Southern cooking: it’s a sides show

Lina found me crying over an ugly green plastic box the other week. I was reading through my mom’s recipes (she died in 2009), on yellowed index cards in her hand-writing. Her famous salmon cakes, always served with cole slaw and peas; corn pudding; succatash. What had sent me to the box was a search for stewed tomatoes, which I begged Mom to make every time the adult me visited. That forgotten memory was triggered by an article written by Fred Thompson about the classic Southern dish that features white bread and brown sugar (yes, it’s like dessert!). I never did find Mom’s recipe, but now I have what I believe is a close version in the just-released “Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides: 250 Dishes That Really Make the Plate” ($35).

UNC Press editor Elaine Maisner introduces Fred Thompson at his book launch at A Southern Season

I went to Fred’s launch party at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill this week, hosted by his (and my) publisher, UNC Press. Several yummy “sides” were offered up, including pickled shrimp, pimento cheese, grilled okra, collards, and sweet potato guacamole (which I must make soon!). Maybe you’ll find some nibbles at one of his many signing events locally and beyond.

Most of us in the Triangle know or know of Fred, a professional food stylist, writer, and recipe developer. He writes a column for the News & Observer, has penned many cookbooks, publishes Edible Piedmont, and teaches at A Southern Season. The most important things to know about Raleigh resident Fred are he’s a North Carolina native and all-around good guy. And I’m not saying this just because I won a stack of his books in a raffle. (Thanks, Fred, and UNC Press!)

Fred at his book-signing table

What Fred told us about Southern food resonated: “It’s the true fusion cuisine. It has all crossed paths and is a celebration of the world.” Amen.  “Southern Sides” is his most personal book, he said, and I also think it’s the most beautifully designed, with dozens of scrumptious-looking photos.

Here’s evidence that Fred, a promoter of locally raised, fresh ingredients, is truly Southern. He refuses to ignore canned mushroom soup, Velveeta cheese, and Miracle Whip. “Just get over it,” he writes, “because I guarantee that what you taste will make you forget such common ingredients.” Which means that I’m making the stewed tomatoes the way Mom did – with canned tomatoes, not fresh ones. I’ll report back and let you know if the flavor was anything like I remember.

But fear not, fresh-ingredients-only folks. There are plenty of recipes for you too. With 250 side dishes, there’s something for everyone, as they say. So buy a copy or three of Fred’s book – and make sure to use it. As Fred said, “I don’t want my cookbooks sitting on a shelf. I like them to get splattered.”

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One Response to Southern cooking: it’s a sides show

  1. ann Mason says:

    My mothers stewed tomatoes were made with regular sugar and so gooddddddddddd

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