05 Nov 2023 Naturally sweet
By Kat Robinson
About once a quarter, there’s another insane creation put out on a website or online magazine that quantifies each of the 50 states by a particular food item or idea. A few years ago, an online magazine based in New York chose Red Velvet cake for Arkansas’s signature dessert. They were wrong.
Mind you, I like Red Velvet cake. I really do. But it’s quite clearly a Louisiana food.
We have no need to borrow desserts. We have oodles of our own!
With so many different desserts to choose from, Arkansas has a lot of great options to share. We can leave red velvet cake to our south-of-the-Arkansas-border neighbors.
A classic that came along long before biscuits-in-a-can, the cinnamon roll (along with fudge and smoked meats) once lined our highways with one stand after another, claiming to have the largest and best. There are still numerous amazing cinnamon rolls across the state, from the largest at Burl’s Country Smokehouse in Royal and the almost-as-large at Ferguson’s in St. Joe to the icing-less variety served with every meal at Calico County.
If you have no clue what a butter roll is, I am so very sorry. A divine combination of cream, butter and flour elevated to the highest essence of richness, it is a divine dessert you will rarely find on a restaurant menu. Created from a biscuit-type dough rolled out, dolloped heavily with real butter and sugar and nutmeg, rolled up and baked and then smothered in more cream, sugar, butter and nutmeg (and sometimes cinnamon) and let to rest until every sweet drop is absorbed, then often topped with MORE cream, sugar, butter and nutmeg… this Arkansas delight is incomparable.
Searcy County in the Arkansas Ozarks has named itself the Chocolate Roll Capital of the World, and for good reason. This long-time homegrown favorite has recently emerged as a contender for great dessert across Arkansas. Similar to a cinnamon roll, its cocoa-and-sugar essence has become the must-stop food for folks traveling through Leslie and Marshall. Get yours at Misty’s Shell on U.S. 65.
Oklahoma cannot have fried pie. It ain’t happening. Yeah, it’s sweet, the little story about the lady who fried pies. We have dozens of those stories. Our fried pies have been made in the Delta for generations.
Generations of home cooks in Arkansas have beat the hell out of egg whites in efforts to create the perfect halo of essence over a variety of creamy fillings for these angelic pies. While Ed and Kay’s Restaurant has closed, ending decades of its fine standing with Mile High Pies, purveyors such as Charlotte’s Eats and Sweets in Keo, which still serves up slices of marvelous meringue pies, from the traditional chocolate and coconut pies to caramel, to places like Hillbilly Hideout in Ozark with its cherry cream cheese meringue pies, and Neal’s Cafe in Springdale, with its almost iridescent lemon variety.
Pound cake or butter cake.
The first recipe my mom taught me to bake was a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, a pound of butter and a pound of eggs. She simplified this for me as a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, a stick of butter and an egg. Pound cake, or butter cake, became part of my life early on, and to this day I keep seeing it in restaurants, at potlucks and wherever. No one else has it, let’s claim it.
Peanut butter pie.
We can’t claim to be the original home of Skippy Peanut Butter, but in Little Rock we make tons of it. Whether that has anything to do with the plethora of peanut butter pies offered across the state or not, I don’t know. You can find it on restaurant menus a little bit of everywhere, from Jonesboro (Gina’s Place) to Mabelvale (Three Sams BBQ).
We have Yarnell’s, which produces such delectable and honestly scrumptious flavors such as Homemade Strawberry, Butter Pecan and Ozark Black Walnut.
Thank you, just put ice cream on that list for us now.
Lemon icebox pie.
How can there not be an icebox pie on this list? The simple, easy-to-make marvel should have made the list somewhere, and as many cooks who delight in this cold confection as there are, let’s choose to name it a source of Arkansas pride.
Blackberries in sweetened condensed milk.
Another item you will never find on a restaurant menu, this simple yet decadent sweet is well known to kids who have grown up in rural Arkansas.
I realize that this is a fruit and not a created dessert, but WATERMELON. How can you deny watermelon as a great dessert after seeing these faces?
Pies in general.
There is no other state that reveres pie like we do. And we do it so well and in so many different combinations: PCP (Pineapple, Coconut, Pecan), Dang Good (Pineapple and Coconut), Bourbon Chocolate Pecan, Tang (yes, the astronaut drink), grape, Grasshopper (chocolate mint), old fashioned fried (cocoa-sugar-butter filled), lemon-coconut, Black Bottom, blackberry, cherry cream cheese, Dreamsicle, strawberry icebox, strawberry cream, strawberry cream cheese, baked strawberry, peach, peach cream cheese, peach-blackberry, blueberry, Turtle, Almond Joy, caramel apple nut, Karo nut, sugar pecan, sweet potato, chocolate pile, chocolate cream, chocolate chocolate chocolate, possum pucker, raisin, shoo-fly, pecan, oatmeal, cushaw, four-layer, toasted coconut, caramel, coconut pecan, Bradley County pink tomato, chocolate caramel cream, brown sugar, egg custard, hot fudge, walnut, pineapple cream, banana cream, lemon custard … I could go on all day. Pie belongs to Arkansas. We are the pie state.
And of course, that brings me to possum pie. This one eponymous pie has been seen all over Arkansas and appears on menus across the state. It’s simple, just being four layers – a flour and pecan crust, a cream cheese layer, a chocolate custard layer, and a whipped cream layer sprinkled with pecans. It’s definitive. It probably should be considered as the state dessert, in my opinion.