Edible Destinations: Stream Cliff Herb Farm
The road south to Commiskey crosses Graham Creek before continuing along a ridge overlooking the water. Not far down the road, I see the stately two-story house built in late 1820s, using bricks made from the land surrounding it. The home, part of Stream Cliff Farm Herbs, Tearoom and Winery, is just one of several historic buildings set amidst the blooms and lawns of this fifth-generation family farmstead.
Of course, a house this old must have its history, and as I stroll with owner Betty Manning through the patchwork gardens she created in homage to her grandmother, an avid gardener and quilter, she tells me how the house was pillaged during General John Hunt Morgan's raid back in 1863.
"Morgan crossed the creek to get here on his raid through Southern Indiana," she says pointing back towards the way I came. "He found the money owner Jimmy Harmon hid in the chimney and took it with him."
Manning is referring to the Confederate general who led Morgan's Raiders as they plundered the small towns and villages around here after defeating the Indiana Home Guards near Corydon in what was the only Civil War battle fought in the state.
When Harmon, a bachelor who had first moved here in 1821 claiming the land on land patent granted to his father, died shortly after the raid, he donated his property to Asbury College, which in turn sold it to Manning's family. Since then they've worked hard at balancing the past with the present.
Surely, I think, surrounded by gardens styled after traditional quilt patterns and redolent with fragrances of roses, lavender and lilies, hearing the sounds of wind rippling through chimes swinging from the porches of the gift shop, winery, antique and garden stores and the soothing murmur of fountains, Harmon would recognize some of his beloved farm.
But there are changes too.
"When my grandfather lived here they used to drive their hogs to market in Madison, where they would be shipped down the Ohio River," says Manning. "It was a journey that took two days and they'd spend the night in a town called Midway because it was halfway to Madison from here."
I, of course, had heard of cattle drives and even ventured on a miniversion of one in Michigan, of all places, but a pig drive?
But Manning one-ups that story. Seems when she was girl, they used to drive their cows not across pastures but down the road I just traveled to get here–sure it was a while back, but we're talking past the mid-20thcentury mark here.
"We would block off parts of the road so traffic couldn't get through and we'd move them," she says. "I can't imagine doing that anymore."
Though the Mannings have grown herbs and sold their crafts, blacksmith items, cornhusks dolls, dried floral arrangements and handcarved Santas as well as Betty's primitive paintings for more than 40 years here, the addition of a winery–run by their son Gregory, a horticulturalist– is relatively new but so well-liked it's led to the building of a pavilion where visitors can sample wines while enjoying the surrounding gardens and an addition to the winery for private parties, weddings and special event like their candlelight dinners.
Also expanded in scope is the Twigs and Sprigs Tea Room, a delightful cottage where herbs grown in the nearby gardens are used for making tisanes and adding flavor to such offerings as their very popular Dill and Rosemary Chicken Salad, Sun-Dried Tomato-Basil Quiche and Birdseed Pasta Salad. As a special touch, each plate is decorated with an edible flower, perhaps the nasturtiums and pansies overflowing from planters and baskets.
As one might expect, Sprigs and Twigs also serves an afternoon country tea, though this one has a slightly British tenor to it with its selection of scones, pastries, muffins, tea sandwiches, Devonshire cream and tea. Manning, the author of Secrets of the Garden Paths, with Recipes, also teaches classes at the farm, often with her daughter Elizabeth, who recently married in the garden.
Upcoming classes include their "All-Time Favorites" with demonstrations on how to cook such Sprigs and Twigs favorites as their Blueberry-Walnut Salad with Creamy Blueberry Dressing and Caramelized Walnuts and Hummingbird Cake and the more advanced Cooking Class III "Candlelight Dinner Menu" with recipes and the following meal of Pork Loin of Creamy, Caper-Thyme Sauce, Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, a caprese salad of garden tomatoes, freshly made mozzarella, basil from the garden drizzled with a balsamic glaze.
And, of course, this being Indiana at high season, blueberry pie.
It takes a lot of herbs to make all these goodies as well as what I've discovered is their highly addictive lemon verbena tea.
"All the herbs we use here are grown here," Manning tells me as we wander across a twig bridge connecting one quilt garden to another. "We don't get herbs from any other place."
Manning and her crew also offer demonstrations in making jams and jellies and even a Blue Ribbon pickle recipe. In keeping with Manning's dedication to folk art, crafters can sign up for make-andtake workshops in flower-pot painting, fashioning twig-and-vine teepee containers and, all jokes about college basket-weaving classes aside, making coated metal and cocoa-lined, cone-shaped and moss hanging baskets. For kids, there's a class in creating fairy gardens. For those over 21, hayrides to Graham Creek with wine and picnic lunch recall 19th century fun.
When, as often happens, someone marvels at Manning creating such a success "in the middle of nowhere," she has a quick reply–"looking at all these cars and people, I thought I was in the center of the universe."