Foodways

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Entry Category: Foodways

Arkansas Food Hall of Fame

The Arkansas Food Hall of Fame was established by the Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH) in 2017, with the first honorees inducted in an event held that winter. The goal of the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame is to honor the food traditions and the Arkansans involved in the local culinary arts that represent the culture of Arkansas. The Arkansas Food Hall of Fame divides the awards into five categories: Arkansas Food Hall of Fame (for restaurants), Food-Themed Event, Proprietor of the Year, People’s Choice, and Gone but Not Forgotten. Every year, a nomination period is open to the public to choose restaurants for the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. The Arkansas Food Hall of Fame Committee selects the blue-ribbon …

Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance

The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance is a nonprofit collaborative network of more than 400 hunger relief organizations across Arkansas working to alleviate hunger in the state. Members include the Arkansas Foodbank in Little Rock (Pulaski County), Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas in Jonesboro (Craighead County), Harvest Texarkana Regional Food Bank in Texarkana (Miller County), Food Bank of North Central Arkansas in Norfork (Baxter County), Northwest Arkansas Food Bank in Bethel Heights (Benton County), and River Valley Regional Food Bank in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), as well as numerous food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. Arkansas has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. More than twenty-eight percent of Arkansas families with children experience food insecurity on …

Ashley, Eliza Jane

Eliza Jane Burnett Dodson Ashley spent more than thirty years as the cook in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, serving from the administration of Francis Cherry to Bill Clinton. Her 1985 book Thirty Years at the Mansion garnered her national attention. Eliza Jane Burnett was born in Pettus Township in Lonoke County on the Oldham Plantation on October 11, 1917. She was the daughter of William Burnett and Eliza Johnson Burnett. Eliza, who carried the same name as her mother, was often referred to as Liza or Janie. Although she had spent some time in Little Rock (Pulaski County) with her mother as a teenager, she was working on the Oldham Plantation when she married Calvin Dodson in 1933. Louis Calvin …

Atkins Pickle Company

Atkins Pickle Company was the major industry in the town of Atkins (Pope County) for more than fifty years, and its legacy survives in the annual Picklefest celebration that began in 1992. The building that housed the pickle plant now houses Atkins Prepared Foods. The new company employs more people than the pickle plant did at its end, but it does not provide the same level of recognition for the town once dubbed the “Pickle Capital of the World” and known as the home of the fried dill pickle. In 1946, a group of citizens led by Lee Cheek raised $17,000 for a loan to the Goldsmith Pickle Company of Chicago, which had agreed to invest $75,000 of its money …

Barbecue

Barbecue (both the cooking technique and the social institution) was introduced into the Arkansas Territory and most parts of the South by Anglo settlers traveling west from the eastern seaboard and Appalachian Mountains. By the time barbecue had crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas Territory, it was already a 150-year-old American institution and the standard form of celebration of American independence on the Fourth of July. On July 4, 1821, two of the first recorded barbecues took place in what would become the state of Arkansas. One event was held in Phillips County. W. B. R. Horner served as the presiding officer of the celebration and made the address of the day. From the account of Josiah Shinn, who detailed …

Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival

The Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival celebrates the pink tomato industry in southeastern Arkansas. Originally a one-day event, it has become a weeklong celebration that attracts approximately 30,000 people each year. In June 1956, the first Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival was held in Warren (Bradley County). Loran Johnson, who was director of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, was one of the founders of the festival. The one-day event included musicians, a carnival, and exhibits. Each year, a chairperson of the festival was chosen. A parade and beauty pageant were added the second year. Another festival event began after Jean Frisby, who was the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service (UACES) home economist for Bradley County, and Loran Johnson, who …

Breweries

Beer brewing in Arkansas dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Documentation on early beer brewing in Arkansas, however, is sparse. The Joseph Knoble Brewery operated in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) from 1848 to 1881. In Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Little Rock Brewing & Ice Company operated from 1898 until 1925 but sold only ice during its last decade in operation. After that, however, breweries did not begin operating in the state again until well after Prohibition ended in 1933. As German immigrants migrated to and settled in Arkansas, especially in the western portion of the state, many found homesteads near Fort Smith, where the state’s best-known historic brewery is located. Built circa 1848, the Joseph Knoble Brewery served locals …

Bruno’s Little Italy

Bruno’s Little Italy in Little Rock (Pulaski County) is one of the most well-known restaurants in central Arkansas, serving authentic Neapolitan food since 1949 and introducing hand-tossed pizza to Arkansas. It was founded by Vincent “Jimmy” Bruno and continues in the twenty-first century with his sons and grandson, although it has operated in several locations with brief interruptions over the years. Known for its fine food and also for the many photos of celebrities on the walls, it has been recognized as having the best Italian food in the United States. Giovanni Bruno emigrated from Naples, Italy, in 1903 to join his brother in opening one of New York’s first pizzerias—actually a bakery from which they served pizzas. He was …

Cavender’s All-Purpose Greek Seasoning

Lester “Spike” Cavender of Harrison (Boone County) created Cavender’s All-Purpose Greek Seasoning with his son Ronald Stephen Cavender in the late 1960s. It was adapted from a recipe by a Greek friend of Cavender’s who was a chef. For many years, the seasoning was shared only with their friends and family until they began selling it in 1969. Since 1978, Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning has been manufactured and sold by the S-C Seasoning Company, Inc. In May 1988, the company moved from its original location to a larger facility in Harrison. By 2015, a third generation of the Cavender family was producing and selling their world-famous Greek seasoning. Lester Robert “Spike” Cavender was born in Cooper, Delta County, Texas, …

Caviar

Arkansas caviar, which is distributed nationally, consists of eggs from certain freshwater fish caught in the state’s rivers. The commercial fishermen who supply the product to wholesalers generally obtain the eggs from the Arkansas, Mississippi, White, Cache, and St. Francis rivers in eastern Arkansas from late November until early April. The eggs come from paddlefish (commonly referred to in the Arkansas Delta as spoonbill catfish), shovelnose sturgeon, and bowfin. Armenian brothers Melkoum and Mouchegh Petrossian often are credited with popularizing caviar in Paris, France, in the 1920s and spurring a worldwide interest in the product. Paddlefish eggs make up the majority of the Arkansas caviar that is harvested. Paddlefish can be distinguished by their large mouths and elongated snouts, called the rostrum. …

Chateau Aux Arc Vineyards and Winery

One of several new vineyards in Arkansas, Chateau Aux Arc of Altus (Franklin County) promotes itself as the largest planter of Cynthiana grapes in the world as well as the largest planter of Chardonnay grapes in the United States outside of California. Chateau Aux Arc is named for the French term meaning “at the bend,” which is generally believed to be the origin of the name “Ozark.” The winery is owned and operated by Audrey House, who started it in 2001 at the age of twenty-five. House was born in Oklahoma in 1976 but lived in Little Rock (Pulaski County) from 1989 to 1994; she graduated from Pulaski Academy. She then studied psychology at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, …

Cheese Dip

Cheese dip is considered to be an important part of Arkansas’s food culture. Not only is cheese dip more popular in the Arkansas area than in other parts of the country, but some claim that the original cheese dip was invented either in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) or Hot Springs (Garland County). According to Nick Rogers, who has researched the history of cheese dip, the dish was invented by Blackie Donnely, the original owner of Mexico Chiquito restaurants. The Mexico Chiquito chain, which now has multiple locations in central Arkansas, was opened by Donnely and his wife in North Little Rock in 1935. Whether or not Donnely’s cheese dip was the first is hard to say, but his restaurant …

Cotham’s Mercantile

Cotham’s is a Little Rock (Pulaski County) restaurant that began as a country store in Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke counties). That mercantile became a restaurant in the 1980s, and the owners eventually opened a second location in downtown Little Rock. Known for its large “hubcap” burgers, catfish, Mississippi Mud pie, and other southern comfort food, it has been visited by well-known politicians and celebrities. The original location in Scott, which had become a landmark, burned down in 2017, but the Little Rock Cotham’s continued operating. Cotham’s mercantile was built in either 1912 or 1917, depending upon the source. For decades, it was a place where farmers and plantation owners could buy supplies. It also served for a time as a …

Cowie Wine Cellars

On August 17, 1967, Cowie Wine Cellars was established as a federal and state bonded winery in Paris (Logan County), fulfilling the lifelong passion of founder Robert Cowie, who had begun making wine as a hobby at age fifteen. Cowie Wine Cellars remains, by choice of its founder, the smallest winery in the state, though it has won a number of state and national awards, in particular for its Cynthiana and Robert’s Port. Robert Cowie built his winery, originally a small metal building, on the former property of St. Ann’s School, just west of Paris at Carbon City, in 1969. Three years later, his family was able to build a house on the property and move to the winery site, …

Diamond Bear Brewery

Diamond Bear Brewery in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) revived beer brewing in the state of Arkansas. Its name is derived from two previous monikers used by Arkansas: the “Diamond State” and the “Bear State.” Russ Melton, president and chief executive officer of Diamond Bear, served in the military in Germany for four years, where he acquired a taste for fine beers. He and his wife, Sue Melton, came up with the concept of a local brewery in 1999 and, along with seven other owners, started production in the fall of 2000 at a Little Rock (Pulaski County) facility. The mission statement of the company is: “To provide the people of Arkansas and the surrounding region with their own local brewery, which produces great …

Distilleries

In nineteenth-century Arkansas, the distilling of spirits was done mostly for home consumption. Some small-scale distillers set up taverns in their homes or supplied nearby drinking establishments, and several larger operations emerged by the late 1800s. Distilleries at that time were plentiful and could be found all throughout the state, although prohibition efforts in the early twentieth century put an end to legal distilling in the state for many years. In the twenty-first century, the state’s handful of distilleries focus mostly on small-batch specialty spirits. Newspapers of the 1800s frequently advertised distilleries that were opening, closing, or up for sale. One such example was a steam distillery located on Mine Creek in Hempstead County that was listed for sale in …

Dixie Cafe

The Dixie Cafe was a chain of home-cooking restaurants based in Little Rock (Pulaski County) that grew into twenty-three locations in three states before abruptly closing in late 2017. In August 1980, Little Rock businessman Dan Lasater, who had founded the Ponderosa steakhouse chain, and partners Garland Streett and Allan Roberts bought a building at 1220 Rebsamen Park Road in Little Rock and announced they were going to convert it into a new restaurant as part of the Black-eyed Pea chain (based in Dallas, Texas), which offered home-style cooking in a casual dining atmosphere. The new restaurant opened in late October 1980. “The food comes close to rivaling that of smaller, well-established restaurants,” an Arkansas Gazette reviewer wrote in November …