Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Robert St. John: An Unbalanced Force in the Foothills

BLACKBERRY FARM— A portion of Newton’s Law of Motion states, “An object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed, and in a straight line, unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” I am not sure if Blackberry Farm has ever been described as an unbalanced force, but for the past 25 years, that is what it has been for me.

 I am the motion in that scenario. I have never been able to sit still for any significant length of time. I was in constant motion as a child, nothing has changed in my adult years, and that is pretty much the story of my day-to-day work life as well. Even my vacation time is typically non-stop.


I don’t “vacation” well. Or at least by the standards most people vacation. Any time off I have taken over the past 35+ years has revolved around restaurants. Whether it be a trip to New York, a journey overseas, or time away from work at the beach, everything revolves around restaurants and food wherever I am. I guess there may have been a time in my life when I could lie on a sandy beach under the sun, but I don’t ever remember doing it. I mostly walked along the shore or hung out in the water. Motion.


I’m not complaining. I love living life as I do. I welcome constant input and enjoy having too many irons in the fire. It’s who I am. The only places I can tune the world out are in a movie theatre, during a massage, or— on a larger scale— at Blackberry Farm. This place has something that no other place I have visited anywhere in the world has— the ability to make me slow down and rest. No motion.


We first came here sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s. It must have been before I started writing this weekly column because I have no record of the visit in any journals. The grounds and facilities were smaller then and it was quaint and quiet country inn with few cottages and amazing food helmed by Chef John Fleer.


The first time I wrote about this place was during a stayover during the promotional tour of my first book in February of 2003. In those days Kreis and Sandy Beall were running the farm. On subsequent visits their son Sam had taken over and had expanded the property across the road by adding a farmstead operation, a legit gardener, and the finest barn in which you’ll ever eat. Sam died tragically and unexpectedly several years ago. His wife, Mary Celeste, took the reins and hasn’t looked back. Actually, she’s led the largest growth this company has seen by building the sister resort Blackberry Mountain, 10 miles down the road.


Nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, about 40 miles south of Knoxville, Blackberry Farm is the most refined country inn I’ve ever known. The property is just over the mountain range from Pigeon Forge, yet it’s a world away. There is no golf course on the property, nor any of the typical things one would find at an archetypical American resort. At its core, Blackberry Farm is about food. That is why I connected to this place so many years ago.


There are five-star hotels in major metropolitan capitals that “wow” people. Europe’s Michelin-starred restaurants are very impressive. The service at those establishments is notable. Though I have yet to encounter a place — in America or Europe — that “feels” as good as Blackberry Farm. This place combines all those elements in a serene, pastoral setting with world-class views. It’s 100 percent of what I love in a three-day getaway.  


The property runs on the American plan and all meals and lodging are included in the price of the stay. Breakfast is served in the main house (the original inn). Lunch is served there, too, but can also be packed as a picnic and delivered at any place on the property. Dinner is also served in the main house, but several years ago, Sam realized a lifelong vision and built a culinary cathedral that celebrates Southern dining in a unique and refined way in an impressive building called The Barn.


Beall’s barn is unlike any barn on the planet, with a cellar that houses one of the largest private wine collections in the country. Blackberry’s culinary reputation was birthed by Fleer, though it was Sam who took it to world-class heights at The Barn. 


When the barn was built, Beall brought on master gardener John Coykendall to grow vegetables. Coykedall’s knowledge of heirloom seeds and vegetables is extensive. The first time I met him, he asked me where I lived. After I told him, he walked to the back of his gardening shed and started digging around in a few small seed-bin drawers and pulled out some heirloom purple-hull pea seeds from a long-forgotten variety that were grown in Lawrence County, Mississippi, 45-miles west of my hometown. I once read an article about Coykendall’s discovery of a Pearl River County peanut that had been grown down there by a family since the 1850s. I plan to stop by the gardeners shed to see if I can talk him out of a few of those, too.


We typically visit here in February on the date of our wedding anniversary. In the early 2000s we started coming in the summer months after dropping our two children off at summer camp. As beautiful as this place is during the full, green foliage months of the summer, I prefer it during the bare-tree days of winter. There are less people here. The fireplaces serve a practical purpose, and the winter woods are bare and beautiful.


There are few places on the planet where I can truly relax, stop, turn my brain off, and do nothing. Here I sit. I am not a napper, at least not an intentional one. I inadvertently fall asleep at my desk in the middle of the afternoon on occasion but have never been one to plan a nap. I took two naps yesterday.


We celebrated our 30th anniversary this visit. We celebrated our 10th, 20th, and 25th here, too. I’ll go to Blackberry Mountain, soon, kicking off a new tradition and this man in motion will meet entirely new unbalanced force. 



Blackberry Farm Raspberry Almond Crumb Cake 

Makes one 11x 7x 2-inch rectangular cake


½ cup butter, room temperature

1/3 cup white granulated sugar

2/3 cup almond paste, room temperature

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon iodized salt

1 ½ cup *Basic Muffin Mix

Whole Wheat Flour

2 cups fresh or frozen IQF raspberries, thawed, drained

1-1   ½ cups **Streusel

1/3 cup white granulated sugar

½ cup sliced blanched almonds

powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees


  • Cream ¼ cup butter and sugar briefly.  Add almond paste and almond extract.  Mix well.
  • Add eggs, baking powder, and salt.  
  • Add Basic Muffin Mix and mix until all ingredients are incorporated.  Do not over mix.
  • Butter and dust the rectangular pan with whole wheat flour.  Pour batter into the pan and spread evenly.  
  • Sprinkle with raspberries.  Press berries lightly into the batter.  
  • Sprinkle with Streusel.  
  • Sprinkle with sugar (helps almonds to stick)
  • Sprinkle with sliced blanched almonds.  
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pans twice during the bake.  
  • Allow the cake to cool completely.  Invert onto a baking sheet (flip it over, to remove from pan).  Cut on counter with serrated knife into desired portion size.  
  • Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  


Recent Comments

Search Jackson Jambalaya

Subscribe to JJ's Youtube channel


Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS