There’s more to a memorable Thanksgiving feast than the food on the table. It’s about being together, gathering friends and family, and sharing in a beautiful occasion that feels warm, inviting and personal.
At Blackberry Farm, every day is a celebration, whether it’s Thanksgiving day or a weeknight family dinner. The unique, high country style was crafted by the resort’s founder Kreis Beall, an entertaining expert with an eye for special details (in Blackberry Farm’s early days, guests dined off of her own wedding china).
To learn how to bring Blackberry Farm’s Southern hospitality atmosphere home, we asked Kreis all about her design inspiration and best entertaining tips, as well as simple ways to add elegance to everyday meals.
My mom. I grew up in a beautiful home, and she always entertained beautifully. When I got married, Blackberry Farm was our home — we had guests that stayed there, but it always ran as close as possible to how my mother did it.
Her style was beautiful; she was so gorgeous. My mother was a New York runway model, and how everything looked was very important to her. Her food was important, too, and everything she cooked was beautiful. Everything in my life has always been very visual.
Are there any family entertaining/décor traditions at Blackberry Farm?
It’s just like entertaining at home. Everyone’s welcome. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, we try to eat and entertain outside and have kids playing and everyone involved. The children set the table and help clean up, or they make the place cards. They know who’s coming, and they’re excited when their cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents come for dinner. It’s just fun.
What is your entertaining philosophy?
My entertaining philosophy is everyday. How you entertain your guests, you really live it every day. Do ahead, plan ahead — whether you’re going to cook together or have everything ready when your guests get there. The main thing is to set the atmosphere so that it’s not hectic or rushed and it’s fun for everybody. Do everything ahead that you can.
Any tips for pulling it off?
Planning. Failing to plan is planning to fail. My tips are to set the table two days in advance so you’re not rushed. Flowers actually look better on the third day. That way, you can think about it and change things around, and all of the sudden you’re really looking forwad to your own party. You’re a guest. Select your wine, set the bar up. Know what you’re going to put your hors d’oeuvres in. Label your bowls with stickies. I like to label platters for my pork roast, potatoes, nuts, pimento cheese, or whatever it is. Then I don’t have to think or to look for things and find them. That’s fun. You get excited about it.
Do you have any tried-and-true entertaining tips that you could pass on to home cooks?
I like to use candles for lunch and for dinner. It just makes the occasion more special. In 2000, when one of my sons went to business school in Copenhagen, everywhere we went at lunch there were candles burning. I just really enjoyed it, so I’ve been doing that for 14 years and I love it.
Use your silver and your pretty napkins. Flowers and fruit — whatever’s in season — I go out and pick it. I’m known for roses because that’s my passion. I also love to use lots of small vases up and down the table. It doesn’t have to be a centerpiece — try teacups, julep cups, anything.
Describe the Blackberry Farm table at Thanksgiving. Do you have any heirloom pieces that you bring out for the holidays?
For the holiday, it’s just about the same as every other time I entertain. Even at night, it’s pretty much the same thing. I love to collect antique silver and china and linens, so I always use those. It’s mixing antiques with new things. It’s comfortable. I think of my grandmother; I knew when I went to her house what it was going to look like, and I looked forward to that. I think my grandchildren do the same. Sometimes there is comfort in traditions and redundancy, whether it’s for your grandchildren or children.
What’s the best piece of entertaining or décor advice you’ve ever received?
Be fun! Have fun. That’s the most important thing. If you’re having guests over and you don’t have enough time, do something really simple so you can have fun. The most important thing is getting together; great cheeseburgers will please almost anyone. The most important thing is the atmosphere.
How does the concept of Southern hospitality play in to your entertaining style?
Abundance. I go back to my grandmother and she, just like my mother, had beautiful food. There was always a lot of it, which was part of her southern hospitality: she was gracious in her amount of love and food. It’s just very welcoming whenever you see a lot of pretty food. It’s comforting.
Where do you get your inspiration?
My initial inspirations were my mother and grandmother. I get my inspirations visually, whether it’s going to a fresh market of outdoor produce, from magazines, from Pinterest — it’s just seeing something. If I see something beautiful, I may not even cook that, but it inspires me to do something myself. Then I figure it out. The end product never ends up the same as the inspiration. I do that with food and in my home.
What are some of the most memorable meals that Blackberry Farm has hosted?
My major memorable meal that I’ll never forget was when Molly Chappellet, a vintner known for her entertaining, hosted an event in our outdoor pavilion. She taught a class on entertaining arrangements, and then we had an outdoor feast by the swimming pool with 50 people. I think everyone stayed for 4 hours; it was such a beautiful fall day. The most memorable things happen outside.
Recently we had a very magical event outside where all the cooking was done over fires. We barbecued lamb, chicken, pork and vegetables on a beautiful night under the stars. That’s something where you really are in the moment. It’s about more than the food; it’s about the process. It’s very special.
What are some easy ways that home cooks can add elegance to their everyday meals?
Always set the table early, once again. Do it everyday. Practice — the better you are; the more you enjoy it, so don’t just do it for special occasions. Always set your table, even for your family early in the day. Anything just so you don’t have to do everything at one time. Use your pretty things just at home just for yourself — your china, your crystal. Don’t use paper napkins. I love to use beautiful dishtowels as napkins and set fun tables. If your family is grown up, put beautiful trays on your counter. Everyday when I go home, my tray is set for dinner and I can take it wherever is pretty that evening, whether it’s the porch or dining room or there’s a good movie on TV. I use votives because they can go anywhere. Treat yourself like a guest.
What will your family be having for dinner tonight?
I’m not eating with my family tonight, but the next thing I’m doing with them is Sunday. I’m making baked chicken stuffed with ricotta and zucchini; you shred the zucchini and mix with the ricotta and stuff it under the skin. It’s the cutest baked chicken. Also, roasted okra, sliced tomatoes and black-eyed peas.
I have a great dinner party on Friday night for some New Yorkers, so I wanted to have a really Southern meal. We’re having buttermilk biscuits and skillet cornbread; a succotash of corn, lima beans, peppers, tomatoes; salad; fresh green beans; and braised collard greens. One of our friends is pescatarian so we’re having barbecued shrimp, along with smoked chicken and pork shoulder. Then a peach crumble and sorghum whipped cream. It’s the spread my grandmother would do — we thought that would be fun.
And how will you set the table?
The same way: antique white linens, big napkins, flowers and china. And we’re not going to eat on the porch because that table doesn’t hold 10, but if we were on the porch I would use more colorful placemats in napkins.
We used to call this refined and rugged. It is a simple country meal done just about how my grandmother would do it.