Sunflower at Persimmon Creek

After the maelstrom of controversy my last post created about Julia/Julie and food writing, I think perhaps this week I need to go with soft, warm, and fuzzy. Something along the lines of sunflowers, baby lambs, and harvesting mint from a crystal clear burbling mountain stream.


I still stand by what I wrote. It certainly stirred the proverbial pot. I was quoted, well really, I was misquoted, but (mis)quoted alongside Laura Shapiro and Judith Jones. If my grapes were as sour as some of those folks were suggesting over on I would be able to talk my mouth would be so puckered. It was a pretty enlightening experience. But, let’s move forward.


I was recently a guest chef at Persimmon Creek Winery in North Georgia owned by Sonny and Mary Ann Hardman. The setting is just beautiful. It was my sister’s birthday so she and my mother joined me for the weekend. They’ve recently built some beautiful cottages so one can stay on the property. We had a lovely time in the Sassafras cottage. To be clear, this was no rustic mountain cabin. The cottages are beautiful. The attention to detail was impressive. Sub zero fridge, gas stove, wine cooler (of course). The bathrooms are over the top, spa-like – the kind that makes you want to linger in the tub all day….. but I digress.


When we arrived late afternoon on Friday, Mary Ann took us around the farm and vineyard. There are huge patches of sunflowers, heirloom corn, pumpkins for fall, and herds of dairy sheep. And, I think Mary Ann pretty much has her hands in most of it. She is one busy woman. While we were herding the sheep for milking – yes, she does that, too — she described her day. Mama, incredulous, finally asked her, “When do you sleep?”


Then, I had a sheep milking education session. It’s not so easy. First, the ewe is positioned on the milking stand and her head is secured between two wooden bars. Mary Ann put a couple of scoops of food in the bowl. There’s a whole rhythmic movement that starts with grabbing the udder, pushing up, and the fanning your fingers and pulling down. I struggle with rhythm at the best of times, much less when confronted by the hind end of a sheep in a hot barn in July in Georgia. (I will say this – the barn is clean – no take-your-breath-away animal odors.)
Mary Ann says her hands are too small to milk two teats at once. I have serious, thick, working chefgirl hands and still couldn’t manage to get two going at once. But, I did have some success and it was very satisfying. A whole scant 3/4 cup of satisfaction.


Saturday morning mama and I tromped around taking pictures before I had to start prepping and the sun rose too high. I like taking photos in the morning before the light is so harsh. The dew was still on the grapevines, the sunflowers were holding their heads high, and the bees were busily buzzing about. It was really glorious. We ran into Mary Ann who was herding the sheep for milking. I passed this time. I didn’t want to ruin my milkmaid memory with a poor sophomoric effort.


Mary Ann had mentioned the creek flowed through the national forest before it coursed through their property and was clean enough to drink. Those of y’all that know me well know that I had to get in there to taste that cold mountain water. The minute she told me I knew I would. It was crystal clear, sparkling and beautiful. I tromped down the creekbank and was overcome with the scent of crushed mint. I see there was wild mint growing on the creek bank. I harvested some for dinner that night. Large dark evergreen sprigs with dark, almost purple stems.


That experience triggered a thought. While Mama and I were walking around I also noticed purslane. Purslane is pretty much treated like a weed in the US, but it was grown as a garden lettuce at the potager for LaVarenne where I worked in France. Purslane is a low growing succulent herb. I also had noticed tangy wild sorrel growing on the slope near the house, as well. Now, I am not one of those foraging types that could survive in the wilderness with a pocket knife and a shard of broken glass to start a fire. (See cottage reference above for preferred lodging in the woods.) But, I was like a kid in the candy store foraging for herbs. It was beautiful. All the ingredients for the dinner came from the farm or from North Georgia.

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A few hours later, I was joined by my friend and colleague Joy Crump who drove up from Atlanta to help me for the day. Mid-afternoon Tasia Malakasis of Belle Chevre, an artisan goat cheese made in Alabama showed with a cooler of her amazing cheeses. It was a great, great day.

Here’s the menu.

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Wild Herb Salad tossed with Apple Cider Vinaigrette and topped with Panko-Crusted Fried Green Tomatoes and a disk of Tasia’s Montrachet goat cheese.


Mustard Crusted Pork Loin on a Bed of Honey Roasted Vidalia Onions with Heirloom Vegetable Succotash

Heirloom Stoneground Cornbread with Bacon


Sheep’s Milk Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote and topped with a Hearty Sprig of Persimmon Creek Mint

Bon Appetit, Y’all!


Mustard-crusted Pork Loin with Herb Pan Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 (3-pound) boneless center-cut pork loin
1/2 cup yellow mustard seed
1/2 cup brown mustard seed
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil (optional)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
11/2 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces (optional)

To season the pork loin, combine the garlic, bay leaf, mustard, and thyme in a large bowl or sealable plastic bag. Add the meat and turn to coat evenly. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to overnight, turning the pork occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the mustard seeds on a baking sheet. Remove the meat from the bowl, season it with salt and pepper, and roll it in the mustard seed to coat evenly. Place the roast in a shallow roasting pan.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 140° to 145°F, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The pork will be slightly pink in the center (this is desirable).

Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a warm platter; cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute (the internal temperature of the roast will rise to 150°F from carryover cooking).

Remove all but a couple of tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan and place the pan on the cooktop over medium heat. (If there is no fat, add 2 tablespoons of canola oil.) Add the shallots and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and increase the heat to high, scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits.

Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced, an additional 5 minutes. Thinly slice the pork and transfer to a warmed serving platter. Pour any accumulated pork juices from the cutting board into the roasting pan and stir to combine; decrease the heat to medium. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. To finish the sauce with butter, remove the skillet from the heat. Whisk in the butter one piece at a time. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the pork slices; serve immediately.


Adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.