I discovered was that the trout had truly been cured – not grilled – in the citrus juice, something like a ceviche’ I suppose. I tried it and it just wasn’t my thing. But there were at least a couple of positives. One, everybody else at the table ate it up like they hadn’t been on Biscuit Boulevard all morning. Plus, it had just a dab of what I have to assume was Sunburst Trout Caviar on top, which I later discovered was on my list of 100 Southern Things to Eat Before You Die. Check.

Citrus Cured Sunburst Farms Trout

Citrus Cured Sunburst Farms Trout

As one might imagine, Daughter left the trout untried. But the main course was more up her alley – mine, too. Chef Josh Feathers described it as Seared Braised and Pressed Ancient White Park Beef with Potato Foie Gras Puree and Watercress with Dried Cherries. When it arrived, the beef looked like a rectangular cut of steak or roast. When my fork hit it, it slowly fell apart into a pile of tender and tasty bites. A little dip into the rich puree and a stab of watercress and cherry, all on the same fork, was a very special mouthful.

Here's the Beef

Here’s the Beef

Dessert was a cheese cake made from Blackberry Farm Brebis cheese. Brebis is a sheep’s milk cheese, possibly the first time I have had anything (knowingly) made from sheep’s milk. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up being quite happy to eat mine and most of Daughter’s as well. It was anchored by a cornbread crust (also unique) and topped with fresh South Carolina strawberries. Not too sweet, but plenty sweet enough – an excellent ending to our morning in Knoxville, and another check off the bucket list in a roundabout way.

Brebis Cheesecake

Brebis Cheesecake

Before we left the Biscuit Festival we stopped for an ice cream cone. Don’t look at me that way. I know we just had an amazing piece of cheesecake at Brunch. This was an opportunity stop, and besides, ice cream fits no matter how full you are – it just melts and fills in the empty places in your belly. This ice cream was from the Cruze Farm Milk Bar, the same outfit that had provided the buttermilk the night before. I went to the crazy side – buttermilk lime ice cream with cardamom. The cardamom was a bit more edgy than I expected, but the lime had a sweet-tart-creamy combination that was refreshing on this muggy morn.
That was not the end of our day, but it was the end of our time in Knoxville at the Biscuit Festival. I hated to leave, but the biscuits were about gone, I had eaten enough to hold me through Monday, and we had a date with Dolly. Our day would end in Pigeon Forge, the same place my quest for a bite from Blackberry Farm had begun. Daughter had worked out a deal: I could drag her to Knoxville if she could drag me to Dollywood. My arm did not require a very firm twist. Off we went.

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