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 Beverage Manager, Graham Case puts a farmstead spin on classic cocktails, using fresh ingredients from the garden. For our Thanksgiving menu, he created four innovative drinks: the Harvested Apple, Barn Nail, Thyme for a Drink and the Sparkling Brew.
Tell us about your Thanksgiving family traditions: What’s on the menu? Who cooks what?
Well, the first thing is the background entertainment. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be on, followed by pre-game football shows, followed by football and then finishing the day with The Wizard of Oz. The menu will contain turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cheesecake, pumpkin pie and, of course, the best green bean casserole in the world. Growing up, the turkey was always done by dad, and mom did the rest. Now that I am married and have two kids of my own with another due this Thanksgiving, my wife does most of the cooking, while Dad still does the turkey.
What do you look forward to eating all year long? What’s the recipe that always has to be on the table?
Green Bean Casserole. I capitalize the entire name of the dish because it deserves it. I am not sure what my mom does to make it so good but my wife must have paid close attention, because she can now make it better (don’t tell Mom).
How important is tradition to your holiday meal? How have your traditions changed over the years?
Tradition is important for everyone in different ways, I feel. The one thing I have learned the past 5 years I have been married is to expect change. Change is not a bad thing. Do you spend Thanksgiving with my family this year and Christmas with hers, or vice versa? Kids will change ALL your plans, from what time you eat to where you celebrate the holiday to what you wear and even what you end up drinking with the meal. As long as you are all together, though, that is all that matters.
What makes your Thanksgiving meal uniquely your own?
Family. Everything from the setting of the meal to the family members we are with to the prayer — and to who makes the Green Bean Casserole.
Do you have any highlights from past Thanksgivings? Most poignant moment, the biggest kitchen disaster, the substitution that saved the day, etc.?
There was this one year when I was little when my entire family decided to celebrate Thanksgiving at Pawley’s Island in South Carolina. One of my cousins was 3 or 4 years old and did not have a nap that day. Right at dinner time seemed like a great time for a meltdown. She did not want to eat anything, so my Mom came to the rescue. It is amazing how a container of Cool Whip can calm down an upset child.
What was the inspiration behind the cocktails you created for the Williams-Sonoma/Blackberry Farm Thanksgiving menu? Can you tell us about each one?
The Barn Nail: A team member of mine, Logan Griffin, came up with the idea to find a way to take an American spin on the cocktail “Rusty Nail.” In order to keep that smoky, peaty quality that a good Scotch whisky would provide, we used the Corsair Triple Smoke Whiskey, from the Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee. The spiced local honey syrup replaces the Drambuie aspect and provides just the right amount of sweetness that allows everyone to enjoy this cocktail. The bitters, cherry liqueur and orange peel take the cocktail to that next level and scream fall.
Thyme for a Drink: Light, refreshing, herbal and a way to take care of that ultimate question: do I have a mixed drink or a glass of wine? The gin and Riesling combination works really well, and the infusion of thyme into the simple syrup gives the drink a great garden feel.
The Sparkling Brew: Who doesn’t like a good beer or a great glass of Champagne? Well, why not combine them? So, I did. At first I was skeptical if this would even work, but it works very well. The St. Germain helps to balance out the bitter and the brutness. The beer you choose can define you and your cocktail as well, so celebrate and party the way you want.
The Harvested Apple: Apples and bubbles: a fun way to enjoy your holiday, plain and simple.
Why did you choose these recipes? How do they complement the philosophy of Blackberry Farm?
One of the thoughts behind the bar program here at Blackberry Farm is to take classic style cocktails and put a farmstead spin on them. I am blessed to be able to use the bounty that comes from our incredible garden, not to mention the 200+ whiskies and our incredible selection of wine.
What are your recommended spirits for the Thanksgiving meal?
Growing up my Dad always said, “In the spring and summertime you should drink clear spirits, because they keep you cool. In the fall and wintertime you should drink darker spirits, because they keep you warm.” So, I recommend a good bourbon, rye and single malt Scotch whisk(e)y.
What are your tips for creating a signature cocktail?
Don’t hesitate to riff on a classic cocktail. Go the extra mile to use fresh ingredients — hand-squeezed citrus, herbs, etc. — and always taste it before you serve it. If you don’t like it, then don’t serve it.
What are some make-ahead tips for serving cocktails?
The night before, freshly squeeze your citrus into different containers and keep it cold. Infuse your simple syrup with herbs or flavors so it’s ready to add to the cocktail. Make sure you have enough ice and your glasses are clean.