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F eature Story

Old Time Southern Culinary Tour Part of Belle Meade's Charm

By Linda Brewer

B eing a Southern state, Tennessee has had her fair share of plantations, most of which produced tobacco as their main cash crop. But did you know that here in Nashville, we also had a highly successful horse plantation? What started as a 250 acre farm, bought by John Harding in 1806, began with little more than a gristmill and sawmill. The farm continued to thrive and when thoroughbred horse-racing moved from Virginia to the Carolinas, Harding added thoroughbred services to his plantation repertoire. In time, what was now known as Belle Meade plantation, became Tennessee’s most successful thoroughbred breeder and distributor.

* quote Today, Belle Meade Plantation lives on in the spirit of General Jackson...

After the Civil War, Harding’s daughter Selene married General William Hicks Jackson. Living at the mansion with his wife, Jackson continued running the plantation when Harding died, adding to the estate a flair for entertaining that brought thousands of people to the yearling sales. Belle Meade Plantation (meaning Beautiful Meadow) became known for its grace, beauty and hospitality. Over the years, the reputation of the thoroughbred farm attracted impressive guests including President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland, Robert Todd Lincoln, General U.S. Grant, General Sherman, and Adlai Stevenson. Guests were treated with good music, old fashioned barbeques, and homemade wine.

Today, Belle Meade Plantation lives on in the spirit of General Jackson, offering true Southern hospitality along with tours of the mansion and grounds. Walking into the Mansion at Belle Meade feels much as it would have when an honored guest arrived via horse-drawn carriage. When you walk in the front door of the mansion the window into the past becomes complete. Add to that the aroma of traditional Southern cooking wafting past and you feel like you’ve arrived for dinner with the family in the 1800s.

Not only can any individual, family or group enter the home and take an amazing trip to the elegant past, but the plantation also offers an engaging and quite immersible Culinary Tour for tour groups. It’s an experience that will delight the senses of food lovers, complete with a wine tasting at the Belle Meade Plantation Winery. The Culinary Tour offers a further look into the world of the old time Southern Table. It’s an interactive experience that lets you play a part from the past as you not only step into the original plantation kitchen, but take part in a Southern cooking demonstration. The demo is filled with tips, tricks and tales about all things Southern, from Tennessee-raised Southern lady, Sheree Kelley, The Winery at Belle Meade Plantation Manager. Kelley wants her Culinary Tour groups to go home with “A true sense of the hospitality our guests have been experiencing for over 200 years.”

The Culinary Tour was the vision of Mark James, Director of Group Sales and Food Services, who said in his flowing Southern drawl, “I wanted visitors to have a deeper Southern experience when visiting Belle Meade. It is one thing to visit a Southern Plantation home, but it is a completely different experience to go into the original plantation kitchen and participate in and observe cooking demonstrations centered around Southern foods! Is there a better place to do that than in a plantation kitchen? Between the guided tour of the Mansion, the cooking demonstration in the original kitchen, and the wine tasting in the Winery, this tour is one of the best bargains, and most immersing historical experiences in Nashville. And to be able to cap it off with a lunch in our 1800’s Carriage House? Perfection.”

“I am so proud of this tour!” says James. “If you’ve toured the Mansion before, then this tour offers you a whole new perspective on Belle Meade. And if you haven’t been here before, there is no better way to experience this plantation home than through our Southern Culinary Tour.”

“This tour has a big audience with corporate and convention visitors,” says James. “They love it because they get to see an entirely different perspective of Nashville and yet still be close to the activity of downtown. This tour is also popular with local companies who want to do an office Christmas party, a team-building activity, or to entertain out-of-town business associates. It's also a perfect activity for garden and book clubs. You’ve got a tour, you’re sampling food, you’ve got wine, and you’ve got unmatched history and atmosphere.” There is a minimum of 15 for the tour without lunch. If you add lunch, the minimum is 20. The tour is offered Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Added in recent years is The Winery at Belle Meade Plantation which showcases wines similar to those offered to guests by the original Plantation hosts. Featuring delicious choices like Blackberry Wine, Iroquois Red Cabernet, Red Muscadine and Racing Silk Red, the selection is a vivid showcase for wines made in the South.

For Local Table readers, The Southern Culinary Tour is dropping the minimum required for the tour alone (without lunch) from 15 guests, to 10 guests. Just tell them you saw it in Local Table when you call the Group Sales office at 615-356-0501 ext. 135.

Mansion at Belle Meade / 5025 Harding Pike / Nashville, TN. 37205 / Mark James / grouptours@bellemeadeplantation.com / 615-921-1914 or 615-356-0501 ext. 135

Southern Biscuits

(Yields nine 2-inch biscuits or 18 tea-size biscuits)

2 cups self-rising flour
¼ cup shortening
⅔ to ¾ cup whole milk
2 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. honey

Directions for Biscuits:
(1) Preheat oven to 450°.
(2) Measure and sift 2 cups of self-rising flour into a mixing bowl. Add in ¼ cup of shortening using pastry blender until the particles of shortening are the size of grains of rice. While slowly adding the milk, stir with a large spoon until the flour shortening mixture is thoroughly moistened. Do not over-mix.
(3) Turn the dough from the bowl onto floured pastry mat. Using as few strokes as possible, with floured rolling pin roll out the dough to a uniform thickness of ½ inch.
(4) Cut the biscuits using a floured cutter and transfer to a shallow baking pan. Arrange the biscuits on the pan so that each biscuit is slightly touching the one next to it. Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake at 450° for 10 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned.
(5) Remove the biscuits from the oven and brush with the melted honey butter.

Directions for Honey Butter:
Melt 2 tbsp. butter in microwave and add 2 tbsp. honey. Stir well.

Serve biscuits with Belle Meade Honey Pecan Jelly or Belle Meade Blackberry Wine Jam.

From the kitchen of Sheree Kelley © 2011