Today we celebrate the great state of Arkansas. It’s a landlocked state but hardly dry. There are plenty of river ways and lakes to explore. And more. So much more.
What’s that you say? You need to buy a garden hose, a box of cookies, lipstick and a birthday card? You could make several stops, eat up half your day and maybe even a tank of gas, or you could visit America’s most famous one-stop-shop You guessed it – Arkansas is home to the very first Wal-Mart.
Sam Walton opened his store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962 At only 44 years of age, Sam had a vision of what people wanted. It was low prices, convenience of one-stop-shopping and a positive shopping experience that would keep people coming back. By the end of 60s, Sam had expanded his concept with 18 stores in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Today there are over 11,000 stores operating in 27 countries. Not bad.
There’s more to Arkansas than just Sam Walton. Alma, Arkansas claims to be the Spinach Capital of the World. The World Championship Duck Calling Contest is held annually in Stuttgart. Arkansas leads production in rice, and at times leads the country in chickens, too. Arkansas is beautiful and diverse.
Arkansas is also Southern. And let’s face it, Southern means flavors. Lots and lots of flavors.
Arkansas Southern Ham Hocks and Beans
1 lb dry Pinto Beans
8 cups Water
1 large, meaty Ham Hock
1 large Yellow Onion, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
Pinch Cayenne Powder
1 teaspoon Salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
Place the beans and water in a large stockpot. Add the ham hock, onion and garlic. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes. Cover, and remove from heat. Let stand for one hour.
Return the pot to the heat, and bring to a boil once again. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for at least 4 hours for the flavors to come together. The longer the pot simmers, the thicker the sauce will become and the deeper the flavors will develop.
Remove the ham hock from the pot, let cool. Strip the meat from the bone, return the chunks and shredded bits of ham to the stockpot, discarding the bone. Adjust seasonings to taste.
To serve, ladle into bowls and serve with spicy corn bread on the side.
Bacon Jalapeño Cornbread
4 strips Bacon
4 teaspoons Bacon Drippings
4 Jalapeño Peppers
1-1/2 cup Yellow Cornmeal
1/2 cup Flour
2 tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 tablespoons Baking Powder
1 tablespoon Baking Soda
1/2 cup rapidly boiling Water
1 cup Buttermilk
1 large Egg, beaten lightly
Note: A “must” for this bread is a hot cast-iron skillet. Although the bread can be made in a cake pan or square casserole dish, that would just be too “Yankee” to do the bread justice. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.
Dice bacon strips. Place bacon in an 8-inch cast iron a skillet, fry until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels. Retain bacon drippings. Set the skillet in the oven to heat.
Remove stems from the jalapeño peppers. Using a small cheese grater, grate the peppers into a bowl, catching all the seeds and juices. Set aside.
Measure 1/2 cup cornmeal into medium bowl. Set aside.
Mix remaining 1 cup cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in small bowl; set aside.
Pour boiling water all at once into the 1/2 cup cornmeal; stir to make a stiff mush. Whisk in buttermilk gradually, breaking up lumps until smooth. Cornmeal mush of just the right texture is essential to this bread. The mush must be smooth without overworking the batter. Don’t rush the buttermilk and you’ll have less lumps to break up. Once the mush is ready, add the egg.
When oven is heated and skillet very hot, add the diced bacon, Jalapeño Pepper and dry ingredients into mush mixture until just moistened. Carefully remove skillet from oven. Pour hot bacon fat into batter and stir to incorporate, then quickly pour batter into heated skillet.
Place skillet back into the oven and immediately lower the temperature of the oven to 425 degrees.
Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes or so. Remove cornbread from oven and immediately turn out onto wire rack; cool for 5 minutes. Cut into wedges, arrange on a plate and serve warm.