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Mena, Arkansas, News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Author and food historian Kat Robinson coming to Mena

By Ethan Nahté

Arkansas Pie Lady Kat Robinson will be rolling into Mena this week. She is the author of a dozen books, ranging from history, essays and cookbooks. She’s also a multi-media personality, journalist, and the state’s food historian… and she will be sharing some of that history and travel tales at the Ouachita Center on the UA Rich Mountain campus at 10 a.m., Friday, April 19. There is no admission charge.

If you’re unfamiliar with her documentaries on AETN, she talks about all kinds of food — not just pie — and travels the state visiting independently-owned restaurants and cafes to discuss their restaurant culture and perhaps some local food history.

Some of her books are actually travel guides for a variety of foods throughout several towns and eateries. Not to mention, some of her works are filled to the brim. Her longest book is 322 pages in length. It is a travel guide she started putting together the day after Christmas 2017 and finished on March 6, 2018.

Robinson will be a guest of the Extension Homemakers Club for their monthly meeting, which they are inviting the public to come out, listen to Robinson speak about Arkansas cooking, and she’ll be doing a meet-and-greet with copies of several of her books, including her latest collection of recipes she has whipped up for “The Great Arkansas Pie Book.”

“It’s a collection of recipes from different restaurants over time, as well as different individuals… everything is from historic sources dating back to the 18th century all the way to modern times. There are 248 different recipes for pie and pie crust.

“I keep coming back to pie. My very first book was ‘Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of The Natural State,’ which came out in 2012.” That book is now out of print, but she has several more pie-based books to select from.

Her first documentary was the Emmy-nominated “Make Room for Pie” with Arkansas PBS. Robinson features pie bakers from the Delta to the Ozark Mountains as she tours old-time diners and off-the-beaten-path cafes.

Between the publishing of her first book and her fourth book, she was receiving requests for doing a book of recipes. “The Great Arkansas Pie Book” is a culmination of essays with chefs and bakers, as well as recipes.

“I actually spent a full month of time at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow up at Eureka Springs testing every single pie recipe that I could. I can honestly say I tried every single pie that was in the book,” Robinson said with a laugh. If there were other writers there at the time, I’m sure she had a lot of new friends during that month of research.

Some recipes she had designated for the book, but some were contributed by others.

“They’re all recipes that have appeared in the state of Arkansas. Every recipe is specific to location and has Arkansas ties. It even includes savory pies, which I hope is something that will eventually come back. Savory pies were the norm here in Arkansas up until about The Civil War. They were a great way to reutilize whatever was left over after a meal. They were very common in the Ozarks and Ouachita regions of the state.”

For anyone wondering if she’s simply a big fish in a small pond, Robinson has appeared in regional and national publications, including Food Network, Forbes Travel Guide, Serious Eats and AAA magazines. Her expertise in food research and Arkansas restaurants has been cited by USA Today, Saveur, Eater, The Wall Street Journal and the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy podcast.

She also has hundreds of articles on her website In addition to her site, she posts on Instagram and Facebook, where she is most active. She attempts to give one or two previews per day and interacts.

She also has her publishing company Tonti Press. “I am a registered micro-press. I publish books for other people as well.”

“I specialize in Arkansas food history. I found a niche I feel is very underrepresented. We could have a better representation outside of our state. We’re not really Southern. We’re not really Mid-Western. We’re definitely not Texan. We’re a unique set of individuals with a very different outlook than other states around us and our cuisine reflects that.

“I have a background where, a a hobbyist, I have been researching food around the world since my teenage years. I began professionally doing this in 2007, writing as a restaurant writer, then eventually putting all of the little bits and pieces together.”

Robinson’s background is as a journalist, getting her degree from Arkansas Tech University where she studied journalism and radio. She has spent four years in radio, 12 years in television before “starting over” as she took up print journalism.

Her cuisine training is from her own research, which she jokes makes her sound terribly humble. “The State of Arkansas has identified me as a historian just because of the sheer amount of work that I’ve put in. Mind you, I’ve studied with types of chefs across the state. I’ve spent hours — probably weeks’ worth of time doing my research, whether it’s at State Archives or working at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (in New Orleans).”

“As the great Southern food historian himself John T. Edge has said, ‘I preach the gospel of Arkansas.’ That’s how he’s introduced me to individuals,” she said, laughing. “I’m very passionate about what we’ve got.”

For the event at the Ouachita Center, Robinson said, “I go all over the place with things. I’ll be talking about the pie book and the women in Arkansas Foods. They aren’t recognized. Most of the chefs you hear about at restaurants are the guys. Without the women, they wouldn’t have had that.”

She likes to talk about Eliza Ashley who spent 30-plus years as the cook in the Arkansas Governor’s mansion, serving the administrations from Francis Cherry to Bill Clinton. She gained national attention for her book “Thirty Years at the Mansion” (1985). She died in 2020, a month after her 103rd birthday.

Robinson also mentions Ruby Thomas, co-founder of Red Apple Inn at Heber Springs and her book “Feasts of Eden: Gracious Country Cooking from the Red Apple Inn” (1990). “It actually shows what food looked like in mid-century Arkansas,” Robinson said. “It’s one of the particular books that shows this in our state.”

Robinson looks at such history as building for the future. “It’s like a house with a foundation. This is what we build on and build our communities in general today with this generation. I hate that we have a gap and it’s all about what’s new. Here’s what, where, and when it came from.”

She has visited all 75 counties within Arkansas and knows many of the places to get a good meal on and off the main strip.

The apple doesn’t fall far…
She’s also considering writing a book together with her teen, Hunter.

I homeschooled Hunter for 2-3 years when she was younger. We did onsite education.

Her daughter Hunter has been doing some traveling with her and seems to have a knack for conducting interviews. After one interview where Hunter began asking a few questions, it ended with Hunter asking all of the questions. Robinson laughs as she said, “Okay, kid, you’ve got skills, but don’t take away my job.”

Robinson will have some of her titles for sale at the event. She’ll take check, cash, card and Cash App.

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