Coursey’s is a vintage ham house in the Ozarks of North Arkansas. Mrs. Paula Hale, whose father started the business, told us that it began as a dirt-floor cabin (which is still standing outside the new, modern display room). “My father hung each ham from a nail in the wall and wrapped it in a dry-goods box,” she recalled.
Coursey’s meats are now smoked in stainless steel facilities and the old wooden cabin out front is only a reminder of days gone by. We spent an educational half-hour consulting with Mrs. Hale and her kids about how to best get a ham and a couple of pounds of bacon shipped to us during a summer heat wave (we finally decided to wait until cooler weather), and we discussed the fine points of making tasty red-eye gravy. Mrs. Hale clued us in to the joy of a good ham hock, which should never be thrown away once the ham has been eaten: It makes the perfect pot-companion for long-cooked greens or beans. And she reminded us that when we fried Coursey’s bacon – made from corn-fed hogs and slow-cured over burning green hickory logs – we should save the drippings to season our hominy or cabbage.
Primarily a mail-order and take-out business, with hanging hams and smoky bacon flavoring the air with hickory perfume, an assortment of jerkies in jars, and shelves of interesting local jellies, sorghum and honey for sale, Coursey’s has a small counter in back where you can have a sandwich made of ham or turkey and your choice of cheese. There is nothing fancy here: just meat (cheese is optional) on supermarket bread. But oh, what good meat! It is lean, sweet, and tender, with an alluring wood-smoke bouquet but none of the pungency of salt-cured country ham.