There are certain Arkansas foods that you’ll find on the table of any good Southern cook. Fried okra, homemade biscuits, and chocolate sheet cake are a few of my favorites.
It was the Fall of 2005 and I was a sophomore in college at Arkansas Tech University. One crisp evening I was introduced to Emily at an off-campus Baptist ministry event.
Emily was a funny, pretty girl from a small-town in the Arkansas River Valley. We were both attending college to become teachers and we became fast friends. There was just something about her that was magnetic and kind.
One weekend, Emily invited me to stay the weekend with her at her parents’ house. It was only a short 30 minute drive from our college to her hometown and she liked to go home to see family on the weekends.
I was delighted since my family was farther away and I’m always up for an adventure. This was my first experience with small town life and a little country church.
If I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from such a small town. I’m from the suburbs of Central Arkansas and though it doesn’t compare to places like Chicago or New York, it’s still one of the largest metropolitan areas in Arkansas.
My only real contact with small town life was when we occasionally went to the rodeo in Vilonia when I was younger.
Well, the visit to Emily’s home ended up being one of the most relaxing and refreshing trips I’ve ever taken. I’ve never met such friendly and genuine people.
However, one of the most memorable parts about that trip (and all the trips afterward) was the food. Emily and the women in her family could fix up a table full of good Arkansas cookin’ lickety split.
I still remember seeing Emily, her mama and her Mamma (Grandma) in a whirlwind in the kitchen after church on Sunday. The men would visit in the living room while the women got Sunday dinner on the table with so much speed and precision that I tried to stay out of the way.
They worked quickly but they talked and laughed the entire time!
This was the first time I was introduced to Mayonnaise rolls, tater tot casserole, and the most amazing chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted (though not all at the same time).
See, Emily comes from a long line of amazing Southern cooks. Cooking like they do usually doesn’t involve a cookbook and sometimes measuring spoons aren’t even needed. It’s a special gift and there’s love and talent in every dish.
”It’s like being a musician. You can teach anybody to play the piano, but there are those special few who really bring out the melody.” -source
If you’ve been blessed to sit at the table of a Southern cook then you know that a typical Sunday dinner or weeknight meal can often make you think it must be Thanksgiving. My husband calls it “putting out a spread.” The delicious choices seem endless.
So, what would you find on the table of an Arkansas cook?
Favorite Foods in Arkansas
Chicken fried steak
fried okra: What Does Okra Taste Like?
beans and cornbread
biscuits and chocolate gravy
chocolate sheet cake
chicken and dumplings
Poke salad (sallet)
lemon icebox pie
roast with carrots and potatoes
Just thinking about all of that makes me hungry!
I still remember the first time Emily taught me how to make her delicious tater tot casserole. After we made the meaty filling, I promptly dumped the tater tots on top and spread them out. Emily gave me a look that only a perfectionist can.
You know, it’s that look of confusion mixed with a little disgust and some “why do you have to be so messy” mixed in. She then began lining the tater tots up in rows. That day, I learned that being a good cook isn’t about being haphazard. Tater tots in rows just looks more appetizing!
I am truly thankful that Emily and her family fed my hungry college tummy so many times. The memories I made in their homes still warm my heart today. Sometimes, I close my eyes and go back.
After I got married, I strove to become a cook like them and 12 years later I’m still working on it.
If you’re still perfecting your skills in the kitchen and you’d rather eat out for a while, The Natural State is full of amazing restaurants that serve the BEST catfish in Arkansas and the most AMAZING wings in Arkansas.