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A Hill Country Thanksgiving

Martha Stewart Living, November 2007

Visit Hill Country in our Texas Thanksgiving photo gallery.

The Menu
Lavender-Infused Lemonade
Spiced Pecans and Pepitas
Grilled Turkey with Giblet Gravy
Cornbread and Biscuit Dressing
Peach-Cranberry Sauce
Stewed Green Beans and Poblanos
Glazed Squashes and Sweet Potato
Granny Rose's Hot Rolls
Pecan Praline Tart
Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Cream
Chocolate Meringue Pie
Store-bought pickled okra
Assorted goat cheeses

Decorating Crafts
Dried-Corn Wreath  
Cornhusk Garland

About eight years ago, Doak and Jill Hunter moved from offbeat Austin, Texas, to nearby Blanco, where patchy grass-covered hills and knotty oak trees outnumber their neighbors, and armadillos make frequent appearances in their yard. Doak was no stranger to these parts. His family has lived on 300 acres of hillside here for three generations, raising livestock. The Hunters, though, would eventually grow a crop not usually associated with Texas: lavender.

In their nine-to-five lives, Doak is a software purchasing manager and Jill, until recently, sold advertising for the county newspaper (one of the big news stories, she jokes, was the time the town police surrounded a rabid porcupine caught in a tree). In 2004, neighbors of the Hunters took a trip to Provence, where they were captivated by the lavender fields that are legion in that part of France. They also realized the terrain was similar to that of sun-soaked Blanco. That fall, Doak and Jill joined their neighbors and about a dozen other locals in an effort to grow lavender. The Hunters now hand-harvest the plants every year, extracting oil from the cuttings and using it to make bath and body products, as well as fragrant sachets, for the company they formed, Texas Lavender Hills Farm and Market.

Both Doak and Jill grew up in Hill Country, and even in the years they lived in Austin, they found themselves visiting Doak's parents and helping around their ranch almost every weekend. The young couple ultimately decided to build a home adjacent to the elder Hunters' property, on a stretch overlooking Twin Sisters Peaks (somewhat appropriate for the parents of now-7-year-old twins, Helen and Brady). They commissioned the home's design from Jill's cousin, Debra Johnson, and her husband, Kit, Austin-based architects. Built from local stone and galvanized metal, the Hunter residence blends effortlessly into the landscape while retaining a contemporary vibe.

The couples comfortable way of reinterpreting tradition was evident last Thanksgiving. While their families drank Texas wines and spread local cheeses over flatbreads, they roasted a 22-pound turkey on a charcoal grill behind the house. Later on, everyone sat down for Thanksgiving standards tweaked with Southwestern flavors; chiles turned up in dishes from sides to dessert. Lavender, too, was woven into the menu and the decor, infusing a pitcher of lemonade and filling planters on the wraparound porch.

After dinner, everyone walked toward the huge hill where lavender plants grow in concentric circles, an arrangement the Hunters prefer to straight rows (which remind Jill of office cubicles). Growing lavender "feels different from the rat race in the city," Doak says. "It gives you a little perspective. It reminds you to take a deep breath."

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