Okay – before I start – I have to say – JOIN THE SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE… good?

I made it through the snow and ice in Arctic temperatures to Walland, Tennessee. My trip to Blackberry Farm might be one of the most extraordinary trips I have ever taken – anywhere. I know that is saying a lot BUT the warm, gracious hospitality that you experience from the time you drive in the gate is exquisite. Add to Blackberry the wit, education and pure joy of the Southern Foodways Alliance and you have – hands down – one of the best events in the world.

I could fill this entire page but have to just highlight a few morsels of the weekend:

Blackberry Farm – I had the luxury of sitting next to Sam and Mary Celeste Beall on Thursday night and was struck by their deep knowledge of this farm and understanding of the ultimate Farm-to-Table experience.

The Blackberry Farm Cookbook – on the inside flap – says it best: “In the foothills, you don’t eat to eat, you eat to talk, to remember, and to imagine what you will eat tomorrow.” The book is lush with photographs of the estate, the kitchens, the gardens and luscious Farm-to-Table recipes.

While talking about the upcoming weekend, Sam and I spoke about the biscuit making classes (see below) and he asked me, “Butter or Lard?” This was just about the best question I have ever been asked over a five-course dinner – with wine pairings. You just have to love a man who understands the true essence of good bread. I laughed and replied, “Butter.”

Friday morning, the Blackberry Farm Chef Team of Josh Feathers, Adam Cooke, and Joseph Lenn offered a Cast Iron Skillet demonstration – which I unfortunately missed – but came home with the following recipe by Chef Josh Feathers which I am going to make and then bake in my cast-iron:

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes **Courtesy of Taste of the South notepad so generously supplied for all our cooking and tasting notes!

3 pounds red bliss potatoes 6 ounces butter 10 ounces buttermilk half & half – as needed Kosher salt – to taste 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Simmer potatoes until tender. Strain and dry in the 300-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Run potatoes through a food mill with a medium die to mash. Stir in remaining, heated ingredients. Taste for seasoning.

Note: Those of you who are new to cast iron, NEVER wash your pan with soapy water. Clean your skillet first with a handful of kosher salt then rinse in warm to hot water and dry thoroughly. I learned this from Angie Mosier while working on Alabama Studio Style.

Saturday morning was the aforementioned biscuit making classes which featured a lard-based recipe. Those of you who have been here for awhile know that I pride myself as a world-class biscuit maker (in fact, I got my nickname “Alabama” by making biscuits – Alabama Bread in Venezuela) and my favorite recipe can be found in Alabama Stitch Book; however, I am definitely going to try this lard recipe very soon.

Try it yourself and let me know what you think:

Buttermilk Biscuits

**Courtesy of Taste of the South notepad so generously supplied for all our cooking and tasting notes!

In a large bowl, combine:

1 1/4 pounds White Lily flour
1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cut in until mixture is crumbly:

2 ounces shortening
2 ounces lard

Make a well in the center and pour in:

2 cups buttermilk

Gently mix buttermilk in, until mixture is loose and bubbly. Pour out onto very well floured table and pat into a square, about 1 – 1 1/2” thick. Spread down the center:

4 ounces very soft butter

Fold over one-third of dough on each side and pat gently. Fold over one-third of top and bottom and pat dough into a square, about 1 – 1 1/2″ thick. Cut with well-floured ring mold about 2” in diameter. Place on papered sheet pan. Brush tops with melted butter and bake at 375F for 8 minutes, turn and continue baking until tops are very well browned and biscuit is firm. Brush with butter after removing from oven.

I am going to start keeping buttermilk in my refrigerator.

I opted out of cooking and went straight for the beer tasting with Lazy Magnolia from Mississippi. I LOVE their Indian Summer brew – served, of course, in Reidl stemware. Delicious. Planning my visit to Mississippi now.

There were too many highlights of the weekend to mention all but a great treat was listening to Danny Meyers speak on Friday evening. Danny was named the unelected emperor of New York City over the weekend by the WSJ. I had never read his book Setting the Table but devoured it last night and have added it to my reading list of business books this morning. Hospitality – in every sense of the word – is truly at the core of every exceptional business.

Saturday night was featured the Gala Dinner to Benefit the Southern Foodways Alliance and the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans and Chefs – which already features a stellar array of genius.  The dinner featured guest chefs:  Edward Lee, Joe Truex, Ashley Christensen, John Shields and Karen Urie Shields along with wines from Turley Cellars.

Ashley Christensen made a Rabbit Sausage with collards which might be one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.

This year’s inductee to the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans and Chefs was Julian (and Sissy) Van Winkle. As you can imagine, Old Rip Van Winkle flowed.

I could go on and on… and on…but the best thing to do is to join the Southern Foodways Alliance today.

Thanks again to John T. Edge, Angie Mosier, all the SFA team, everyone at Blackberry Farm and, especially, Rathead Riley. Looking forward to seeing you all again very, very soon!


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