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Blackberry Farm: Reception & Dinner

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After my incredible afternoon touring the farm, I was invited by the Southern Food Writing Conference to attend a champagne reception in the garden, followed by a lavish dinner in the barn. It was in conjunction with the International Biscuit Festival, and the guests were there to celebrate, and dine on, authentic and inspired Southern cuisine.

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Perfectly worn picnic tables were set out under the trees, and adorned with simple country floral arrangements and galvanized bucket candles. The setting and ambiance were gorgeous.

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There was a bluegrass band plucking away at tunes that made you feel as though you’ve lived there your entire life. And that maybe Tennessee is where you were meant to be born.

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The elegant hors d’oeuvres and icy cold champagne were served by their excellent wait staff….

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And those freshly picked radishes from earlier in the day, made their appearance on a slate tray. I loved the presentation and will be sure to recreate something similar at home using butter and dijon, topping them with sea salt flakes.

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After the champagne reception, we walked up to the barn for our dinner…

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Please excuse the quality of the following photos, I shot the remaining ones with my cell phone, as to not distract from the dinner or intrude on the other guests enjoyment. Although looking back, I think everyone was snapping away.

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When we first walked in, I admired this entry table. In fact, I can’t stop thinking about it and hope The Man will make one for me some day.

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They have an amazing demonstration kitchen in one area of the barn for culinary classes.

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We were seated in the central dining area, with towering vaulted ceilings and iron chandeliers. The tables were dressed in linen with a selection of wine glasses, beautiful china and flatware.

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Let me know in the comments, if you’d like to know which wines were my favorite. We were served five. Although I didn’t get to drink them all, I made sure to taste them and take notes.

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And I loved this wall filled with wine glasses from floor to ceiling. And the library ladder too. Really, everything about the place was impeccable. In fact, I’m still dreaming about the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had…sublime!

All in all, it was the perfect day. From beginning to end.
And I can’t imagine ever forgetting a single moment.

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The Gardens of Blackberry Farm

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To get to Blackberry Farm, you’ll drive down a quiet paved road, dotted with farmhouses and lush green pastures. You’ll pass a small white church that I’m sure has seen many potluck suppers, community gatherings, and country weddings. I believe it’s the drive that prepares your senses for the beauty that awaits. Beckoning you to a part of our country that is, undoubtedly, at it’s finest. Preserved by those who tend it for the pure enjoyment of it’s guests.

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I was fortunate to be able to take a private tour of the gardens, led by Blackberry Farm’s Garden Manager, Jeff Ross. We met in the potting shed where he began sharing their philosophy and efforts in production, preservation, and education of the garden. Mainly, their passionate preservation of organic, heirloom varieties of produce and the history behind them.

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Jeff also has a passion for cooking and holds culinary demonstrations, where he occasionally prepares meals on the wood burning stove or outside in the gardens.
The hand-crank mill is for grinding pencil corn into grits for the chef, Joseph Lenn (James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast 2013), which is done on a per-order basis.

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From there, we proceeded to walk through rows and rows of vegetables, where I learned about new-to-me varieties such as Bronze Fennel and Calico Crowder Peas. And was able to taste herbs and vegetables picked right from the earth. The diversity of their crops was astonishing.

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While we were there, a chef was out in the garden picking radishes for our cocktail reception later that evening…

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And I learned about one of their latest projects, cultivating Black Perigord Truffles. They’ve planted an orchard of hazelnut trees, their roots dipped in truffle spores before planting, to allow guests and chefs to farm their own truffles right on the property.
It takes 7-10 years to produce truffles and in the meantime, they are training Lagotto Romagnolos, aka “Truffle Dogs” to hunt for them at nearby orchards.

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And I was introduced to the state tree of Tennessee, the Tulip Poplar.
Which was absolutely gorgeous!

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From there we hopped on a golf cart to head over to see the menagerie of farm animals, where the East Friesian Sheep captured my heart. We were instantly greeted by their baa, baaa, baaaing. I’m positive they are used to guests and farmstead managers bringing them treats.

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The heritage breed hens were already tucked in for the night in their mobile coops. They are allowed to free range all day, giving the farm, fresh, organic eggs, and in turn helping with the compost for the gardens.

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We then headed back, so I would have time freshen up before our garden cocktail reception and dinner in the barn.

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And I couldn’t image my day getting any better. Truly.

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The Institute of Domestic Technology

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A few days ago, on a whim, I decided to treat myself to a day of culinary adventure at The Institute of Domestic Technology. I’d been wanting to emerse myself in one of their classes, since the first time I read about them in the LA Times.

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The Institute was established in 2011 and their mission is “to reignite the passion of how we make food, the ingredients we source and the farms on which they originate”. They provide classes, workshops, tours and events all centered around the domestic arts.

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Although they hold classes and events at various locations, their headquarters are based out of the Mariposa Creamery on the grounds of the Zane Gray Estate in Altadena, CA, which is where I attended my day of classes.

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Let me just say, I was captivated by the creamery goats. They were very friendly and curious. The one above, named Ice Cream, walked right up to everyone for some attention, or possibly a treat. They were completely adorable!

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There are scattered plantings of edibles on the grounds of the estate. I noticed artichokes, rhubarb, citrus and nasturtiums, just to name a few.

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It’s also home to a large flock of happy chickens wandering about…

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And I loved the vines that climbed wildly up and over the top of the estates main house. It almost gave the feeling of being in another country and I appreciated the fact that the grounds were not neatly manicured like a theme park, but that the landscape seemed to be quite content to meander on it’s own.

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Tomorrow, I’ll take you inside the creamery’s kitchen where our classes were held and show you what I made. To give you a hint, they focused on the staples of a healthy diet (or a well stocked pantry)…bread, jam, mustard, and chevre. And it was all delicious fun!

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