Few alfresco dinners can compare to those at Blackberry Farm, a pastoral retreat in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains.
I’ve often wondered how simply stepping outside with a cup of coffee in the morning—or a glass of wine in the evening—can shift an everyday routine from the realm of the familiar into the realm of experience. How is it that a mere sandwich can blossom in flavor when I move the few feet from kitchen to terrace? How is it that an ice cream cone is that much more delectable when eaten knee-deep in the ocean? If Murphy has a law, then this happy phenomenon deserves one, too: food + outdoors = food to the 100th degree.
Can this math be explained by a few unexpected rays of sunshine, a soft breeze, the pleasure of rare stolen moments? Or might something infinitely less tangible—memory—be at the root? The Camembert-filled baguette eaten walking the dog through Central Park calls to mind a picnic in Provence overlooking a field of lavender. An espresso sipped on a city bench may conjure the one enjoyed last summer at Ciampini, in Rome’s Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina. That lobster roll happily devoured on a Brooklyn rooftop brings back the salty air of Maine on a hot summer’s day. A blissful memory is triggered, the moment is doubly enjoyed, and then there is that beautiful aftertaste of memory: hope.
Every bite taken en plein air holds within it vacations past, present, and future. They are that amuse-bouche of the seasons, what spring is to summer, a glimpse of travels and pleasures ahead. A pain au chocolat in the park today, a midsummer night’s supper tomorrow.
When I dream of dinners under a starry sky, they are inevitably at Blackberry Farm (meals included; $$$$). We are sitting under a tree, lit by dancing candles that hang from the branches above. The sound of crickets, conversation, and music ebb and flow in the gentle calm that nature bestows. I hear a wine bottle being lifted from its bucket of crushed ice. I smell the food being cooked only a few feet away, so fresh it seems one with the surrounding scents of grass, flowers, fruit trees, and, of course, blackberry bushes. I taste ripe tomatoes crowned with just-picked basil and farm-made sheep’s-milk cheese; earthy skirt steak charred over hickory; a dessert of raspberries and peaches shot through with August sweetness. It is an evening that is timeless. The sky will darken, the stars will emerge, the moon will rise—and still, we linger.
Aleksandra Crapanzano is a screenwriter and James Beard Foundation Award–winning food writer.
The Barn, Blackberry Farm Restaurant
About 25 minutes from Knoxville, Blackberry is like a south of the Mason-Dixon Line edition of a Currier & Ives print: ribbons of white fences, a pond stocked with catfish, and houses constructed from Tennessee fieldstone. Set on 4,200 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry’s 62 rooms—spread throughout the main house, three guesthouses, and 20 cottages—are done in a plush Anglo-American idiom, complete with fringed swags and decorative pillows in fancy fabrics. Regulation rockers are soldiered onto the front lawn for the day’s Big Moment: sundown with tumblers of Hirsch 20-year-old bourbon.