There’s no better way to spend a blustery autumn Sunday than driving the country backroads out to Giles County, Tennessee, for a fireside lunch with my friends Libby and Ben Page.
Of the many gifts Julia gave me during our long friendship, one of the very best was an introduction to Libby and Ben, two of the most talented people I’ve ever known. Like so many of the folks Julia brought into our lives, Libby and Ben have become the dearest of friends to Jon and me. That doesn’t mean we aren’t a little bit in awe of their prodigious talents. They can both do anything. Capable doesn’t begin to describe it.
Libby is what you might call Old Nashville…with a wink. She’s got impeccable taste, honed in the grand house of her childhood, decorated by Albert Hadley. She has drawers full of 18th century silver and cabinets filled with Old Paris China. But when it’s time for lunch, she pulls it all out cavalierly, as though it were nothing fine or unusual, pushes aside the Sunday papers, and lays a beautiful table on the hand-planed wooden island in her cozy kitchen in Wales, Tennessee, where we all sit by the fire and eat and drink and laugh. No wonder she’s built an incredibly successful event planning business, Page & Windrow, that channels her chic brand of high and low.
Ben is the South’s most renowned landscape architect, but he’s a farmer at heart. Monday through Friday he’s designing the finest garden spaces in the Southeast, but at Brookside, the Page’s 1840s Greek Revival House and farm in Wales, Tennessee, Ben cuts brush, repairs the original mortar-less stone wall around the property, and brings in fresh figs for our lunch.
Last weekend, Libby and Ben invited us for lunch to raise a toast to Julia’s life, something that Covid has made more difficult for all of her friends. Libby cooked a divine and simple lunch from Julia Reed’s South, and we mixed Reed Smythe & Company wares with Libby’s grandmother’s china.
If you’re looking for the perfect, simple Sunday menu, you couldn’t go wrong with Libby’s loving tribute to Julia. While Julia served her Creole Crabmeat Soup at all times of the year, it’s lemony freshness seems particularly welcome on a cold autumn day when everyone is tired of the heaviness of butternut squash. Below we’re sharing the recipe for the main course, Creole Crabmeat Soup, but all recipes are available in Julia Reed’s South available on the site (or in person at our Nashville pop up at 73 White Bridge Road).
Bacon Wrapped Watermelon Pickles
Creole Crabmeat Soup
Creole Crab Meat Soup
2 large lemons
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups canned peeled Italian tomatoes, seeded and chopped with their juice
4 cups shellfish stock or fish stock
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig parsley
1 sprig marjoram
1 tablespoon chopped mint, plus 1 tablespoon for taste, if desired
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 pound lump crabmeat
Salt to taste
Pinch of cayenne to taste
Remove the zest from 1 lemon in one long strip, if possible, with a vegetable peeler; set aside; Juice the peeled lemon. Thinly slice the remaining lemon into 4 to 6 pieces; set aside for garnish
Melt the butter in a deep, large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat and saute onion and garlic until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice and the stock and the turn the heat to medium-high. When the mixture boils, turn the heat down to a simmer. Add the bay leaf and the rest of the herbs, the lemon zest strip and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Simmer partly covered for 30 to 45 minutes.
Add the crabmeat and simmer gently until the soup is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the salt, cayenne and more lemon juice if needed. Discard the bay leaf and parsley and marjoram sprigs. Add another tablespoon of fresh mint at the last minute. After you spoon the soup into bowls, top each serving with a lemon slice.
These gilded catfish placecards resting in our bronze walnut placecard holders aren’t fussy at all. Who doesn’t love a lovingly-written placecard to mark your special spot at the table?
Ben gathered vegetable leaves and dried brush from the farm to create the most gorgeous arrangement that required no arranging. Wine cups and bowl by ceramicist Jeremy Oguskey available this week.
What better way to stave off the gloom of winter than by bringing spring blooms into the sitting room? We love the way these colors reflect the weak winter sunlight.
Our large offering of new and vintage baskets woven by women of the Mississippi Choctaw Nation bring a dying art to the Reed Smythe collection. As environmental changes endanger the swamp reeds from which these baskets are made and fewer members of the younger Choctaw generations learn the art of weaving, these baskets are as rare as they are beautiful.
These handblown highball glasses add luster to the bar and are the perfect shape and weight for a cocktail glass. We love the way they look with our autumnal table.
Thank you Libby for the gift of your friendship, the inspiration of your impeccable, unpretentious style, and for always leaving the door open at Brookside