It never fails. Come the holidays, there's a scramble for what to do, what to cook ? and most importantly, what to give. As much as we'd like to give everyone we love an HDTV and a puppy, it's not going to happen.
But no matter who's on your list, there's one constant: People have to eat. Most people love to eat. Can you imagine anything more universal than food?
I consider myself to be a student of Arkansas's culinary arts. I know how to pick and strip turnip and collard greens, how to clean a rabbit, how to make a roux. I know when it's worth braving the briars to pick blackberries and what a good watermelon sounds like. I've been blessed with a lifelong immersion in good food and drink.
So when I was asked to come up with a comprehensive list of the sort of things I'd consider to be holiday food gift-giving essentials ? products made in Arkansas that I could vouch for ? I talked with everyone I could find.
I found myself searching for those items that were quintessentially Arkansas. Like Petit Jean Meats, a family operation that ships more than 100,000 hams every year during the holidays; its story accompanies this article. Burge's smoked turkeys. McClard's barbecue sauce. J&M cheese straws. We all know these products, we all love them and we're proud to ship them to friends all over the country.
But even the purveyors we know offer things we may not be so familiar with. I found out Mountain Valley Spring Water also makes coffee by glancing at the back of one of their trucks in traffic. At the Arkansas Rice Depot I discovered Bear Kingdom Vineyard's muscadine jelly … and that led me to the incredible Cherub's Rapture jelly Bear Kingdom sells. A visit with the folks who run Gifts of Arkansas turned me on to Liz and Linda's Golden Pecan Pepper Jelly, which combines well with cream cheese and crackers.
And to my delight, I discovered how easy it is to order so many of those same items via the Internet and by phone.
There were some items that eluded me. I spent weeks searching out mayhaw jelly. While I was able to find a jar that claimed to be from Arkansas, it turned out only the label originated here. I called all over South Arkansas, and there'd be one individual or another who knew someone else that knew someone else and … well, you get the picture.
Arkansas caviar was another item. The eggs of the spoonbill and paddlefish had been marketed earlier this decade by a couple of companies, but perhaps interest has dried up, since every search proved fruitless.
In the end, the collection I assembled combines products that we associate with our memories of heavily-laden tables during the holidays of our youth with new takes and ideas from Arkansans. Arkavores, here's to you.
This isn't just a gift guide; think of it as a handy reference on where to pick up Arkansas-made products that will inspire awe and compliments when they appear on your dinner table. We'll start with the main course.
ARMSTRONG BEEFALO: Packaged and shipped to you from White County, this year's holiday special is a box that includes Ground Beefalo, Ground Beefalo Sausage, Beefalo sausages and steaks, natural and Pecan smoked jerky for $50. The jerky is incredible. www.armstrongbeefalo.com. 501-882-2965.
?BURGE'S: The Lewisville/Little Rock connection is known for smoked turkeys delivered to your door. Burge's also sells hams, ducks and chickens (the chicken is highly recommended). If you're in town, save yourself the shipping costs and pick it up in the Heights. Turkeys are $4.89 a pound on pickup, $41.99-$81.99 for whole birds by mail order (includes shipping). Burge's in the Heights, 5620 R St. www.smokedturkey.com. 501-921-4292.