A Bountiful Weekend:In the Country at Nash Farms
By Sandi Butler Hughes;
Photos by McKendree Walker
Ashort jaunt eastbound on I-40 at Exit 42 is the quiet, quaint, hamlet of Stanton, Tennessee. The historic community is a step back to a simpler era, where time stands still for the perfect weekend getaway when your city-weary and longing for a country respite. Carmen Crane Bond, owner of Social: A Shop for Gracious Living in East Memphis, and her fiancé Nash Necaise were our Stanton hosts for a glorious summer break. Nash has deep roots that extend back hundreds of years in Stanton, and Carmen is embracing her Mississippi roots with this new addition to her Memphis life….a new life she is starting to enjoy in Stanton as well. Carmen laughingly describes herself “as a true city mouse/country mouse.” The couple has a vision and a contagious enthusiasm for bringing Stanton- or at least a part of it, back to its once upon a time glory. When speaking with Nash and learning about this love he has for his family’s former plantation and all that is left of the farm he said, “Several years ago I came home to Stanton only planning to stay a week. I’ve been here ever since. To be honest, I don’t know why I ever left.”
Our 4Memphis Stanton adventure got underway with a late afternoon guided tour of Nash Farms by our hospitable host. Carmen poured each of us a “Peach Fuzz Fizz,” made with delicious fresh peaches Carmen and Nash buy at her local orchard, Cherry Creek Orchards, in her hometown of Pontotoc, Mississippi. These cocktails were served in beautiful colored stemware that will be available at the newest addition to the Social family of shops, a smaller shop, Social-ite in the Country, which will open alongside a small café that has yet to be named. Both will hopefully be debuting this fall. With our refreshing cocktails in hand, we hopped on the ATV and rode off into the woods and onto the cotton fields where the cotton has started peeping through. The temperature soon dropped in the cool shade of the stately trees, and the hustle and bustle of big city life disappeared. We watched the sun sink below the tree line, sipped our drinks, and sat very quietly while a deer made her way into the nearby Hatchie River Bottoms. Just before dark, we re-emerged, already feeling rejuvenated.
When we planned this gathering and shoot, we needed to all pick what worked best for schedules and deadlines, and when an agreed upon date was finally determined, it just happened to be my birthday-and a milestone birthday at that! Dear Carmen was determined to make it special for me even though we would all be working. As only she can do, Carmen, along with help from some of her Social-ites sprinkled magic and voila! – she not only created several place settings for showing off her beautiful china and accessories for tablescape ideas from Social as well as Social Home, her antique shop featuring the most exquisite antique pieces from all over the world as well as wonderful American made pieces. These place settings were displayed on beautiful antique farm tables. One of these tables was beautifully styled with 16 place settings, plus the balloons tied to one chair, along with other décor for a milestone birthday quickly told me that this was the setting for what would be an amazing celebration dinner for yours truly. The ultimate farm to table experience, Carmen and Nash had gathered produce from their garden as well as produce from other farmer friends in the community and prepared a scrumptious summer supper.
This fabulous setting all took place in their newly acquired Schoolhouse. Built in 1871 this schoolhouse and once masonic lodge has been a gathering place for the community and will continue to be used as a beautiful and unique setting for various future events, and in my case a 60th birthday celebration! The historic schoolhouse is small enough to be intimate, yet large enough to have seating for around 100 guests.
Carmen created the place settings using a mixture of antique, vintage, and new pieces from Social. Stanton and the surrounding small communities boast numerous antique shops that are great for discovering unique items. She incorporated finds from several of these shops into these tablescapes, along with finds from her close friend, Ivey Jennings’ shop, Mimi Morton.
The delectable birthday dinner featured Nash’s smoked chicken accompanied by Carmen’s Cherry Skillet Sauce made with fresh cherries. This main course was served with a salad of local greens, fresh veggies, local fruit, and dressed with a homemade vinaigrette. Other sides we enjoyed were fresh sauteed squashes prepared in a huge cast iron skillet, freshly picked purple hull peas, roasted okra -all from the garden, and finished with the fluffiest mashed potatoes. We didn’t save room for dessert-yet still found room- for a delicious Italian Cream cake topped with a blaze of candles for me to blow out. It came from a local “cake lady”, a gift from my son and daughter-in-law, who Carmen graciously invited along with a few of my best friends. After supper we walked (waddled!) across the road to The Cottage, our weekend respite while in Stanton. Also recently acquired, Carmen has already waved her magic here as well. This charming soon to be addition to their planned retreat style B&B is perfectly appointed in both cozy design and welcoming amenities, of course all from Social and Social Home.
At the start of photoshoot day two, Carmen and Nash arose before dawn to enjoy and capture the sunrise for us. Then, they were off to prepare a huge country breakfast to accompany the tablescapes and place settings she and her team created for the breakfast portion of the shoot. We enjoyed working with all her Social-ites for the shoot including Tayloe Lowrance, Janie Sims, Lauren Daughtry and Kathryn Painter. Thankfully, her good friend and wonderful cook in her own right, Jenny Vergos, showed up to help in the kitchen. For this breakfast, Carmen prepared a Southern Succotash with Eggs “Your Way”- all made with fresh garden vegetables and eggs from their own chickens. Other breakfast items prepared this morning were Nash’s banana muffins, yummy cheese grit casserole, the best sausage ever from Winchester Farms and the Gin Lot in local Dancyville, and finished with the flakiest biscuits homemade by Carmen accompanied with milk gravy and her homemade Blackberry Jam. The couple takes pride in their equally shared love for picking (and consuming) blackberries and Nash Farms is overflowing with blackberry bushes producing huge succulent berries. A few recipes are included, and the remaining recipes will be shared on both Social and 4Memphis social media sites. Be sure to follow!
Later in this fun-filled weekend, we mapped out a day of shopping in the area and discussed Carmen’s adventures and experiences in acquiring her antiques and collectibles. This discussion led to her adventures shopping the Round Top Antique Show, and we quickly signed ourselves up to experience a future show with her. She is planning to take some of her wares to the fall show and is also planning to do a field trip for shoppers through Social “U” (University). If you are interested in a shopping extravaganza with Carmen, along with lots of good fun and insider secrets collected by her over the years, make sure to follow Social U on Instagram for more information to be posted soon. It is only open to a few people and is filling up fast already.
Our setting for the morning breakfast photo shoot took place under the towering oaks on Nash’s mother, Nancy Nash Necaise’s beautiful grounds of her family home. The post-antebellum era plantation farmhouse was built in 1871, the same year as the old Schoolhouse (also built by her ancestors) across the street. This lovely and fiery matriarch of Nash Farms warmly welcomes visitors as family. She grew up in Stanton and has many fond memories of a simpler time in her small town. While speaking extensively with her over dinner, she shared numerous stories about growing up in the little town, including taking dance lessons and recitals that took place in The Schoolhouse. “I am so happy to see Carmen and Nash using this building again, “she said. Like so many people who grow up in small towns, she didn’t return immediately after college. In fact, after initially beginning college in Texas, she transferred to Southern Miss where she met her handsome late husband Ed, who after beginning his college career on a full 4 year football scholarship at Ole Miss along with his twin brother, also transferred to Southern Miss to be closer to their French family founded hometown of DeLisle, Mississippi, a bayou town north of Pass Christian, also pioneered by his strong French family. After college, Nancy and Ed moved to Memphis where he was a high school football coach and athletic director and she taught art for 24 years. After years in Memphis, Nancy inherited her family farm, and they moved to Stanton, where Ed became the mayor. Nancy then refurbished the stately home with an elegant mix of period pieces. Being a former art teacher, she is an extremely talented artist and many of her oil paintings hang throughout the home. Her den features a wall of windows overlooking the family farmland and the towering oak trees that shade her entire backyard, the old barn, the tenant houses, her beautiful flower gardens and terraces. Nancy comes from an impressive lineage on all sides of her family, with the Nash ancestry being the original founders of Pembrokeshire, Wales, and later came to America and settled in Prince Edward County Virginia. Nancy’s direct lineage of great-great… grandfathers include Abner Nash, an original member of the House of Burgesses and the second governor of North Carolina, and an uncle, General Brehon Somervell, who designed the Pentagon. She is also a Somervell, later Somervill, and then Somerville. Her heritage also includes being a Ware and a Middleton of Middleton Plantation in South Carolina. Her uncle was Sir Francis Nash, for whom Nashville was named. She loves giving tours of the house and sharing the history of the home, the farm, and the settlement of thousands of acres as some of the first pioneers of West Tennessee. She lovingly embraces her long line of historical heritage while delivering story after impressive story of many of her ancestors. Her father was beloved in the community and was a Vanderbilt educated physician who served in World War I. After the War, he returned to his hometown to serve the people in his community. Nancy still has letters from her father written to her grandmother and her mother during his time serving overseas. They were retrieved from another family home, her father’s childhood home, fondly remembered as Bird’s Bower, located a couple of miles from the current Nash Farms on Highway 70, which unfortunately and very tragically burned a few years ago. There are so many incredibly interesting stories surrounding this home, and hopefully can be carried on by Nash to all who visit the Farm in the future. Nash and Carmen are the ultimate hosts. Theirs is a beautiful and uncanny love story of blessed second chances, and they share their common kindred souls as caretakers as they navigate the next phase of their lives together on Nash Farms.
As we wrapped up this half-work-half-fun weekend retreat at Nash Farms, we couldn’t resist trying a local little hole in the wall, Suga’s Diner. Suga’s has an extensive menu serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is known for her award-winning wings. By the time we visit Stanton again in the fall, Carmen and Nash will have completed even more projects at Nash Farms with plans to renovate other dwellings, the addition of glamping tents, and a treehouse which is Nash’s lifelong dream. The cotton will be in its glorious splendor. But there is one thing, however, that will not change- sitting in complete relaxation on the porch swing or gathering under the 150 plus year old oak trees while enjoying time with those we love in this charming place in the country that will always be good for a renewal of the soul.
BREAKFAST SOUTHERN SUCCOTASH
with freshly picked veggies, fresh herb dressing and eggs “your way”
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 cup diced onion
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups summer squash, sliced thick
1 cup fresh green snap beans
2 ears of fresh corn, shucked and kernels removed
1 cup fresh yellow cherry tomatoes
2 red peppers, sliced
1 quart fresh purple hull peas
4-6 fresh eggs, scrambled, poached or fried – “your way”
Carmen used her extra-large heirloom cast iron skillet for the Succotash – decades of seasoning adds to the flavor. Heat oil or butter over medium-high heat. Cook onion until tender and add garlic. Add green beans and cook for about 10 minutes; add red peppers and corn – cook for 10-15 minutes more. Next, add the cooked purple hull peas and simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Note: Carmen used “Nick’s Mix” made by her friend, Jenny Vergos.
Fresh Herb Dressing:
½ cup fresh herbs, finely chopped – sage, parsley, thyme, rosemary
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
Snip the herbs from the garden but don’t chop until ready to prepare the dressing – it helps to retain all the flavor. Finely chop the herbs and garlic; place in a mixing bowl. Zest the lemon into the herb mix. Blend in the olive oil, and let stand for about 15 minutes to absorb all the flavors.
When ready to serve, prepare eggs and place on top of the succotash mixture; top with herb dressing and garnish with herb sprigs and more uncooked cherry tomatoes – after all, it’s summertime and more tomatoes are always better.
CHERRY SKILLET SAUCE
2 cups pitted, fresh cherries
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup red wine
4 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
2 tablespoons fig jam
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons (or as desired) fresh thyme
Combine cherries, 2 tablespoons butter, water and brown sugar to a cast iron (or any heavy) skillet. Cook on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. As the cherries begin to release their juices and soften, make sure to scrape down the sides and slowly add wine, balsamic glaze, and fig jam. Turn heat down to medium-low, stirring constantly for 5 minutes - watch it carefully so it doesn’t stick! Add a bit more water or wine if it seems too sticky or thick. Add the remaining butter, sea salt, and fresh thyme. Hint: do not forget or eliminate the fresh thyme - it makes it - sage or rosemary can be substituted! When the sauce is well blended and glossy, it is ready to serve. It is great on smoked chicken, but it is equally wonderful on pork tenderloin, duck or roasted cauliflower - be creative!
FRESH PEACH FUZZ FIZZ
5 fresh peaches
2 cups rose champagne (can substitute lemon-lime soda or sparkling lime water)
2 tablespoons grenadine
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons peach schnapps
2 generous tablespoons sorbet of choice (Carmen suggests lemon
Peel and core 4 peaches; set aside. Slice the remaining peach into wedges, leaving on the peel. Puree the 4 peeled peaches. Carmen mashes her peaches by hand.
In a small pitcher, add rose champagne, grenadine, lime juice and schnapps; blend well. For serving this drink, you can use cocktail or champagne glasses, large goblets or even julep cups. Equally divide the peach puree into each glass, add sorbet, and top each with the champagne mixture. Add a peach wedge on each glass, and viola! A refreshing, delicious summer cocktail! Serve immediately.
Homemade Biscuits & Jam
EASY HOMEMADE FRESH BLACKBERRY JAM
“This process involves the true canning process and techniques,” Carmen said. “There really is only one proper way to ‘can’ - you can find the information on Social’s social media, as well as numerous websites or even YouTube for detailed instructional sessions. This recipe CAN be prepared without canning (see recipe notes)”
10 cups freshly picked blackberries
¼ cup water
4 tablespoons butter
4-5 cups sugar (4 cups for less sweet; 5 cups for very sweet)
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
⅛ teaspoon lime zest
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Thoroughly wash and drain berries. “I do not remove the seeds from the blackberries. I like to have some of the actual berries in each bite! However, if you don’t desire the seeds, it’s a bit of a process to remove blackberry seeds. Google if you choose this process, and then carry on.”
Cook the blackberries in the water, butter and sugar; bring to a boil. Stir regularly! After 10 minutes, add the lemon and lime zest, lemon juice, and salt. Stir constantly on simmer until thickened. Because this recipe does not use pectin, the jam really should reach 220 degrees (use a food thermometer).
Ladle the jam into sterilized jars leaving ¼”-½” space from the top of the jar; wipe the top of any drips.
“If you do not wish to do the true canning process, you can keep the jam in the refrigerator for 3 months. If you’re giving one as a gift, make certain you include this information on the sticker or label!”
CARMEN’S TRIED & TRUE SOUTHERN
4 tablespoons real butter, frozen
2 tablespoons cold lard (yes, lard – it’s better than shortening, but shortening will suffice)
2 cups + 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees; grease a baking sheet with butter.
On a cutting board, quickly chop the butter into the smallest pieces possible without touching with your hands; put the chopped butter pieces back into the freezer for 5 minutes to keep very cold. In a bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together until blended well. Next, add the butter pieces and the lard into the dry mixture.
This is where Carmen’s biscuit-making-expertise happens: “The easy route would be to use a pastry blender, but I use two knives and cut in the lard and butter until the mixture resembles tiny peas,” Carmen says. “Some people use the fork method, but it mashes the mixture and takes away the opportunity for the air to properly mix, in my opinion!”
Make a well in the center of the mixture and add buttermilk. Mix quickly with a wooden spoon. “I try not to use my hands, but sometimes I do towards the end to make certain everything gets thoroughly mixed – the key is for the butter not to get too soft or melted! If ingredients aren’t coming together, sprinkle in a little more buttermilk. Do NOT overmix!”
Transfer dough onto a floured surface. “I use an extra large charcuterie board but the countertop is ok too.” Very gently form the dough into an uneven “rough” ball – cut the ball in half, form a ball again and half that – repeat 3-4 times.
“Hint: this creates air pockets for achieving the ultimate in flaky goodness!” Pat or use a floured rolling pin – very lightly! – and roll the dough to ¾ - 1” thickness.
“Hint: do NOT “twist” the biscuit cutter! Press straight down and lift!” “I use a 2” dough cutter, but any size biscuit cutter is ok. Cut out as many biscuits as possible, and place on the butter-greased baking sheet. Some people place them about 1” apart – I place my biscuits touching.”
Continue gently kneading the dough back together and repeat cutting biscuits until all the dough is used. “Usually I hand-form the last biscuit or two!” Place the pan of biscuits in the freezer for 5 minutes if possible. “It is not necessary, and may be too difficult with needing the room in your freezer. Brushing the top of each biscuit with a pat of butter before baking does not hurt a thing, and will result in even browning!"
"Another hint: a light sprinkling of sea salt is a beautiful thing too!" Place biscuits into the oven and bake for about 10-15 minutes until slightly golden-browned on top and risen to a beautiful fluffiness.
“Savor every flaky, buttery morsel while hot with even more butter and homemade jelly, jam, preserves, conserve, or compote!” Thank you, Carmen - no truer Southern advice has ever been given!
A Bountiful Weekend: In the Country at Nash Farms