Arkansas Food: The A to Z of Eating in The Natural State is aimed at educating food lovers in the state's culinary lexicon, and to encourage eaters to delve further into local food. Here are some questions answered by author Kat Robinson.
What sort of research went into creating this book?
I grew up in Arkansas, and have lived here most of my life, so I have a good basis on Arkansas food. I've been actively seeking out more information both in my previous career as a television producer but especially in the 11 years I have spent as a full time food and travel writer. As a journalist, I always wanted to present the most factual view of what I covered - and, since Arkansas food has been a primary emphasis of mine, I have strived to learn as much as I can about the subject. In relation to this particular book, I started pulling together the entries and the photography in 2016 before really digging in and tying it all together in the second half of 2018.
What sparked your interest in covering Arkansas food?
In particular, a chef asked me back in 2007 to define Arkansas food, and while I didn't feel qualified to answer at that time, I've worked very hard to soak myself in the knowledge of the subject since.
Were you surprised by any of the foods you came across?
I've known for some time that the familiar "exotic" foods such as fried pickles, cheese dip and chocolate gravy are known outside the state as our most famous foods. I was startled to discover others, such as the Tomolive (an immature tomato pickled like a cucumber that resembles a green olive and which is used in mixed drinks) was created here. The array of chocolatemakers that have set up shop in the past decade in Arkansas, along with the new round of craft beermakers, has also increased quite a bit. In my research of decades-old church cookbooks from all over the state, I found recipes for squirrel and beaver and so many different varieties for cheese dip. Even though I have dedicated all this time to reseaarching my state's culinary offerings, I still feel there's much to learn.
What are the signature dishes of Arkansas?
In addition to cheese dip, fried pickles and chocolate gravy, there are a number of dishes Arkansas folks expect at the table. They include fried chicken and spaghetti in the Ozarks, duck and rice in the Delta, country fried venison in Lower Arkansas and the summer plate (a usually meatless lunch of fresh vegetables, beans, cornbread and fruit) all over. Brown gravy on rice, apple butter on biscuits, smoked ham and turkey, green tomato relish, catfish on Fridays, PurpleHull peas, fried okra and squash, fresh sliced Bradley County pink tomatoes and hunks of ice cold watermelon are all Arkansas foods we tend to bring to the table.