If there is any one thing the mountains in this region will always be known for, it is remembering our roots. Paying homage to those that came before us and helped carve out the space we currently inhabit is an integral part of life here, but we have not forgotten to move forward and build new meaning on top of the old. Asheville is an excellent example of this, and so is Blackberry Farm, a working farm and resort nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee.
The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm is more than just a cookbook, it is a testament to the history of food in this area. While Blackberry Farm is now a luxury resort, it is also still a completely functioning farm. All of the food from the butter to the meat is cultivated on the grounds of the farm. Granted, the farm-to-table food they boast is fancier than the more rustic traditional food of the mountains (for example, I can’t imagine many mountaineers making “Seckel pears with black walnuts baked in pastry with sheep’s milk caramel” around a campfire; can you?). Yet, the people who work this farm understand that the cuisine is an “amalgam of these two culinary worlds—a blend of old and new, rural and urban, rustic and refined”. It is that self-awareness that makes this book stand out from others.
However, this cookbook is so much more than just a bunch of recipes designed to make your mouth water; it is designed to give you an intimate glimpse into how the ages-old farming practices still run the lives of those on this farm and how that day-to-day life influences the food and the community. In addition to the actual recipes, the book contains information on the various seasons and stages the farm goes through that dictate what food is being produced and made as well as information on four critical artisanal skills: cheese making, gardening, preserving, and the combination of butchery and charcuterie.
For instance, there is a section on why beans are so important to traditional foothills food. As one of the “three sisters” foods, beans are incredibly important. From bunch beans that can take the colder weather to the garden varieties, there were always plenty of beans to go around that could be planted in either the richer fields or the rockier ones. In addition, beans can be dried, stored, or eaten fresh, making it easy to store them for the longer winter months. In addition, with three groups of beans that could be planted and harvested—bunch beans, garden beans, and soup beans—there was always a steady supply of beans during the growing season to make storing even easier.
The sections describing the artisanal crafts are also fantastic, especially the one on preserving food. Preserving is almost more magic than food science, as it allows for the keeping of summer fruits and vegetables all through till next summer. Here, they describe the equipment and basic process for preserving, canning, and pickling before jumping into several key foods that get preserved. Generally, ramps, onions, green tomatoes, okra, and cucumbers made up the majority of the vegetables pickled. Strawberries, blackberries, and muscadines found themselves being made into all manners of jams, jellies, and marmalades.
At the end of the day, The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm is more than a cookbook; it is a journey. While this particular farm and practices are outside of the Western North Carolina region, there isn’t a lot that separates Western North Carolina from Eastern Tennessee. Additionally, a lot of the recipes featured in this book either have simpler versions in the other cookbooks we looked at or are just overlapping recipes (like deviled eggs and apple butter). The amount of work put into creating links between the people, land, history, and food is astounding and exactly the type of connectivity that this project is working towards making visible.
Beall, Sam, and Marah Stets. The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm: Recipes and Wisdom from our Artisans, Chefs, and Smoky Mountain Ancestors. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2012.