By Donna Cornelius
Morgan Murphy likes digging into the roots of food.
“I talk a lot in my books about why we eat what we eat,” said Murphy, a TV personality, food critic and cookbook author. “You can separate people from their religion, their country and even their family – but not their food.”
One of the Birmingham native’s recent cookbooks, “Bourbon & Bacon: The Ultimate Guide to the South’s Favorite Food Groups,” included not just recipes using the two foods but some history about both. There are good reasons that bourbon and bacon are popular in these parts, he said.
“We have corn in the South, so we make bourbon,” Murphy said. “And Southerners didn’t have refrigeration until 60 years ago, so bacon was a way of preserving meat.”
While Murphy hasn’t given tomatoes their own cookbook yet, he thinks there’s a logical reason they’re beloved in the South – and not just the southern United States. Antioxidants in tomatoes have been shown to boost protection against the harmful effects of the sun, he said.
“Tomatoes help block UV rays, so it makes sense that tomatoes are eaten in southern cultures all over the world, like southern Italy and Spain,” Murphy said. “They’re part of our DNA.”
Health benefits aside, tomatoes just plain taste good, he said.
“There’s nothing better than a warm tomato from the garden,” he said. “I have lots of tomato recipes in all my books.”
Murphy’s newest book is “Off the Eaten Path: On the Road Again,” the third in his very popular series. The book hit No. 1 on the Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list almost immediately after it came out in May.
Fannie Flagg, author of “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café,” wrote the introduction to his first “Off the Eaten Path” book.
Murphy will emcee the Great Alabama Tomato Contest at Pepper Place July 18. Finalists in a tomato recipe competition will compete on stage at 10:15 a.m.
“I’ll be prepared to congratulate the winners and comfort those who lose,” Murphy said.
Later that day, he’ll be at Stone Hollow Farmstead in Harpersville for the Alabama Tomato Festival. He’ll sign copies of his latest book at both events.
Murphy is salivating at the thought of the 6:30 p.m. farm dinner at Stone Hollow featuring food from Chef David Bancroft at Auburn’s Acre restaurant.
“He’s one of the culinary superstars here in Alabama,” Murphy said. “I have David’s recipe for fried green tomatoes with crab and pimiento cheese in my new cookbook.”
Murphy said he thinks this first-ever daylong tomato celebration is long overdue.
“It’s a great event for our city,” he said. “It will be an extravaganza of a day. Anybody who loves tomatoes should come. Anybody who loves food should come.”