This elegant dinner menu comes from The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm, the latest book from the family-run country retreat in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. Their farm-to-table food features the bounty of homegrown ingredients and artisanal products made on the property, such as the delicious home-cured bacon they shared with us recently. Here, Blackberry Farm’s harvest menu celebrates the rich, earthy flavors of autumn.
Wine Pairing Note
We love pairing wines from southern France with this menu, particularly from the Languedoc region. The lightness and herbaceous notes typically found in these wines can be a fine pairing with pork.
As the leaves begin to fall in the smoky mountain forest, the bare trees reveal a bounty of sustenance. Native shagbark hickories conceal a bevy of edible nuts under a cloak of canary-colored foliage, while the one-of-a-kind black walnut proudly displays its olive hues long after the unique pinnate leaves have fallen to the ground. The thick shells of both nuts make them good keepers through the winter and provided vital nutrients for our ancestors at a time when other food was scarce.
We forage for hickories and black walnuts every fall and they are used in a variety of savory and sweet ways in our kitchens, as they are in this menu. If you cannot easily forage black walnuts and hickories yourself, check out localharvest.org for a source near you. Both nuts are used here in a dinner perfect for a cool autumn Sunday of long, slow cooking and leisurely eating, when a fire outside for cooking doesn’t preclude also having one inside to warm your toes.
Of the mysterious little fruits that grow as abundantly here in East Tennessee as they must have in pre-Colonial Virginia, Captain John Smith reportedly wrote, “If it not be ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awire with much torment. But when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot.” In fact, when the persimmons that grow here are fully dead ripe, completely squishy to the touch, and at a state at which nearly any other fruit would be rotten, their pulp can only be described as liquid silk and their taste as like rare, nature made jam. There is only about a scant tablespoon of pulp in the typical wild persimmon. Go to localharvest.org to find out where to get frozen wild persimmon pulp near you, or come visit us in November and we will send you home with as many as you would like!
3 to 4 fully ripe wild persimmons (or 3 tablespoons store-bought persimmon pulp)
4 tablespoons semillon verjus or other mild white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
6 cups loosely packed very small winter greens, such as mustard and collards, or sturdy salad greens, such as mizuna and frisee
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large Arkansas Black or Winesap apple, or Asian pear, peeled, cored and cut into very thin wedges or small cubes
6 tablespoons shelled Hickory nuts or walnuts
Small wedge of Singing Brook, Ossau-Iraty or Pecorino Toscano cheese, for shaving
To extract the persimmon pulp for the dressing, rub the fruit over the bottom of a medium-mesh sieve set over a bowl and allow the pulp to drop into the bowl. You should have about 3 tablespoons pulp.
In a small bowl, whisk together the pulp, verjus, and shallot. Set aside until needed. The dressing will thicken as it sits.
Place the greens in a large bowl, drizzle them with the oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the salt and toss well. Divide the greens among serving plates. Top with the apple and nuts.
Spoon the persimmon dressing over the salads. Use a vegetable peeler to shave a few paper-thin curls of cheese over the top and serve at once. Serves 6 to 8.
Red-Eye Brined Smoked Pork Loin
A coffee-based brine inspired by red-eye gravy, along with slow and steady smoking, transform ordinary pork loin into a delicacy with a pale pink hue and a sweet and smoky flavor that is as heavenly cold as it is warm. Thinly slice leftovers and serve on a sandwich with Smoky Thousand Island Dressing.
Start this recipe a day before you want to serve it; the meat needs time to bask in the brine. There are two important secrets to success here. First, begin with a smaller fire-using fewer coals-than if you were preparing a grill for direct heat. You need to wait for the fire to die down quite a bit and if the initial fire is too big, you’ll be waiting all day. The second trick is to use dry chips; wet chips will put out the fire too quickly and the smoke will dissipate.
3 cups brewed coffee
1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1 cup (7.7 ounces) kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) lightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sorghum, cane syrup or honey
1 large jalapeno pepper, sliced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons chili powder
4 cups ice water
1 3 1/2-pound boneless pork loin with a 1/2-inch cap of fat
In a large saucepan, bring the coffee, vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, smoked paprika, brown sugar, sorghum, jalapeno, cumin, and chili powder to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and brown sugar. Add the ice water and stir to melt the ice. The brine must be at room temperature or colder before adding the meat; place the brine in the refrigerator to cool more quickly if desired.
Place the meat in a container large enough to hold both it and the brine. Pour the brine over the meat. The meat should be submerged, so weigh it down with a small plate if necessary. If it is not completely submerged, lay plastic wrap directly against the surface of the meat and rotate the meat once or twice during brining. Cover and refrigerate 8 to 10 hours or overnight. Remove the meat and discard the brine. Let the meat return to room temperature. This can take a couple of hours, depending on the temperature of the room, so plan accordingly.
Following manufacturer’s instructions and using natural wood lump charcoal, start a small fire in a charcoal grill with a lid. When the coals are covered with gray ash, rake the coals to one side of the grill, creating a cooler zone on the other side to use for indirect cooking. Let the grill cool to 250°F. Scatter 4 cups of dry hickory chips over the coals. Place the cover on the grill until the chips begin to smoke. Adjust the vents on the bottom of the grill and in the lid so that there is sufficient airflow to keep the chips smoldering, but not so much that the chips ignite or flare. Serves 6.
This signature recipe from Chef Joseph Lenn is a good reminder that peanuts are actually legumes, a fact that is easy to forget since the role they play in our diets typically is more like that of nuts. The slow, low cooking renders a sweet and rich side dish with a subtle and surprising peanut finish that is fabulous with the barbecued chicken.
1 ham hock
4 cups (1 1/2 pounds) blanched unsalted peanuts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups honey
4 teaspoons malt vinegar
Place the ham hock in large saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat until the meat is tender, the stock is flavorful, and the meat is falling off the bones, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Drain the hock, reserving 6 cups of the cooking liquid. Pull the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Place the meat in a large bowl and add the peanuts.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the mustard seeds, dry mustards, ginger, and pepper and cook for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to bloom. Scrape the mixture into the bowl with the meat and peanuts. Stir in the honey and the reserved cooking liquid from the meat.
Transfer to a 9 x 13-inch baking dish or other large casserole, cover tightly, and bake, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours. Uncover and return to the oven. Bake until the sauce reduces and thickens and the peanuts are tender, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven, stir in the vinegar, and let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature. The sauce will continue to thicken as it sits. If not serving immediately, cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Reheat gently for serving. Serves 6.
Seckel Pears with Black Walnuts Baked in Pastry with Sheep’s Milk Caramel
The best place to procure sheep’s milk is probably your farmer’s market. The extra work it takes to get the milk is more than worth it, for sheep’s milk adds incomparable and welcome tang to a sauce that can otherwise be very sweet. You can use goat’s milk, often available at high-end grocery stores, for a different but still discernible tang. Or use whole cow’s milk for a more straightforward caramel; it won’t have the tang, but it will still be exquisitely rich.
For the pastry:
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup (5 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled, plus more softened butter for the muffin tin
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water
For the caramel:
2 cups (14 ounces) natural cane sugar
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 cup whole sheep’s, goat’s or cow’s milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the pears:
6 firm but ripe Seckel pears, or other small pears, such as Forelle
2 cups (14 ounces) natural cane sugar
1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise in half
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) shelled black walnuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) lightly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
To prepare the pastry, in the work bowl of an electric stand mixer or other large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the honey and chilled butter and beat with the paddle attachment until the mixture is the texture of coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of the ice water over the flour mixture and mix only until the dough comes together. If the mixture is too dry, sprinkle in more water 1 tablespoon at a time. Pour the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and gather into a disk. Wrap well in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
On a lightly floured surface, use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a round that is between 1/16 and 1/8 inch thick. Cut out six 6-inch rounds. Stack the rounds on a baking sheet between layers of wax or parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed.
To prepare the caramel, have ready a small bowl of ice water and a clean pastry brush. Pour 1/2 cup water into a large, deep, heavy saucepan. Add the cane sugar and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring with a long handled wooden spoon only until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture cook without stirring, but gently swirl the pan from time to time so that the sugar will caramelize evenly. As needed, dip the brush into the ice water and carefully brush away any splatters from the side of the pan to prevent the sugar from crystallizing and spoiling the caramel. When the caramel is one shade lighter than cola, remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the cream and milk. The caramel will bubble vigorously at first. Stir until the mixture is smooth and well blended and then stir in the vanilla. Pour the caramel into a clean heat-proof glass or metal bowl to cool to room temperature.
To prepare the pears, peel them, then use a melon baller or corer to core them from the bottom, stopping about 3/4 inch from the top.
Choose a saucepan large enough to hold the pears upright without crowding, and cut a piece of parchment paper to fit perfectly inside the pan. Cut a circle about the size of a quarter out of the center of this circle. Set aside. Add the cane sugar and 4 cups water to the pan and stir to moisten. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them and the bean pod to the pan. With a vegetable peeler or small knife, cut two 1/2-inch-wide strips of zest from the lemon, cutting top to bottom, and add them to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Place the pears in the syrup, reduce the heat to low, and place the parchment circle flush against the surface of the liquid. Simmer until the pears are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain the pears and arrange them upright on a plate to cool to room temperature.
While the pears are simmering, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Pour the nuts onto a plate to cool to room temperature and then finely grind them in a spice grinder or small food processor. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.
Place the butter and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Melt the butter and let cook, gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the butter cool to room temperature. Discard the cinnamon stick. Stir in the brown sugar, flour, salt, and ground walnuts. Gently spoon the walnut mixture into the pears.
Butter 6 cups of a standard muffin tin (if using a 12-cup tin, stagger them rather than using all the cups on a single side). Remove the rounds of pastry from the refrigerator and gently press a round into each buttered cup, taking care to not tear the pastry (let the pastry stand at room temperature 5 to 10 minutes if it is steaming). Place one filled pear in each cup. Gently pull up the pastry around the pears.
Bake until the pastry is browned and firm and the bottoms are firm and lightly browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing. Serve warm accompanied by the sheep’s-milk caramel passed at the table. Serves 6.