TDS #7 Kat Robinson: Best of Eating In Arkansas
Kat Robinson, author, Arkansas food historianListen to "TDS7 Kat Robinson Best of Eating in Arkansas" on Spreaker.
She mentioned Mayberry R.F.D. at some point in our conversation, and in full disclosure, when I think of Arkansas I use to assume it was a state much like that show of the 1950s (actually, the show was supposed to have been set in North Carolina), made up of small and quiet communities residing in times of the past.
In this TDS podcast, Kat Robinson—prolific author, speaker, and proud Arkansonian—dispels the myth that Arkansas is in any way languishing. In fact, in a flurry if rich information, Kat describes the Arkansas of today as a thriving state, full of large and small communities teaming with eateries, unique tourist attractions and a diversity of natural wonders to explore.
PICKLED TOMATOES AND FRIED PICKLES
Buckle up for a journey, because Kat takes us on a whirlwind tour of places, people and foods found in Arkansas that will intrigue and invite you to make a trip. (I live in Iowa, so from Des Moines to Little Rock it is only 9 hours!) Kat describes seemingly little things such as Tomolives, produced by a company called Old South. These pickled mini green tomatoes have become a popular garnish for mixed drinks worldwide, and it turns out that Old South pickles just about every other vegetable, too.
Keeping to the pickled theme it turns out that fried pickles came from Arkansas, too, where they were invented by Bob Austin of Atkins. I’m sure I’ve had impostors at the Iowa State Fair, but to enjoy the original batter-dipped fried pickle you need to make the trip to Atkins in the spring for their annual Picklefest. Bob retired from his fried-pickle-making days and gave the recipe to the festival, but even today nobody else has it.
Kat goes on to explain some of the influences that have created these and other signature dishes associated with Arkansas. It turns out that Arkansas is damn serious about their cheese dip, so don’t mess with them about the origins—and whatever you do, don’t mention Texas. Bottom line, they make great cheese dip in Arkansas. I even received assurances from Kat that there is such a thing as tasty Okra. I might have to travel to Arkansas to believe it.
PEANUT PATTIES AND FERRIES
Not included in the podcast but of particular interest to me was a discussion of the peanut patty which has its origins in Texarkana, Arkansas. Here again, there is some dispute between Texas and Arkansas about the quality of peanut patties. So, to be clear, we are talking about the light pink confection made by The Elve’s Candy Company, which has been producing these peanut and sugar patties in Arkansas since about 1946. The secret recipe has been handed down to ONLY the owners of the company in all these years, and we only know that the light pink color is derived from the peanuts RATHER than some red dye added to the patty (like they do in Texas).
I also had Kat clear up a childhood mystery for me. I remember eating some sugary, nut-infused type of cookie as a kid in the South, but couldn’t remember the nut involved. As a kid I briefly lived in Arkansas during the mid-1960s. For me, Arkansas was our two-story house made of rock rather than brick on the acreage where we lived in a small town. (I can’t remember the name of the town, though.)
My brief time in Arkansas meant being surrounded by green, rich vegetation with a wooded backyard right outside our door. Nature was always up and close. My dad got stung by hornets once trying to break into the house when we got ourselves locked out. He fought with the only door he could wedge open, which happened to be blocked by a nest of angry hornets. I remember having a huge turtle for a time, too, that walked out of the woods one day only for me to decide it should be my pet. Eventually, its scratching at the back door yielded pity from parents who let it return to the woods.
But back to that other thing I could almost remember about Arkansas: eating a nut-and-sugar-type cookie of some sort. It was a treat I had several times, though only when we drove our car onto a ferry to get from one side of the river to another. There was usually someone on the ferry walking from car to car selling these cookies while we floated across the river.
I just couldn’t quite be sure if that cookie was made with pecans or walnuts. It turns out I was almost there in my recollection, and the actual confection was this peanut patty that came from Elve’s Candy Company! Once I saw the wrapper the whole memory came rushing back—the light pink color, the sugary mix blended with the peanuts…and that wrapper! Kat explained that, although the peanut patties remain, the ferries that were once all over Arkansas have largely been replaced. Things change.
Here is a great video that details how the Elve’s Peanut Patty is made.
KAT IS EVERYWHERE IN ARKASAS
If you want to learn more about Kat’s books or latest projects, I’ve included all the links here. She is on the road just about everywhere in Arkansas when not writing a book, article or speaking.