‘Make Room For Pie’ with Kat Robinson

Kat Robinson and Patti at PattiCakes

Kat Robinson and Patti Stobaugh at PattiCakes Bakery.

AY’s resident food expert Kat Robinson knows a thing or two about pie. And that’s why she’s the star of a new AETN show, Make Room For Pie, which premieres Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. We recently sat down with Kat to learn a little bit more about her, the show and sweet Arkansas pie.

Why pie?

The way our state grasps its collective fork over pie as a dessert is fascinating. No other state gravitates towards the slice at the end of the meal quite like Arkansas, and no state has so many different pies to offer. When AETN originally approached me about a program that covered what it is I do as a freelance journalist, travel writer and food historian, pie seemed the perfect place to start.

Where did you get the idea for the show?

I’ve been asked to write about pie again and again, in articles and books. The idea came from my first book, Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State, which was published by History Press in 2012. It dovetails nicely with my fourth book, Another Slice of Arkansas Pie: A Guide to the Best Restaurants, Bakeries, Truck Stops and Food Trucks for Delectable Slices in The Natural State, which comes out later this month.

Does one region of the state dominate the pie game?

Pie is pretty well distributed across the state. There are fewer restaurants serving it in the Arkansas Delta than in, say, northwest Arkansas – but on the other hand, there are fewer restaurants overall in the area as well. Different types of pie are more prevalent in certain areas – there are more fried pies in southern Arkansas, more cream pies in the River Valley – but pie is literally everywhere.

What pies are specific to Arkansas?

The possum pie is a very Arkansas pie, with variations in the name here and there. It’s a pie on a pecan and flour crust with a layer of chocolate custard between a layer of sweetened cream cheese and a top of whipped cream. It’s served either as a slice from a pie pan or a square chunk from a casserole. It’s called four-layer delight in many places, but I’ve also seen it as chocolate torte and chocolate lasagna. It’s very specific to Arkansas. There are, of course, some proprietary pies as well, such as the Company’s Comin’ pie from the Cliff House Inn, the Bumblebee pie at The Wooden Spoon and the Raccoon Pie from Hillbilly Hideout.

Who makes the best pie? What’s your favorite kind?

Now, I’m not going to get into an argument over the best – there are so many worthy of that title, and no one deserves a fight. My current favorite (and that changes with my mood) is the strawberry pie at Gavin’s Downtown in Harrisburg – it’s a cream cheese base with strawberries and whipped cream on a shortbread crust, and it’s phenomenal. But I’m also head-over-heels over the chocolate fudge pie at Honey Pies and the Ozark Mountain grape pie at Gooseberry Handmade Pies. As far as just any pie slice, I’m a sucker for a baked chocolate pie.

How many miles did you travel in search of Natural State pies?

I have honestly lost count. Thousands. Tens of thousands by this point. Even before we started shooting Make Room For Pie, it was high, and I added 6,300 miles working on the new book once shooting was over, between the day after Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

What did you learn along the way?

Pie is delicious, of course, but the people that make pies in Arkansas are very, very different. In the show, we share stories of family, how making pie has bonded generations and how those heritage recipes can bring back memories. There are stories of enterprise, how pies make a business. There’s even a love story. These piemakers come from every walk of life, with a diversity of experiences behind what they do. While yes, the show cuts these irresistible slices and showcases them, it also explores what brought them to the table.

Other things I learned? In Arkansas, our restaurants tend to use butter or shortening in crust rather than lard. Many of our handmade fried pies in restaurants across the state are made by the folks at Independent Case Management in the old Prescott Middle School cafetorium – by hand, I’ve seen it.  Oh, and when you’re photographing 18 pie restaurants in a day, never eat more than a bite or two of a slice – you can always take it back for later. My daughter has very much enjoyed coming home from school and choosing a pie slice out of the fridge to finish off for me.

What do you want viewers to take away from the show?

I’d like viewers to feel like they’ve become more familiar with the faces behind the pies, and to feel a need to pick up the car keys and drive somewhere. The extraordinary photography and work by producer Larry Foley and director Hayot Tuychiev provides an aesthetic view that’s floored me. It’s a show that will hit you in the feels, as folks say in the current vernacular.

I have individuals who have approached me to tell me they envy my experiences out there, doing this. Perhaps by meeting these bakers and restaurateurs they’ll have the urge to drive our state and earn their own experiences.

When and where can they watch?

The premiere is Thursday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m. on AETN. There will be repeat broadcasts during the month. I do urge folks to consider supporting the program through pledges – which helps the network create more programs such as this.

What other projects are you working on?

As I mentioned, I’ve been working hard on Another Slice of Arkansas Pie, which comes out later this month. I’ve already started research on a number of future books, one of which is a book defining Arkansas food – I’ll be working this summer to photograph our produce and the summer plate and such for that tome.

I’ve also been collecting and researching Arkansas’ portion of the Great River Road, a path passing through 11 states on either side of the Mississippi River. Lots of attention has been focused on other segments, but Arkansas’ portion is a real treat, taking you along the entire eastern edge of the Arkansas Delta, with stops that examine Native American life, the birthplace of the blues, the Civil War and even the Revolutionary War (no joke!), Charles Lindbergh and so many other marks in history.  Arkansas’ Great River Road is also an intriguing drive in that it covers all sorts of roadbed, from four lane sections to dirt roads. My daughter and I drove the entire length over a week in 2017, and she’s still fascinated with it today.

I’m also fiddling with the idea of giving some talks and maybe seminars, anything to spread the word of Arkansas food.

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