Bob and I took a 4 day trip to Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN last week. It was wonderful! The weather was perfect with crisp air and blue skies. The air smelled of falling leaves with a hint of woodsmoke. The Smokey Mountains were a riot of color and just magnificent. It was a magical trip.
I first learned of Blackberry Farm years ago. I don't even remember when or where but I did live in Knoxville, TN for a year with my aunt while I was in high school and perhaps I heard about it back then. Anyway, I've always wanted to visit as the service was supposed to be excellent, the food out of this world (it was) and just a relaxing place to stay. The place has a very genteel southern feel and it is peaceful and quiet.
Sometime in early spring I was reading my favorite magazine, Southern Living, and they had a best places to stay in the South article. In it was featured Blackberry Farm. I decided that this was the year we would make the trip. I began doing more research about the place and I discovered that their farm/garden to table program is pretty top-notch. I was curious about how the garden was run on property and what is supplemented in the way of produce and supplies.
I chose to take a tour of the garden with the gardening manager. He was very nice and informative. Most people are hearing now about heirloom seeds and organic gardening. I am particularly interested in heirloom seeds and the work of some specific seed companies because I am concerned about companies like Monsanto compromising the integrity of agriculture as a whole. Patents on seeds, seeds then cross-pollinating onto small farms and farmers, who never intentionally "stole" that genetic material being sued by huge, monstrous companies for damages is just outrageous. I buy products that contain GMO crops - but I try to make informed choices, especially when I choose to plant veggie seeds in my own garden. It is tough to find the right balance, but I don't think perfecting avoidance is the goal, I think balance and awareness is key.
Anyway, I discovered that Blackberry Farm, like the Gettles of Baker Creek Seed, Seed Savers Exchange, FedCo and other farmers and seed suppliers is working hard to find and preserve heirloom seeds from extinction. I respect that Blackberry Farm sends out their gardeners on seed finding trips, supports seed trials in their gardens and then outsources that seed to local farmers to help grow produce to support their resort's restaurants.
I was very surprised to learn that Blackberry Farm is attempting to grow truffles - in East Tennessee! How neat is that?! The gardener I spent time with was especially proud of their truffle experiment. Apparently they are on year 6 and should know within a couple years if it worked or not. Several years ago a UT PhD student successfully grew truffles for his dissertation work, researched local places to sell them to and found Blackberry Farm. BF then in turn decided if the student made it work then maybe they could too. The truffle industry in France is about as corrupt as the tulip trade was in the 16th and 17th centuries. It will be interesting to see if Blackberry Farm and their gardeners are successful with this experiment.
I'm happy to financially support via my patronage a company that chooses to fund work that I think is important for our collective good. I had a great time there, felt very relaxed and loved every minute of our fall trip and even better I felt like in some teeny-tiny way I was helping support work that is meaningful and important. Bravo, Blackberry Farm for supporting small, local, organic farms and striving to save heirlooms varieties from extinction.
Ella is participating in American Heritage Girls and is desperate to earn as many badges as she can so her vest is full and pretty like the girls who have been in the group for a while. I really like the program and I appreciate the clarity and consistency of the badge program. She chose a few different projects that she wanted to pursue and we got started with the Cake Decorating badge-work this week.
She needs to dye frosting various colors for part of the badge-work so she selected a cake with pink frosting (I know, you're totally shocked). This particular cake was featured in the book Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson. I'd love to write out the recipe but it's a newish book and I have no idea about the copyright restrictions. As it happens, the cake we made is featured on the cover below. Not that ours looked like that!
This cake required hard to find ingredients like Dutch processed cocoa, so much butter that my heart is still palpitating and I had to actually take a bowl of egg whites and heat them up over a simmering pot of water. Never again, I say.
We made raspberry buttercream frosting to go on top and it took longer to make than a Betty Crocker cake takes to mix and bake. I kid you not. My four year old son got particularly animated when it was time to mush the raspberries through a strainer and get all the juice but none of the pulp out. I am still finding raspberry juice splatters all over the kitchen. He definitely had a great time.
This cake turned out to be amazingly tasty and light and fluffy and the frosting was to-die-for good. I just wish the author's bakery was close to my house so I could buy one of these cakes the next time I get a craving for it rather than having to slave over for hours myself.
Ella is halfway to earning her badge with the making of this cake and I earned a nice glass of wine. This book is great, even for a non-baker like me. If you like making cakes, this is a book to have on your shelf! Even as a non-baker, I'm glad I've got it handy as this cake was literally the best cake I've ever made. Yum.