This year we partnered with Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm to create a Thanksgiving menu inspired by new recipes and old rituals. The farm’s chefs and artisans brought inventive dishes to the table, each with a personal twist. We talked to each of them about their favorite Thanksgiving traditions, as well as the inspiration behind their dishes — read on to hear their stories.
As Blackberry Farm’s Pastry Supervisor, Liz Williams is responsible for creating the resort’s world-class desserts, incorporating fresh, homegrown ingredients from the farm and garden. For our Thanksgiving menu, she created two beautiful, innovative desserts: a sweet potato cheesecake with marshmallow meringue and a deconstructed apple crisp with buttermilk ice cream.
Tell us about your Thanksgiving family traditions: What’s on the menu? Who cooks what?
My family used to do a very traditional Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. My grandma would arrive at the crack of dawn with three or four pies, to cook the turkey and make sure everything was ready in time. My grandma had a farm, so the sweet potatoes we used to eat were hers.
What do you look forward to eating all year long? What’s the recipe that always has to be on the table?
I love my grandma’s pumpkin pie — she does it from memory and brings it every year.
How important is tradition to your holiday meal? How have your traditions changed over the years?
Tradition isn’t really that important anymore; my siblings and I all live in different states from our parents. It’s just very exciting when any of us can make it home for the holidays.
Do you have any highlights from past Thanksgivings? Most poignant moment, the biggest kitchen disaster, the substitution that saved the day, etc.?
One year my little brother decided to “baste” the turkey and shattered the glass baster on the counter — it landed in all the food. We had leftovers on Thanksgiving.
What was the inspiration behind the desserts you created for the Williams-Sonoma/Blackberry Farm Thanksgiving menu? How do they complement the philosophy of BBF?
Eating at Blackberry during the holidays is like going to your second home. I wanted to base the desserts on what you might find on your grandma’s kitchen table.
Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Marshmallow Meringue: It’s very rich and creamy. I wanted to do a sweet potato dessert because we have it around that time of year and anybody can get it. The sorghum marshmallow topping gives it a Southern twist, but the sweet potato is something anybody can use.
Deconstructed Apple Crisp with Buttermilk Ice Cream: When I heard we were using a buttermilk ice cream, I instantly thought of a dessert our last pastry chef developed, with vanilla bean soft serve. It’s that same filling, but with soft serve, and I thought it would be tasty with buttermilk ice cream. I really, really loved that dessert – everybody used to love it. We crumble up the cookies and serve them over the warm filling with ice cream on top.
Any tips for making the desserts at home?
For the cheesecake, make sure it cools really well before you unmold it. Use a hot knife around the edge.
What’s the secret to making fluffy meringue?
The sugar must be completely dissolved in the egg whites before you start whipping it cold.
Do you have any time-saving/make-ahead tips?
You can make your pie dough ahead of time and freeze it. Cheesecakes also freeze very well.
Many people are used to the traditional pumpkin or pecan pie. What is your advice for cooks who want to try something new, but still want to use traditional ingredients?
I would base my new recipe off of an old traditional one — maybe add a spice or liqueur for something fun.
Why is it worth it to make your own Thanksgiving dessert?
There is a great sense of pride when people you love enjoy something you have made.