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History of a culinary legend: Deep fried pickles

A staple at Picklefest every year is the deep fried pickle, a culinary treat concocted right here in Atkins.
Fatman's Original Fried Dill Pickles stand.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- A staple at Picklefest every year is the deep fried pickle, a culinary treat concocted in Atkins, Arkansas.

There aren't many foods we can claim originated in Arkansas, but the fried dill pickle is one of them. The culinary delight was created in the summer of 1963 by the late Bernell "Fatman" Austin who owned the Duchess Drive-in. Austin's son David Smith said, "He thought, well there's got to be a way to cash in on that pickle. Of course this is the south, where did it go? In the deep-fryer."

Austin's son David said the idea was originally a gimmick to drum-up business for the drive-in that was located across the highway from the Atkins Pickle Company. Smith said, "He come up with the idea of taking a whole dill pickle and slicing it himself and he worked on the breading to get where it's at today. Where it sticks to it, it comes out a good golden crunchy brown."

There was a debate on who actually invented the fried pickle. Austin's dad and the owner of the Hollywood Cafe in Tunica, Mississippi both claimed ownership, but after arguing back and forth for many years, David says history doesn't lie. Smith said, "Let's put fried dill pickles in on the internet and let's see whose name comes up first."

Unfortunately, the Duchess closed in the late 60s when I-40 opened and business moved away from Highway 64. That's when the fried pickle moved out of Atkins.

That original recipe is brought back every year during the town's pickle festival. One of the festival organizers Charles May saidthe fried pickle can be imitated but never duplicated. He said, "The large draw is the fried dill pickles and several restaurants have some fried dill pickles, but they're not the same as ours."

Smith says that's why Picklefest is the only place where you can have an original fried pickle. He said, "If we come back with it where it's available all the time, how much mystique will you still have?"

The old building where the drive-in once sat no longer exists. It was torn down after a truck plowed through it just weeks after the Duchess closed.

The fried pickles lived on at Austin's second drive-in he opened closer to the interstate.