John Egerton: "Side Orders: Small Helpings of Southern Cookery & Culture" (Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta: $14.95)
This is not a cookbook, though there are about 70 recipes scattered through it. It's sort of a book of lore. The recipes are part of an easygoing flow of anecdote and speculation about Southern food, particularly its remoter byways.
Some of the lore in Egerton's book tells of boiled custard (a drink), stone-ground versus lye-treated hominy grits and the many varieties of corn bread (he notes the lack of bakeries in the South, due to the taste for fresh hot bread). He describes the line--much farther south than the Mason-Dixon Line--separating collard greens-eaters from turnip greens-eaters. He records the North Carolina custom of roasting oysters, the fried fruit pie phenomenon of the Upper South and the tradition of mutton barbecue in Owensboro, Ky.
As a collection of newspaper and magazine articles, the book has a somewhat scattered feeling, but it's no mere rehash of familiar stuff. Behind his Southern-gentlemanly charm, Egerton has the attitude of a serious researcher. He loyally points out the many contributions of the South to our national culinary heritage, such as ice tea (he is confident that Southerners were the first people on earth to ice tea) and most of our carbonated soft drinks, but he unhesitatingly argues the all but unthinkable proposition that pecan pie wasn't invented until the '30s.