Tag: Arkansas

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

Top Six Must-See List for Arkansas This Fall

I’ve always known that Arkansas is the place to be and now the secret is getting out. Just this year Little Rock was named a top ten midsized city by Kiplingers and Editor’s Choice by Outside magazineIn this guest post Arkansas Tourism Director Joe David Rice shares six great places to visit in Arkansas during one of the best times to come – fall.

All four of Arkansas’s seasons have their charms, but fall’s my favorite. That first crisp morning after the dog days of summer recharges my flagging batteries and reminds me that cooler days are coming. Shown below, in no particular order, are half a dozen options for entertaining autumn getaways in The Natural State:

1) Driving the length of Crowley’s Ridge Parkway in eastern Arkansas should be on everyone’s bucket list. For nearly 200 miles, this national scenic byway traverses the winding terrain of Crowley’s Ridge, a fascinating geological anomaly extending from Helena-West Helena north to the Arkansas-Missouri state line. Civil War battlefields, historic districts, cemeteries, state parks, antique shops, golf courses and some fine barbecue joints line the route – and the fall foliage can be stunning.

2) Checking out the harvest in southeastern Arkansas is worth a trip, especially when you work in visits to Lakeport Plantation, historic Arkansas City and the Japanese internments sites at McGehee and Rohwer. Bargain shoppers will enjoy a stop at Paul Michael Company in Lake Village.

3) Walking the grounds at Crystal Bridges is a true delight. We’ve all heard about the outstanding collection of masterworks in the Moshe Safdie-designed complex of buildings, but don’t forget the 120-acre site includes 3.5 miles of splendid trails – complete with outdoor sculptures, picturesque bridges and a gurgling stream. Park your car on the square in downtown Bentonville and walk to nearby Compton Gardens where you’ll catch trails winding through the lush landscapes to the museum.

4) Floating the lower end of the Buffalo National River (from Buffalo Point down to Rush – or on to the White River if you have time) can be a wonderful fall experience. With the summer crowds pretty much gone, your chances of seeing wildlife are that much better. The gravel bars and bluffs provide great scenery, particularly if you can time your trip with the peak of fall colors. Bring your camera and poke around a bit in Rush, one of the state’s only surviving ghost towns.

5) Touring Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs is always a special treat, but it’s even better with the enchanting Splash of Glass exhibit featuring 225 pieces of James Hayes’ handcrafted art (through September). This 210-acre peninsula, located on the shores of Lake Hamilton south of Hot Springs, includes 3.8 miles of easy-to-negotiate trails. For those not up for a good walk, tours by golf carts are available.

6) Last but not least on the list is hiking the Cossatot River Corridor Trail. Maybe a bit lengthy for most at 12 miles, this southwestern Arkansas treasure can be broken down into more manageable segments. There’s no better place to grasp an appreciation of the Ouachitas than along this relatively unknown footpath which parallels a beautiful mountain stream.

Between football games, county fairs and festivals, fall in Arkansas can slip away before you know it. So grab your calendar and set aside a couple of days for yourself. If none of the above ideas appeal to you, check out www.Arkansas.com for plenty of others.

Buffalo, Yoga and Black Walnut Pie

I recently spent a great couple of days around the Jasper area shooting some segments for an upcoming episode of my Garden Home television show. This scenic town is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and surrounded by the natural beauty of the Buffalo River.

The Buffalo River Valley

My trip included a stay at the historic Arkansas House. This inn is ideally located along scenic Highway 7 with easy access to both the Buffalo River and Ozark National Forest. Janet Morgan, owner of the Arkansas House with her husband, Joseph, graciously taught me how to make her famous Black Walnut Pie.

Janet showed me how to make the famous Arkansas House Black Walnut Pie.

I also visited with the Ratchford family on their farm. Originally founded in the 1950s, Ratchford Farms grazes buffalo, elk, and cattle on a 500 acre spread. The farm is located along the Buffalo River, which provides a beautiful area for the cattle to roam the open meadows and drink from pure spring water.

Jethro mugs for the camera and for a treat.

Finally, I visited with Holly and Matt Krepps, owners of the Circle Yoga Shala. They were kind enough to walk me around the 25 acre working homestead located on Shiloh Mountain. The property includes a fruit orchard, grape vineyard, pastures, and walking trails. They also showed me some easy, but beneficial yoga poses for gardeners.

A little yoga before gardening.

It was a wonderful trip and I highly recommend spending a few days in this beautiful part of our state.