FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Little Rock-based author Kat Robinson takes her research to the kitchen to conjure beloved dishes preserved in the cookbooks of churches, community groups and organizations from the heart of the 20th Century in her latest book, Arkansas Cookery: Retro Recipes from the Natural State.
“The way we cook is just as much a part of our food culture as what we cook,” Robinson said. “Our recipes are often handed down from generation to generation, tinkered with by each progressing cook to fit what’s available on the market shelves at the time. By going back to these cookbooks that are forty to eighty years old, we can see how our grandparents ate and what they were serving.”
Whether it’s visiting and documenting Natural State restaurants, exploring farms and manufacturers, or diving into recipes culled from generations of Arkansas cookbooks, Robinson’s mission is ever-ongoing. This is her eleventh book.
“By going back to the old spiral or comb-bound cookbooks created by ladies auxiliaries, church committees, business folks and their families and youth groups, we can find this perfectly preserved moment of culinary history,” she noted. “I’m aiming to recreate these dishes so our future generations have a record of how we once ate.”
Robinson’s commitment to preserving these recipes extends to her long-term project of collecting cookbooks from all over the state. To date, of the nearly 2,000 cookbooks she’s collected from across time and cultures, more than 400 of these are Arkansas cookbooks, representing 63 of the state’s 75 counties.
She’s found these in thrift stores and flea markets, via online sales and through personal gifts from avid readers.
For this cookbook, Robinson spent months researching these recipes before taking hundreds of cookbooks with her to The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, a unique writers retreat created by Crescent Dragonwagon and Ned Shank at their former bed and breakfast and restaurant in Eureka Springs. The book is dedicated to the pair.
“The opportunity to utilize this unique setting while creating this cookbook was extraordinary,” Robinson said. “Having a completely and fully supplied kitchen is essential for this sort of work, and the Culinary Suite doesn’t disappoint, with just about every tool you can imagine available.”
Arkansas Cookery: Retro Recipes from The Natural State contains 106 different recipes, ranging from Waldorf Salad to Ambrosia, goulash, Tallerine, King Ranch Chicken Casserole, eggplant casserole, and both Watergate Cake and Coca-Cola Cake. Robinson said her biggest challenge was learning how to properly create molded salads – which came in many varieties and included everything from fruit to nuts to soup.
Robinson hopes to create more period cookbooks in the future. For now, she’s pivoting to teaching people how to cook classic Arkansas dishes. In February, she’ll host three hands-on workshops on Arkansas cooking, teaching individuals how to cook fried chicken, biscuits, potatoes and gravy, squash casserole and lemon chess pie.
Her book is available at bookstores nationwide, and autographed copies can be ordered directly through Tonti Press.