Tuesday, August 26, 2014

14 Better Desserts To Represent Arkansas Than Red Velvet Cake.

The marvelous sweet potato pie with real
whipped cream at Wilson Cafe, Wilson.
About once a quarter, there’s another insane creation put out on a website or in a magazine, that quantifies each of the 50 states by a particular food item or idea. As you may recall, I took Thrillist to task for overlooking a heck of a lot of great Arkansas start-up chains in this particular piece. Today, my target is Slate, which has chosen Red Velvet cake for Arkansas’s signature dessert. Slate is 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.

The problem I have with lists like these is that without significant research they’re, frankly, crap. I can understand where the poor reporter who was assigned this story was going through. Chances are, this was a quick assignment that didn’t cover travel expenses. I’m sure there was some scanning of the web and some juggling around, and maybe even a conversation with other people who like to eat desserts. However, without visiting a place or knowing its cuisine, how the heck can you make some blanket determination about what sort of dessert should represent that state?

So, Slate (and fans of Arkansas food), here’s a quick list. Yes, there are a lot of pies on the list. Hello? Please comment with your suggestions. Perhaps we can educate folks everywhere about some of the glorious bounty of sweets we produce right here in Arkansas.

And no, I’ll save possum pie til the end. You know it’s coming.

Cinnamon Roll at Your Mama's Good Food, Little Rock.
Cinnamon rolls. 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.

Chocolate rolls at Misty's Shell, Leslie.
Chocolate rolls. 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.

Butter roll at now defunct Madea's Kitchen, West Memphis.
Butter roll.  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.

Fried pies at Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales, Lake Village.
Fried pies. 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.

Butter cake at Bonnie's, Watson.
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.

Coconut meringue pie at Papa Joe's, Humnoke.
Meringue pie. 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 Brothers Cottage Café in Van Buren and Charlotte’s Eats and Sweets in Keo still serve up slices of marvelous meringue pies, from the traditional chocolate and coconut pies to caramel (Charlotte’s), peanut butter (Southern Grill, Batesville), cherry cream cheese (Hillbilly Hideout, Ozark), lemon (Neal’s Café, Springdale) and more.

Peanut butter pie at Overcup Diner, Overcup.
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).

Even Governor Mike Beebe loves Yarnell's Ice Cream.
Ice cream. Yes, I noticed that not a single one of the Slate state suggestions covers ice cream. Sure, there are desserts that contain ice cream, but none that cover the creamy goodness. So sure, we’ll claim that. 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, Skillet Restaurant, Mountain Home.
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.

Watermelon. I realize that yes, this is a fruit and not a created dessert, but WATERMELON.

How can you deny watermelon as a great dessert after seeing this face?

Chocolate chess pie at Alley Oops, Little Rock.
Chocolate chess pie. Virginia can lay claim to chess pie… after all, it’s just pie… but we’ll take the credit for putting chocolate into that baby and baking it up. Impossible to resist, simple to make and a frequent guest on restaurant menus all across the state.

Blackberries on the vine, Faulkner County.
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.

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
Chocolate and coconut cream pies at the Ranch House
Restaurant, Harrison.
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.

Possum pie at Stoby's, Russellville.
And of course, that brings me to possum pie. I direct you hither to more. Or to the book Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State. This one eponymous pie has been seen all over Arkansas and appears in menus across the state. It’s simple (here’s the recipe). It’s definitive. It probably should be considered as the state dessert, in my opinion.

What do you think? Have a better choice for Arkansas’s definitive dessert? Share it, please.

For this piece, I did my best not to duplicate other desserts listed in Slate's article.  There are a lot of other Arkansas desserts that could be considered, including but not limited to: pecan pie, apple pie, hummingbird cake, chocolate gravy (more of a breakfast item than a dessert), Earthquake cake, dutch oven cobbler, strawberry shortcake, sweet potato pie, apple dumplings, peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake, strawberry cobbler, mayhaw jam on biscuits (also another breakfasty thing), banana pudding, coconut layer cake, Pig Lickers (chocolate covered bacon), Ozarkies (more of a candy than a dessert), peanut brittle (same thing), cream pies and plain juicy, syrupy peaches.


  1. I vote for strawberry shortcake. It's such a big deal at Trio's and The Bulldog.

  2. Now you know I have to vote for watermelon! But that possum pie is looking so good, it's going on the "must make" list!

  3. I must confess, I had never heard of chocolate rolls or butter rolls. I must investigate! Even if I didn't have a pretty strong dislike for red velvet cake (I know, I know), I would say it's not THE Arkansas dessert. What the heck? I agree on watermelon (with a tad bit of salt) and AMEN to the ice cream! My Arkansas relatives always made homemade ice cream or they bought Yarnell's. I remember that even from growing up a Kansas girl.

  4. *whispers* I absolutely adore good and moist red velvet cake (and cupcakes and poptarts and even a funnel cake version at a festival earlier this year!) But it was fun reading about other desserts, including several I know nothing about but need to now investigate. Butter rolls?? Oh, and my Mom would give a huge vote towards fried pies. Her favorite thing ever! :-)

  5. Red Velvet Cake is my favorite. We've discussed this. But... let's be real, I think Oklahoma really should have fried pies. :( As good as ours are!

  6. I gotta find out how to make that butter roll!

  7. I saw a lot more pies at potlucks and on menus than I did Red Velvet Cake. I'm with you. As good as it may be, it's not Arkansas.

  8. Great article Kat! Red velvet cake? I have lived in Arkansas most of my life. No way.

  9. Love it, Kat!! Thanks again from Calico Rock for letting me use your article about us!! Fredericka

  10. Mmm, mmm, mmm... Just ate breakfast and you're making me hungry!

  11. I nominate blackberry cobbler. With a scoop of Yarnell's vanilla ice cream.

  12. I'm with you on possum pie. Or anything a la mode with Yarnell's.

  13. So with you on this! Much of the red velvet cake found on today's menus isn't the true RVC original anyway. I'd definitely add in strawberry shortcake, blackberry cobbler, and Pauline Bethel's a Coconut Pie (her original recipe). I grew up eating my Nonnie's butter cake and date nut cake (with its pound of pecans). Her fried pies --- well tree were none better to be found.


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