The gentle loll of gravel churning beneath the tires breaks the otherwise tranquil drive down the mile-long private road to Perone Creek Farm. The path, flanked by a sea of leafy peanut plants, is shaded by century-old oaks whose sturdy arms offer sweet succor to those caught in a hurried world. By the time the drive opens onto Brenda and Jeff Bledsoe’s homestead, an inward change has already occurred. Now, under a late afternoon sky, an unseen invitation of peace winds its way like a ribbon ‘round knotted, hundred-year-old structures, under the ticklish canopy of fruit and pecan trees and through downy chicken feathers before softly landing on the veranda where tonight’s sunset dinner is served.
“This is the last of the Baldwin County frontiers,” Jeff says, cocktail in hand, noting the couple’s complete insulation from the outside world. But being secluded hasn’t kept the Bledsoes from sharing their gift of hospitality or the unrivaled serenity of their farm — it’s become a place of inspiration and respite for the Southern Americana trio GypsySpark, of which Brenda is singer, songwriter and musician.
“This place is like a sanctuary,” Jimmy Lumpkin, the couple’s friend and Brenda’s bandmate, says of the 40-acre farm, which was established in the early 1900s by Swedish immigrants. The Bledsoes agree there’s something special in the air here.
“When we drove up the driveway, we were already looking at each other,” Brenda recalls of the first time she and her husband of 33 years visited the property. “We didn’t even care what the house looked like.” In addition to a home built in 1986, the farm boasts cellars, barns, a woodworking shop, chicken coop, pond, wooded trails and a guest house, which the couple operates as a bed and breakfast.
Jimmy sinks into a chair next to the fire pit and laughs. “It’s like a little village.” And it’s a village he and wife Talia, the third member of the band, had a hand in rejuvenating, alongside the Bledsoes and friends, Leslie Dunlap and John Hadley.
“All six of us have put blood, sweat and tears in this place,” Brenda says of the group who gathers regularly. “We all kind of isolated together.”
Talia pinches off a sprig of mint, part of the herb bundle she brought from her garden, and freshens her drink. “We get together about once a week,” she says, her blonde hair tossed to one side. Dora, the barn cat, emerges from under the table’s cloth and darts off toward the stage for tonight’s music session.
“This is what we do,” Brenda says, guitar in hand and heading to the Boho barn, the farm’s original homestead. “We’ll have a meal, watch the sunset and play music.”
The acoustics of the barn porch provide such hauntingly harmonious echoes that even the sunset seems to pause to listen. For the second song, the trio makes its way down amongst their small audience scattered in cane back and Adirondack chairs. Jeff smiles.
As the evening draws on, the friends head back to the veranda for warm tartlets made with the farm’s freshly picked pears and blueberries. Later they will say their goodbyes, each heading their own way knowing tonight they were filled in more ways than one.
Sparkling Lemonade Cocktail
Talia Lumpkin’s refreshing signature drink will awaken both your sweet and sour taste buds.
6 – 8 ounces Spindrift lemon sparkling water
2 ounces Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka
1 – 2 teaspoons organic agave sweetener, to taste
sprigs of fresh mint or favorite herb
1. Fill glass with ice. Pour sparkling water until glass is 2/3 full. Add vodka and agave, stir and garnish with fresh herb and lemon slice. Makes 1 cocktail
Gulf Coast Fish Cakes with Remoulade
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Zatarain’s Shrimp & Crab Boil concentrate
1 pound fresh fish fillets, sheepshead or speckled trout preferred
1 box Zatarain’s Crab Cake Mix
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup bell peppers, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges
1. In a large skillet with lid, bring 1 inch of salted water to a boil. Add shrimp & crab boil concentrate and lightly stir into the water. Lay fish fillets in skillet, cover and poach at a gentle boil for 10 minutes until completely cooked. Remove fish to a platter and refrigerate 1 – 2 hours. When fish is completely cooled, shred it to the consistency of lump crab meat. (Note: The fish can be prepared a day ahead of time).
2. Beat egg in a large bowl. Add crab cake mix, mayo, peppers, lemon juice and fish. Gently toss until well mixed. Shape mixture into 8 – 10 patties. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add 4 fish cakes; fry about 4 minutes per side until golden brown and cooked through. Repeat with remaining fish cakes, adding additional 1 tablespoon oil as needed.
4. Serve with lemon wedges and Remoulade Sauce (see below). Serves 8
1/4 cup pickles, chopped, or relish (Wickle’s relish gives it a spicy kick)
1 cup tomato ketchup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 – 2 tablespoons horseradish, to taste
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
Chop pickles in a food processor, then blend in all remaining ingredients. Chill and serve. If using relish, simply stir all ingredients in a bowl. Makes 1 1/2 cups
Leslie’s Go-To Salad
Leslie Dunlap’s inspiration for this recipe came from the “Fabulous Salad” served at Central Market in Austin, Texas.
1 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts
1 1/2 pounds spring mix salad
1 cup Caesar dressing
1 can sliced black olives, drained
1 can baby corn
1 can hearts of palm, drained and sliced
1/4 pound Parmigiana-Reggiano, grated
1 bunch basil, chopped
4 sprigs Italian parsley, chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes
salt and pepper, to taste
Drain artichoke hearts and place in bowl. In a large separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add artichoke hearts to salad mixture and toss well. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve in chilled bowls. Serves 10
Pear-Blueberry Crumb Tartlets
Perfect for late summer and early fall evenings, these scrumptious tartlets can be frozen after completely cooling. To defrost, place in 375-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 1/2 cups fresh pears, sliced
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for serving
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold butter
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, add graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon and melted butter. Using a fork, mix until combined to a sand-like consistency. Divide the crumb mixture into four 5-inch mini pie tins (or one 9-inch pie pan). Gently press to create a crust.
3. In a medium bowl, add fruit, lemon zest and juice, sugar and cornstarch. Mix until blueberries are coated. Divide the fruit mixture evenly into the pie tins.
4. In a separate bowl, combine all crumb topping ingredients. Spoon topping over fruit mixture, dividing it evenly among the tins.
5. Place pie tins on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 35 minutes or until brown and bubbly.
6. Let cool 10 minutes. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if desired. Yields 4, 5-inch tarts OR 1, 9-inch pie