Old Ozarks cooking gets a fresh twist. `Nouveau 'zarks' fare at Dairy Hollow House
Eureka Springs, Ark.
``Our huckleberry pies, light flaky biscuits, the sweet buttermilk corn muffins - they're all good, traditional, old-time Ozarks cooking,'' says Crescent Dragonwagon. Gripping a skillet handle with one hand and a spatula with the other, she chops mushrooms and onions, talking as she tosses the vegetables and darts from counter to stove to chopping board. We're in the kitchen at Dairy Hollow House, a bed-and-breakfast inn tucked into an obscure little hillside in Eureka Springs, Ark. Ms. Dragonwagon, one of the cooks and co-owner of the inn with her husband, Ned Shank, talks a mile a minute as the food sizzles.
``Garden-fresh produce, yes - but we also serve wild foods when they're plentiful - like lily buds. We'll go out and pick some for dinner tonight, and there are loads of wild blackberries for dessert.''
To get to Dairy Hollow House, you slowly climb a lumpy dirt road bordered with Queen Anne's Lace and fragrant berry blossoms. Once a plain, functional, little farmhouse, it's now a delightful country inn where Ms. Dragonwagon and Jan Brown serve distinctive mountain food they call ``Nouveau 'zarks.''
Included are such dishes as Angel Biscuits and Country Chicken Fricassee, Poke Salat (or Asparagus), Ozark Bouillabaisse, Persimmon Mousse - to say nothing of The Great, The One and Only, Garlic Spaghetti.
Guests have come from all over the world for the inn's legendary fare in this resort town full of charming Victorian houses, many perched precariously on hilly outcroppings along winding country roads. More than a million people visit Eureka Springs during the warmer months, and there are a Pizza Hut and a Ramada Inn but no McDonald's yet. Long a haven for artists and writers, this area was once known as a spa, because of its 36 mineral springs. The year-round population is only about 2,000.
Dragonwagon has lived in the Ozarks for more than 15 years. It was back in the '60s that she adopted her fanciful name, familiar to readers of her 22 books - children's books, novels, poetry, and a cookbook with Jan Brown, ``The Dairy Hollow House Cookbook'' (Macmillan, $19.95).
Ozarks food is plain food, simple, hearty food like country ham, fried chicken, greens, cornbread, and beans.
``But the Old Ozark dishes were filling and heavy, because people did more physical work in those days,'' Dragonwagon explains. ``Our food is apt to be lighter, since our cooking oil is vegetable oil, or butter, or sometimes Crisco if a recipe really needs it.''
Breakfast is automatic for people who stay overnight at Dairy Hollow House, and the special German Baked Pancakes, tall and puffy enough to fill a dinner plate, are served with fresh berry sauces. Real Arkansas cornbread and angel biscuits, served warm, are melt-in-your-mouth fare, with wild jams and preserves made on the premises.
Dinner is marvelous, although now served only for special parties; but a restaurant is in the near future. We start with Mushrooms Diablo - hot, sweet, spicy, and dark. Next, fresh green pea soup and a sampling of gumbo from the previous night's menu - both equally delectable.
There are pickled onions on a skewer, a special salad pink with wild sweet peas, wild lily buds, and poached trout served with a fresh Provence sauce. Potatoes have been baked cut in half, along with onions, also halved. Carrot sticks have a honey glaze.
Dessert is a fabulous creation. A praline lace-cookie cup, filled with rich chocolate ice cream, sits on a pool of raspberry sauce. Wild fresh blackberries are tumbled all over.
Mushrooms Diablo 1/3 cup butter 1 large onion, very thin slices 1 red and 1 green red pepper, finely slivered 1 pound mushrooms, wiped dry if needed 2/3 cup red wine vinegar 2 tablespooons each Dijon mustard and Pickapenny sauce (or a teaspoon Tamari soy sauce and several dashes Tabasco) 3 tablespoons brown sugar Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste 3 tablespoons golden raisins
Saut'e onion in butter until transparent, then add peppers and mushrooms. Continue to cook over low heat while you whisk remaining ingredients (except for raisins) together in a separate bowl.
When mushrooms are soft, raise heat and add vinegar mixture and raisins. Keep heat at medium high and, stiring often, cook uncovered until liquid has reduced greatly. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer; 2 or 3 as a main dish.
Angel Biscuits 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast 1/4 cup warm water 1 tablespoon honey 2 1/2 cups sifted unbleached white flour 2 tablespoons sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup white shortening 1 cup buttermilk
Soak yeast in warm water and honey. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt together three times. Using two knives, quickly cut shortening into dry ingredients until the size of coarse cornmeal. Quickly stir in yeast mixture and buttermnilk.
Stir only until batter comes together. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead gently and quickly, about 30 seconds, then place in greased bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or as long as 3 or 4 days.
Roll out on lightly floured board. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick biscuits and place 1/2-inch apart on baking sheet sprayed with Pam. Bake in oven preheated to 400 degrees F. for 12 minutes, until golden. Serve hot with plenty of butter and jam. Yield: 2 dozen large or 41/2 dozen small biscuits.
Dairy Hollow House is open all year. For information, write Route 4, Eureka Springs, AR 72632.