In the shadow of Tennessee’s great Smoky Mountains, blackberry bushes ramble and flourish with hardy determination, inspiring a namesake farm that, nurtured by a family’s devotion, has blossomed into a preeminent retreat. Amidst its cultivated plots and acres of forest, guests find a hospitable escape where rural beauty meets refinement and nature’s bounty receives its due.
Following September’s equinox, October afternoons are suffused with a slant of light more gentle in its illumination, tinting skies a deeper azure and foliage a rich, mature green that gradually gives way to dramatic shades of rust and gold. At Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, it is a time when the fields’ autumnal offerings are supplemented by the land’s generosity.
“There’s a collision between summer and fall, and I think everyone in the South loves the change,” says garden manager Jeff Ross. “The days are shorter, and the sun is not quite as intense. We can enjoy all of this great food—radishes, turnips, kale, carrots, peas, spinach, and collards. I call it a second spring.” Planted crops thrive on three acres, but the inn’s resources cover more varied terrain. “Foothills cuisine,” a name adopted for the luxury resort’s cookery, is a tribute to the region’s heritage and generations of skill in developing distinctive recipes. “I say we have a 4,200-acre garden—the size of the property—because the kitchen staff likes to use foraged and wild items, as well,” Jeff explains.
Experts lead guests on expeditions into the woods to find often-overlooked delights. Several tasty varieties of mushrooms grow naturally here, and the forest also yields greens, black walnuts, hickory nuts, persimmons, onions, garlic, and nettle—all once gathered by the indigenous Cherokee Indians. Other delicacies include elderberries for syrups and wines and lemony staghorn sumac to enhance sauces and seasonings.
A carefully chosen team brings the delectable tastes of the Smoky Mountains to the table—a chef, master gardener, baker, cheese maker, forager, butcher, jam maker, chocolatier, restaurant manager, and sommelier work together to provide a homegrown culinary experience.
Sam Beall, Blackberry’s proprietor and a trained chef, envisioned a restored barn as a landmark restaurant for the upscale resort. He discovered a well-preserved eighteenth-century Amish structure in Pennsylvania and had it dismantled and reassembled in Tennessee in 2007. It is here that evening meals are served, surrounded by finely crafted plank walls beneath a soaring roofline. The rustic elegance of chandelier light, as well as golden flames from a stone fireplace, creates a suitable setting for enjoying sumptuous local bounty.
Sam’s earliest recollections of the homestead inspire him to share an appreciation for life on this working farm. No matter the season, guests are encouraged to build lasting memories in a place where the time line for sowing and reaping is a matter of taking cues from the earth. Says Sam, “Our ‘to-do’ list is controlled almost exclusively by Mother Nature, and she does not consult a calendar.”
Text Cara D. Clark
Photography Stephanie Welbourne Steele
To learn more about Blackberry Farms, see “Flavors of the Foothills” on page 39 of the October 2014 issue of Victoria magazine.