Date: October 23, 2013 | Story: Tiffany Burgess Adams | Styling: Tiffany Burgess Adams, Mandy Keener & Ellen Scruggs |
A South Arkansas farm greets guests with well-preserved pieces of state history, hearty fare and genuine, inviting hosts
There’s something magical about being in the middle of nowhere—away from the noise and the buildings, in a place where you couldn’t begin to count all the stars in the sky or imagine the number of fields growing just beyond your line of sight. It begins before you even arrive at your destination. Traveling from Little Rock toward Stuttgart you can feel the pace of everyday life slow as you exit the interstate and head south on a two-lane road. Commercial 18-wheelers are replaced by grain trucks, and the cityscape gives way to field upon field of corn, cotton, soybeans and, of course, Stuttgart’s most well-known export, rice. It’s along these roads, just after crossing into Arkansas County, where you’ll find McEntire Place Plantation, the weekend retreat of Margaret and Jay McEntire. Upon arrival, in true Southern fashion, a group of beloved, well-fed dogs welcome your car and even if it’s your first time, you feel as though you’ve been coming here your entire life.
Twenty years ago the McEntires, who currently reside in Little Rock, purchased this farm in rural Arkansas County. Along with the land, the property included a 1940s mule barn, and a home, which was built in the early 1950s. As a Stuttgart native and part of a family that was farming before the Revolutionary War, McEntire feels fully at home here. In fact, he loved the farm so much he and Margaret began—almost effortlessly and naturally—to add to it with additional buildings and décor of historical significance. Today, they have expanded the gathering area to include, not only the main house, but also a guest house. A camp kitchen area and a boot room, which were part of the orginial mule barn and have been restored using salvaged wood, make the perfect spot for family and friends to store their gear and rehash duck hunting tales from morning shoots on the property.
What you may not notice at first glance is the history of the region flowing through every inch of these structures. You see, Jay McEntire is not only a farmer and a preservationist, he’s also a firefighter of sorts. “Whenever someone tells me about an old barn or farm building that’s about to be set afire I can’t stand it,” says McEntire of his knack for stepping in, salvaging the wood and rescuing it from its fiery fate. If you think his efforts are heroic, know that the story doesn’t end there. McEntire not only rescues the wood, he gives it new life by using it to build and repair structures on his property, thus giving it a collected, historical presence. It doesn’t stop with barn wood either. The walls of the main house and guest retreat are dotted with captivating Native American artifacts including pottery, art and a large collection of arrowheads—many of which were found at the farm. Along the walls of the open, airy breezeway, situated in between the boot room and the camp’s kitchen, you’ll find a lifetime’s worth of vintage curiosities, everything from a tambourine to an iron pot used to make black powder during the Civil War—all displayed in a eclectic, yet museum-worthy gallery wall designed by McEntire himself.
As for the guests? There’s certainly no shortage of people who gather to hunt, share stories and even play music at the spacious getaway, which can sleep 24 comfortably. From the first fall chill until the last day of duck season, you’ll find McEntire hosting a gathering of friends, family, acquaintances and people who were downright lucky enough to get a casual invite from someone headed to this private family retreat. “We’ve had everyone we know out here from investment bankers to farm boys and even friends of ours from China,” laughs McEntire. “People love the freedom,” adds his wife Margaret, “they get tired of being cooped up and can’t wait to get out here.”
1 onion, sliced
celery stalk leaves
dash of salt
dash of pepper
6 tablespoons shortening
6 tablespoons flour
2 cups onions, chopped
4 cups celery, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup of parsley, chopped
3 cups of water
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon accent
1 teaspoon oregano
8 oz can of tomato paste
8 oz can of tomatoes
1 pkg frozen sliced okra
2 pkgs Cajun-spiced sausage, chopped
For the broth, cover the three ducks with water; add onion, celery stalk leaves, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Strain the broth and transfer to a large stockpot.
To make the roux, melt the shortening in a skillet, and then gradually add the flour, stirring until thick and brown. Add the remaining roux ingredients and cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Transfer to the stockpot with the broth, and add the ingredients on the gumbo list. Cook for one hour. Serve over rice.
CLASSIC NEW ORLEANS-STYLE BREAD PUDDING WITH WHISKEY SAUCE
12 to 14 cups of day-old French or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
4 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
1 ¾ cups brown sugar
4 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup raisins
confectioners’ sugar (for garnish)
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup + ½ cup bourbon or any whiskey
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350°. Place bread in large bowl. Grease a 9- x 13-inch casserole dish with butter and set aside. Place cream, milk, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and raisins in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and stir to blend together. Allow mixture to sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, occasionally stirring gently with a large spoon to keep combined and evenly moistened. Transfer to the casserole dish and bake until the center of the bread pudding is set, 50 to 60 minutes.
To make the sauce, combine cream, milk and sugar in a 1-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Place cornstarch and 1/4 cup whiskey in small bowl, and whisk to combine. Pour into cream mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove sauce from heat, add salt, butter and remaining 1/2 cup of whiskey. Serve warm over bread pudding. Garnish with the confectioners’ sugar.