Holiday Cheer: Give the Gift of Arkansas

Holiday Cheer: Give the Gift of Arkansas

Last year at this time, I lamented my lack of organization, a deficiency that kept me from devoting most of the column to listing the many great Arkansas food-related products perfect for holiday corporate gift-giving.

So this year, I started a little earlier. I reached out to several old and new friends, people who write knowledgeably and passionately about food, people like Max Brantley, Greg Henderson, Rex Nelson and Kat Robinson, and they shared some of their favorite gifts to give — and receive. Most folks would be thrilled to find these products in an Arkansas-themed gift basket.

There’s a lot to be said for giving items produced in this state. Arkansas is not perfect (I haven’t found the perfect place; drop me a line if you do), but it’s home and I love it and I love its people (some of them; they know who they are) and I like sharing what’s best about it. And if you do business here, it’s not a bad idea to keep your money in Arkansas.

The list isn’t all-inclusive and I’ll miss standout products. Drop me another line and I’ll try to include your favorites next time.

Robinson, the Arkansas food and travel writer and the author of the Tie Dye Travels blog, mentioned products from two firms straight away: Petit Jean Meats and Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys & Hams. She was joined in her enthusiasm for Petit Jean Meats by Brantley, proprietor of the Arkansas Times blog, and Nelson, columnist and senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

About Petit Jean ham, Brantley said, “I’ve given it to people all over the country and they all think they’ve never had better ham.” Petit Jean bacon is my height-of-summer bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich bacon, and I can also personally vouch for Burge’s turkeys and hams.

These three also recommended peanut brittle from Juanita’s Candy Kitchen. “There are many competitors and all have their fans,” Brantley said, “but my brother-in-law in California is a brittle connoisseur and he favors Juanita’s. So that’s good enough for me.” And Nelson is proud that Juanita’s, which also makes other kinds of brittle, is located in his hometown of Arkadelphia. As for me, I’ve been known to give myself a nut headache from overindulging. It’s addictive.

Nelson also cited Coursey’s Smoked Meats in St. Joe (Searcy County) and “when George’s Fish Market in Marvell has Arkansas freshwater caviar, it is wonderful.”

Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning, produced in Harrison and based on “an ancient Greek formula,” is a nice addition to a gift basket, Robinson said.

Back to meats, Robinson recommended Ratchford Farms in Marshall, particularly its snack sticks of buffalo meat, venison, wild boar and elk.

Henderson, the keeper of the Rock City Eats blog, was the food newshound who broke the story of Trader Joe’s coming to Little Rock. He pointed to his own food and drink holiday gift guide of a few years ago, most of it still current, but specifically suggested local coffee (such as Leiva’s) and Cocoa Belle Chocolates. “I also love grabbing a growler of good beer from Flyway, Rebel Kettle or Lost 40 to give out,” Henderson said.

Other Arkansas coffee roasters include Onyx Coffee Lab, RoZark Hills, Westark Coffee, Atypical Coffee, Mountain Bird Coffee & Tea and Guillermo’s.

Robinson also praised Kyya Chocolate, Martin Greer’s Candies, the fabulous cheese straws and cookies from J&M Foods, the snack foods from Wicked Mix, the flours and cornmeal from War Eagle Mill and the cocktail mixers from Pink House Alchemy in Fayetteville. And don’t forget wines from the state’s wineries.

For those who enjoy reading about food, Robinson has written a couple of books about Arkansas pie, as well as “Arkansas Food” and “101 Things to Eat in Arkansas Before You Die.” She tells us that “102 Things to Eat in Arkansas Before You Die” is coming out soon. They’d fit right in in a gift basket.

While We’re on the Topic ...

Rock Town Distillery of Little Rock scored a triumph recently with the rating of five of its whiskeys as “Liquid Gold” in the 2020 edition of “Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.” They were Rock Town Single Barrel Rye Whiskey, 96 out of 100 points; Rock Town Single Barrel Four Grain Sour Mash Bourbon Whiskey, 95.5; Rock Town Barley Bourbon Whiskey, 95.5; Rock Town Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey, 95.5; and Rock Town Arkansas Rye Whiskey, 94.5.

I suspect that a gift of any one of these could generate some genuine Christmas cheer.