We Eat A Lot of Pie in Arkansas

I’ve heard that food and music hold the personality of a region most strongly. After a recent road trip  I feel safe in taking it one step further and specify that a local favorite dessert really shows off a place’s personality.

Whether they’re fruit, nut, cream, meringue or cheese, baked, fried or frozen — pies come in a dazzling range of combinations. We like our pie in the south. The baker who masters the perfect flour to butter ratio in a crust is spoken about with the utmost reverence, given a place of honor in the community and undoubtedly, asked to bring a pie to every gathering until the end of time. While pies can be graham cracker or cookie crusted, hot or cold, latticed or exposed on top, they must all be delicious to survive in these parts.

Now you’ve probably heard the phrase easy as pie, but I’m not a fan. It strikes me as flippant. The creation of pies shouldn’t be reduced to anything less than an art. Bakers mix a tremendous amount care, thought and tradition into their pies, and most of them have worked on their technique for years. Respect for my favorite dessert led me to travel from Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas along Highway 65 in a quest to experience Arkansas’ pies.

Banana Split Pie

We first stopped at the Wagon Wheel in Greenbrier. Restaurants like these work as anchors and a hub of community life in small towns— a place to connect at lunch or celebrate with the team after a game. Don’t be fooled by this restaurant’s nondescript exterior. It boasts a spectacular spread and is known for its meringue pies. The bakers in this kitchen know how to whip egg whites and sugar into heavenly bliss. I had a banana split pie that had about three inches of meringue on top. So decadent!

Strawberry Pie

Every one of the restaurants we visited has a top pie, a pie that’s flavor is discussed like a legend, and at the Skylark Café in Leslie, that pie is strawberry pie. Cool and refreshing with impeccable balance between sweet and tangy, this dessert is a summer staple not easily forgotten. The filling is just the right consistency, not too thick and packed with juicy strawberry pieces. I dined on the porch and took in the café’s equally charming exterior. Originally a home, they remodeled the building into a restaurant, painted the outside turquoise with red trim and surrounded it with garden art and potted plants. Save me a seat on the porch. I’ll be back.

In addition to the sugary ecstasy, I also experienced a treat for the eyes. Highway 65 winds elaborately, offering dramatic views of the mountains and valleys, and the October leaf display has earned the region the nickname the New England of the Ozarks.

We detoured to Gilbert, an old railroad town with one sign that reads ‘population 33’ and another that reads ‘coolest in the state.’ They’re referring to temperature, but it works on multiple levels. The little town sits right on the edge of the pristine Buffalo National River. We had to pull over, not for pie, but for a view of the water.

The production crew and I stopped for lunch at Big Springs Barbecue in St. Joe after that, and I ate a bacon-filled “sammwhich.” It was nice to taste something fat-laden and savory to break up all the sweet. Plus they roast the meat themselves. I sampled an apple pie, and tried to wheedle the crust recipe out of the baker to no avail.

Apple Pie

In Jasper, we stopped at the Arkansas House, a restaurant that uses organic, locally produced ingredients, to learn the subtleties of the nut pie. Janet Morgan, the owner, showed me how to make her signature black walnut pie. Time, she said, makes all the difference between a mediocre dessert and a perfect dessert.

Black Walnut Pie

Add These Books to Your Child’s Reading List

I’m always on the lookout for books geared toward kids that encourage them to check out what’s going on outdoors. Books after all are great at sparking the imagination and once a child begins to picture the possibilities she is more likely to head outside to investigate. And to me a kid excited about out in nature is a good thing.

I was thrilled to meet Arkansas author Dawn Denton while I was speaking to the Bentonville Garden Club. Dawn is a garden designer and former teacher who combines her dedication to preserving and appreciating the outdoors with her expertise with children to create the wonderful Guest in the Garden book series. The Last Leaf, Ruby and Rocket, Oliver the Toad and Betzy the Bumblebee relay life lessons, garden and animal facts in light-hearted, entertaining tales, perfect for the young children you’re shopping for.

The Last Leaf
Click here to buy The Last Leaf from the author.

The Last Leaf

From the authorThis picture book is geared for young children ages 2-6. With rhyming words, your child will explore all the emotions that you might feel as the last leaf on a tree in the fall. (From the author.)

Ruby and the Rocket
Click here to buy Ruby and the Rocket from the author.

Ruby and the Rocket

A beautifully illustrated children’s book about a brother and sister hummingbird who discover a backyard garden. Come along with Ruby and Rocket to learn fun hummingbird facts, flower facts, and a life lesson of learning to be friends when you are siblings. (From the author.)

Oliver the Toad
Click here to buy Oliver the Toad from the author.

Oliver the Toad

This delightful story will take your child on a journey through a vegetable garden where they will learn toad facts, vegetable facts, and the life lesson of responsibility. (From the author.)

Betzy the Bumblebee
Buy Betzy the Bumblebee from the author.

Betzy the Bumblebee

Beautifully illustrated children’s book that introduces your child to bumblebee facts, wildflower facts, and the life lesson of learning to love being you. (From the author.)

How to Make Holly Luminaries

It’s party time! We’re smack dab in the middle of the holiday season and the parties are in full swing. During a bout of mild weather I hosted an impromptu gathering by the outdoor fireplace. The fire kept us warm and everyone agreed that it was nice to get some fresh air. There was hot chocolate, finger foods and s’mores – you can’t have a party around a fire without s’mores!

Set up was simple with Christmas lights to set the mood and a fire to serve as the focal point. For the buffet I dressed up a teak table with a red table cover from Tablevogue and a centerpiece made with a few logs from the firewood pile, Mason jars, holly leaves and votive candles. Here is how I put it together.

Materials:


3 firewood logs
6 Mason jars in different sizes
Holly branches with berries
6 votive candles
Water
Evergreen boughs

Directions:

Cut the logs into pedestals of various heights.

Place the holly leaves and berries in the jars. Fill with water and drop in a votive candle.

Arrange the log pedestals and Mason jars on a table. Add a few evergreen boughs as a finishing touch. Voila! Christmas!

Outdoor Winter Entertaining Tips

  • No fireplace? A fire pit or chiminea will work just as well.
  • Have a few blankets on hand to keep folks extra warm.
  • Tablevogue table covers are handy for gatherings because they are easy to use, fit well and the pleats make these table covers look sophisticated. They are also machine washable, which is a bonus when food and drinks are involved.
  • Serve foods such as fondue or slidders that are easy to handle with cold fingers or gloves on.

So when the temperatures drop, never fear. There are lots of ideas you can use to enjoy some of that colder weather and create a memorable time with your friends.

Gifts for Gardeners, Cooks and Homesteaders

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the countdown to Christmas. How is your gift shopping going? I’ve got my list pretty well worked out; now I just have to get out there and shop.

There are, of course, a few people who are impossible to shop for. You know the ones that either want nothing or already have everything. For them I have to get creative. What do you give these folks? Tell me in the comments section below.

Here is a roundup of some of the gifts I’m giving this year. Maybe one of these ideas will work for someone on your list too.

Gardener

Motus D-Grip and T-Grip $13.00 and $12.00

T-Grip

D-Grip

These genius grips will make garden work much kinder to your body. They attach to your shovel or hoe to give better leverage and lifting control
Available at www.GreenHeronTools.com.
Photo credit: Green Heron Tools

The Birds of BirdNote® 2014 Calendar $14.99

Support the public radio show BirdNote® and give a great looking calendar with photos shot by Gerrit Vyn conservation photographer and natural history media producer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Available at www.Birdnote.org.
Photo credit: BirdNote®

Gift Certificate to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Prices Vary

With options like ‘Blue Berries’ tomato, ‘Jimmy Nardello’ Italian pepper and ‘Delaware Indian Sacred’ nicotiana the recipient of a gift certificate from Baker Creek will also receive hours of daydreaming as they peruse the seed choices.
Available at www.RareSeeds.com.
Photo credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Subscription to Gardens Illustrated Magazine $27.84 for 6 Issues

Inspiration is one of the best gifts you can give a gardener. This British magazine is full of gorgeous photos, practical information and a lot of fodder for the imagination. Also available in a digital format for tablets.
Subscribe at www.GardensIllustrated.com.
Photo credit: Gardens Illustrated

Cook

Handcrafted Cutting Boards $44.99 – $299.99

These cutting boards are made in my home state of Arkansas by the great upcycler Paul Michael. The woods used are locally harvested or reclaimed.
Available at www.PaulMichaelCompany.com.
Photo credit: Paul Michael Company

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart Prices Vary

This New York Times bestseller is suitable for the cook or gardener on your list. Because, really, who doesn’t love a good cocktail? Especially one made with plants harvested from the garden.
Available at www.AmyStewart.com.
Photo credit: Amy Stewart

Berard Olive-Wood Salt Keeper $49.00

This is a gift I wish someone would give me! I have an olive-wood pepper mill that just gets more beautiful with age. This salt keeper would be a gorgeous addition to any kitchen.
Available at www.Casa.com.
Photo credit: Casa

Pie Bird $8.00

This clever baking tool is cute and helpful. The pie bird vents stem from pies as they bake preventing fillings from boiling over and ensuring a crisp bottom crust.
Available at www.LeCreuset.com.
Photo credit: Le Creuset

Homesteader

Weck Mold Jars Set of 6 $15.25 – $19.50

Even if I never put up a single batch of anything I’d have Weck jars around just because they are so attractive. Filled with homemade preserves they are a sight to behold!
Available at www.WeckJars.com.
Photo credit: Weck Jars

Interchangeable Knitting Needle Set $59.99

It’s funny how things go in and out of style. Right now knitting is once again all the rage. Treat your favorite knitter to a set of interchangeable needles from Knit Picks. The kit also comes with two cables for the Magic Loop method of knitting, end caps, a clear vinyl needle case and cable keys.
Available at www.KnitPicks.com.
Photo Credit: Knit Picks

Wire Egg Basket $24.75

It is my opinion that one can never have too many egg baskets. This basket has a center handle that makes gathering eggs a snap.
Available at www.MeyerHatchery.com.
Photo credit: Meyer Hatchery

“Pioneer” Clothes Drying Rack $109.00

This might not be the sexiest gift you give this year, but it will be the most used because nothing beats the smell of sun dried laundry. This handcrafted version offers 30 lineal feet of drying space.
Available at www.HomesteadDryingRacks.com.
Photo credit: Homestead Drying Racks

P. Allen Smith Gifts

I wouldn’t be a true entrepreneur without a little self-promotion. Here are three options for the P. Allen Smith fan on your list.

Tour and Lunch at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home $90.00

Treat someone to a tour the gardens and cottage and lunch.
Spring 2014 tour dates are now available. Purchase tickets here.

P. Allen Smith Holiday Collection $39.98 – $69.98

Hand-tied, sustainably harvested Noble Fir greenery available in five different styles.
Available at HomeDepot.com.

P. Allen Smith’s Seasonal Recipes from the Garden $24.74 – $17.32

My cookbook is a collection of recipes inspired by seasonal foods and my Southern heritage. There are a total of 120 dishes: 30 for each season.
Available at www.Amazon.com.

Plans for the Garden Home Cottage $500.00 – $1,500.00

Enable someone on your gift list to build their own garden home with a set of plans for the 1,870 square foot, eco-friendly cottage built at Moss Mountain Farm.
Available at Houseplans.SouthernLiving.com.