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.
CROSS-EYED PIG BBQ. Six hours of hot smoke plus great meat equals a really good ham or turkey for your holiday dinner with no preparation necessary. Ask about sidecars, and put your order in early. Turkeys (12 pounds) are $49, half spiral hams $44. 1701 Rebsamen Park Road. www.crosseyedpig.com. 265-0000.
EUREKA! JERKY. I kid you not … raccoon jerky is actually pretty tasty, especially when smoked with good hickory wood. Beef, opossum, and armadillo also available in a range of flavors including Cajun and habanero. $6 for four ounces or $28 a pound. Road Kill Cafe in Eureka Springs. www.eurekaroadkillcafe.net. 479-363-9922.
KENT'S DOWNTOWN/THE MEAT SHOPPE. Pork loin, pork butt, Italian pork roast, Andouille, summer sausage, beef brisket and a pork-friendly barbecue sauce. Order on-site at the store or call Kent Berry and ask for shipping possibilities. By the pound, ranging from $2.99 for pork chops to $4.99 for Italian pork roast on up; smoked holiday turkeys $30. Oppenheimer Hall at the River Market, The Meat Shoppe at 14509 Highway 107 Suite A, Gravel Ridge. www.meatshoppe.com. 833-2100.
PASQUALE'S TAMALES. All-beef tamales that are cooked and then flash-frozen, no preservatives at all. Boy, these things are addictive. Wrapped in threes, sold by the dozen. Pasquale's motto is “so good you'll suck the shuck,” and that's pretty close to the truth. $39.99 for three dozen or $69.99 for six dozen. Made in Helena. www.sucktheshuck.com. 870-338-1109.
PETIT JEAN MEATS. The Arkansas standard for peppered hams and bacon. Order and send a gift box just about anywhere. 12-14 pound ham $73, 8-10 pound turkey $43 (includes shipping). Kent's Downtown, major grocery chains. www.petitjeanmeats.com. 800-264-2475.
RATCHFORD FARMS. Want something exotic? How about elk and buffalo, mailed to you frozen in roasts, steaks, sausages or ground meat? I've enjoyed Ratchford's products at Jasper's Boardwalk Cafe; they're organically and locally raised and pretty delicious, too. Low on fat and grease. Two big buffalo roasts or six buffalo steaks will set you back $50. You get what you pay for. www.ratchfordexoticmeats.com. 870-448-5179.
WATERFALL HOLLOW FARMS. These award-winning ranchers raise cattle on pastures in the Ozarks. The beef is dry-aged for 21 days before being cut, packaged and frozen. Even with the expense, it's great meat. Skip the ground beef and go for steaks or roasts. $6 a pound for roasts, $6-15 a pound for steaks, some good gift boxes in the $50-60 range. www.waterfallhollowfarm.com. 870-423-2773.
?FRESH BEANZ. Fabulously roasted on order, but not all that expensive. The French roast speaks volumes on its own. Wanting a smoother, kinder blend with a lot of flavor? Check out the Sulawesi, low on acid and yet still deep. You can request a special blend based on your tastes. Several Eureka Springs area eateries, coffeeshops and B&Bs use their products, including the Mud Street Espresso Company. A pound is around $8, give or take a dollar. Warning: Shipping costs nearly as much as the coffee, so pick it up at the cafe or get a friend to send you a pound. Mud Street Cafe, in Eureka Springs. www.freshbeanz.com. 479-981-2922.
MOUNTAIN VALLEY. The Mountain Valley Spring Water folks have come up with a coffee now. It's a dark and nutty roast and is relatively inexpensive. Available for offices, too. Coffee packets are sold for $1 at the Mountain Valley Visitors Center in Hot Springs. www.mountainvalleyspringstore.com. 501-442-8221.
ROZARK HILLS. A family business that also roasts to order; coffee can be picked up at several places around Little Rock, including the Station at Kavanaugh and Markham. The Southern Supper blend is great with desserts. $5-10 per pound. www.rozarkhillscoffee.com. 501-556-5808.
COCOA BELLE CHOCOLATES. Looking for divine chocolate inspiration? Check out Cocoa Belle in the River Market. The chocolatier's impressive little pieces of joy aren't cheap … you definitely pay for what you get. But if you're looking for gorgeous truffles that are sweet flavor favorites, here's your stop. For an extra touch, Cocoa Belle can print on chocolate. 50 cents a piece, sold in increments of 9, 16, 25 and 50. Little Rock River Market's Oppenheimer Hall. www.cbchocolat.com. 372-4099.
MARTIN GREER'S CANDIES. The little candy shop in Gateway, between Rogers and Eureka Springs on Highway 62, does amazing caramels and decent pecan pralines for shipping (cool months only). Chocolates are a little on the pricey side but worth it … made preservative-free with real chocolate, sweet cream butter, dry roasted nuts and other ingredients. Go for the Pecan Tempters, you won't be disappointed. $11.50 a pound for brittle, $14-$17 a pound for fudge and chocolates. www.martingreerscandies.com. 479-656-1440.
PATTICAKES. This new entry out of Russellville should twist taste buds. Patticakes (the bakery that provides the bread for Stoby's) has entered the fudge market and will be shipping this holiday season. The pistachio nut is bright green and addictive. It also offers crazy flavors like malted milk chocolate. I'm impressed. $4.99 for half a pound. 411 W. Parkway, Russellville. www.patticakesbakery.net. 479-968-8945.
?PHIL's FABULOUS FUDGE/HEAVEN'S FUDGE. There are only three choices at Heaven's Fudge (otherwise known as Phil's Fabulous Fudge), but all are sold the day they're made. In fact, the North Little Rock-based shop only ships when it knows its just-poured fudge will get to you quickly; no weekend mail-outs. $21.65 a pound. www.heavensfudge.com.
?TWO DUMB DAMES. Fresh cream fudges are headliners at this popular shop on Eureka's South Main Street, along with homemade s'mores, turtles and English Toffee. Go for Rum Fudge or Dark Chocolate and Raspberries with Cream and add a side of Divinity. Gift baskets and boxes start at $16.99, custom orders available. 33 S. Main, Eureka Springs. www.twodumbdames.com. 800-237-7268.
ANDREW'S. A little pricier than Juanita's, but this brittle maker also does sunflower brittle, along with sugar-free options of all of its nut choices. $20-$24 for 1½-pound tubs, $29-$35 for 3-pounders. Bulk discounts start with two tubs. Diane's Gourmet. www.andrewscandycompany.com. 870-246-2796.
JUANITA'S CANDY KITCHEN. The other famed brittle maker in Arkadelphia is cheaper and very dependable. This is what I think about when I get brittle. Choose the variety bucket if you're introducing someone to Juanita's for the first time. $11 for 1½-pound tub peanut or $12.75 for 1½-pound pecan or cashew, $18.50-$23 for 3-pound tub. Diane's Gourmet. www.juanitascandykitchen.com. 870-246-8542.
J&M. Cheese straws are an essential part of any Arkansas food gift basket. But have you tried J&M's cookies? I became an instant fan of the season's new cranberry cookies ? and they come in a pretty blue Santa tin. Other favorites are lemon, chocolate orange, holiday spice and, of course, key lime. $3.49 for a 2.5-ounce package of cheese straws, $10.95 for a 12-ounce tin. Eggshell Kitchen Company, Burge's in the Heights, Savory Pantry … aw, heck, you'd be hard pressed not to find them somewhere. Go get some. There's a website, www.jm-foods.com, with information but no mail orders are taken.
OTIS & BETTY'S. Strangely enough, I'd never tried O&B before beginning research for this article, but I'm hooked. Oh, the crunchy goodness. The combination of nuts (almonds, cashews & pecans) and pretzel bits and such is a winner on its own. I fell in love with the Get Rich! Combo, which is drizzled in white and milk chocolate. Cin-Ful is also decadently good. I want some in my stocking. Diane's Gourmet, Terry's Finer Foods. $4-$10. 312-8747.
ARKANSAS RICE DEPOT. Purchase gourmet rice and bean mixes for your loved ones and feed hungry Arkansans. $4-$5 for mixes, $40-50 for baskets. 3801 W. 65th St. www.ricedepot.org. 565-8855.
DE WAFELBAKKERS. Want an easy Christmas breakfast that's delicious and local? Check out De Wafelbakkers. It offers all sorts of great waffles, pancakes and such. For the health-conscious, there's whole grain organic waffles in apple cinnamon and blueberry. Good enough to eat without syrup. $12.50 for a box of 48. There's your Christmas brunch. Holland Waffles at Kroger, Pancakes at Wal-Mart, Organic Blueberry Pancakes at Fresh Market. www.dewafelbakkers.com. 791-3320.
WAR EAGLE MILL. All organic grains ground on-site and available to you at reasonable prices. A must-order for anyone on your mailing list who cooks. Most gift baskets and boxes run $18-$35. River Market Grocery, Eggshell Kitchen Company. www.wareaglemill.com. 479-789-5343.
WOODY'S. Planning a barbeque? Do yourself a favor, and find yourself some of Woody's Authentic BBQ Dry Rub and Seasoning. The Waldenburg-originated spice adds truly Arkansas flavors to ribs, roasts and pork butts; the makers will also tell you to put it on meatloaf, chicken, and anything else that can be thrown on a grill. Five-ounce shaker for $5.69, 22-ounce bottle $12.99. Terry's Finer Foods. 870-579-2251.
McCLARD'S. Good enough for a president to order from afar, the slightly thin and graciously spicy sauce is rib-worthy. I hear it's good on goat, too, though I mainly use it on beef ribs. Three 18-ounce bottles for $14.95 or two gallons for $42. 505 Albert Pike, Hot Springs. Also at Savory Pantry and Clinton Museum Store. www.mcclards.com. 866-622-5273.
MONK SAUCE. Fr. Richard Walz brought habanero pepper seeds from Belize to Subiaco and planted them at the monastery. In 2003, Monk Sauce hit the market. It's hot. It made my eyes water. But it's also very tasty. $8 for one to three 5-ounce bottles by mail order, $4 each for four or more plus $12 shipping and handling. That's plenty. www.subi.org. 479-934-1001.
ROBBI'S SALSA. Robbi's, out of North Little Rock, has a good balance of spices, tomatoes, and peppers without a whole lot of heat. Fry yourself some fresh tortilla chips to really enjoy it. $7.95 for 16 ounces, hot or mild. Eggshell Kitchen Company, Clinton Museum Store. 758-9616.
PEACE BEE FARM. The happy by-product of bees needed to pollinate cotton and soybeans in Arkansas's Delta is available from this Proctor farm. Clean, clear with slightly spicy undertones. The farm also sells beauty products and candles made from beeswax. $4 for a 12-ounce honey bear or $5.50 for a 16-ounce jar. River Market Grocery. www.peacebeefarm.com. 870-702-7976.
JAMS and JELLIES
ALLY'S JELLY. From a place called Hope, homemade fig preserves, pear preserves, muscadine and Ally-peno (Jalapeno) jellies. $5 for an 8-ounce jar, $20 and up for gift baskets, cases of Ally-peno $50 for 12. www.allysjelly.com. 870-777-9668.
BEAR KINGDOM VINEYARDS. Muscadine, scuppernong, Arkansas wines, cherry, pineapple, mango, and berry jellies and jams. The Cherub's Rapture is a must-try. Baskets by phone-order only. $3.59-$6.29 a jar, $21-$30 a basket. 13106 Arch Street (call first) or Old Mill Bread Company, Kitchen Company, Arkansas Rice Depot, Shoppes on Woodlawn in the Heights. www.bearkingdom.com. 888-1015.
HOUSE OF WEBSTER. A Northwest Arkansas favorite of long-standing. I keep a jar of the Mild Chow Chow handy for adding to corn or beans. Go for the Damson Plum Preserves, Wild Blackberry Preserves and Pumpkin Butter in a gift pack for a trio of Arkansas taste. A 3-pint pack is $36.30 (shipping included). War Eagle Mills, Pickles Gap Store. www.houseofwebster.com. 800-369-4641.
LIZ & LINDA'S. Put their Golden Pecan Pepper Jelly on your list. Don't forget the cream cheese. Pretty, substantial, both spicy and meaty. Get the other two delicious flavors Å original (green from bell peppers) and hot (red from red bell peppers and jalapenos) if you really want to show some flash to your guests with a traffic-light combo. $7.25 for an 11-ounce jar. Savory Pantry. www.lizandlindaspepperjelly.com. 870-365-0968.
SUZANNE'S FRUIT FARM. South Arkansas's place to pick-and-take-home peaches and berries doesn't close down for the winter months. Order up some fantastic preserves and sauces in Arkansas-made baskets to bring a little summer to your holidays. I seriously dig the peach preserves. State Hwy. 274 northeast of Hampton. $15-45 a basket. www.suzannesfruitfarm.com. 870-798-4975.
DOELING DAIRY. European-styled goat milk cheeses, available in sampler packs shipped right to the recipient. I love the bite of their Raw Goat Milk Feta. $24-$60 for the average sampler basket. Boulevard Bread Co. www.doelingdairy.com. 888-524-4571.
BREAD AND DESSERTS
CHIP'S BARBECUE. Locals know this is the place to order your holiday pie. Cream pies, baked pies and cheesecakes from family recipes; good enough to hide the box and claim you made them yourself. Order early for pre-holiday pickup. $17.95 for pies, $37.95 for the massive cheesecakes. 9801 W. Markham St. www.chips-barbecue.com. 225-4346.
FLOSSIE'S FUNNEL CAKES & COTTON CANDY. Funnel cake and corn dog mix, ring and funnel kits for home use and pre-packaged (and shelf-stable) cotton candy. Ring and funnel kit $9, funnel cake mix $7, cotton candy varies. River Market Grocery www.flossiesfunnelcakes.com and www.flosszone.com (for cotton candy). 800-844-3567.
KLAPPENBACH BAKERY. The little bakery that could is back open after a fire closed things down earlier this year. Cakes made from scratch, hearty breads, and fabulous gingerbread cookies. A small gift box with three loaves of bread or one cake is $45, large box with five loaves or two loaves and a cake is $60. 108 W. Fourth St., Fordyce. www.klappenbachbakery.com. 870-352-7771.
SERENDIPITIES. Have a diabetic in your family, or just trying to watch your calories? The holidays may seem like a desperate time for those trying to avoid sugar, but you are in luck. Try the loaded cinnamon rolls Åyou won't miss the sugar. Order for delivery anywhere or have it delivered in Little Rock for $10. $30-45 for cakes and cheesecakes or a dozen cookies or cinnamon rolls. www.serendipitiessweets.com. 372-9911.
DIAMOND BEAR. The local brewery has expanded its product line, and in addition to its Paradise Porter, Presidential IPA, Pale Ale, Southern Blonde, Irish Red and Honey Weiss (my favorite), the seasonal Two-Term IPA will be offered where Diamond Bear is on tap. Pick up a growler of Diamond Rock Root Beer while you' re at the brewery. Don' drink it just because it's local, drink it because it's good. Available in liquor stores. 323 Cross St., www.diamondbear.com. 708-2739.
OST FAMILIE VINEYARDS. While you can't ship wine, you can pick up great juices and jellies from the family website. Head to the store in Altus for more, including wine and wine gifts. I personally give a big thumbs up to Post Familie Mulling Spices Å individual spice bags you can drop in your wine, grape juice or apple juice. Juices $7, jellies $4. 1700 St. Mary's Road in Altus. www.postfamilie.com. 800-275-8423.
ARKANSAS DELTA MADE. Find producers, farmers, and artists from the Arkansas Delta Å like Woody's barbecue sauce and rub, Uncle Cat's catfish, Granny Clay's chocolate gravy, Out o'Afrika spices and chutneys, etc. Å through the Delta Made website. Buy from the Delta and help smaller operators thrive. www.arkansasdeltamade.com. 870-816-0774.
ARKANSAS FOODBANK NETWORK. Give a gift that gives a whole lot. Check out the Arkansas Foodbank Network's Holiday Gift Program. Provide 125 meals for families for $25, 42 meals to hungry seniors for $32.50, or fill a backpack for $4.73. You can print out a card or send an eCard to any recipient. wwwarkansasfoodbank.feeding-hope.org. 501-565-8121.
GIFTS OF ARKANSAS. Start here to find Arkansas gift baskets. They package up just about anything you can find Arkansas-made in a variety of combinations (like “The Natural,” Della Gourmet Rice, Cavender's Seasoning, Fischer's Honey, Aunt B's pecans and more) or will combine to order. www.giftsofarkansas.com. 225-7624.
SAVORY PANTRY. The gourmet shop that started by selling Pancake Shop products now features all sorts of items from around Arkansas, like Richard's Honey, Fresca & Bella pasta sauce and more. Stop by and check out all the daily samples of dips, preserves, and assembled recipes. 214 Central Ave., Hot Springs. www.savorypantry.com. 877-426-4887.