Hap Townes' Stewed Tomatoes

Stewed Tomatoes with Ham Steaks
Sweet, stewed tomatoes are the perfect foil for fried ham steaks. See the recipe for Stewed Tomatoes with Ham Steaks »Todd Coleman

For 39 years, until retiring in 1985, James Beverly "Little Hap" Townes worked at the blue-collar cafe in Nashville named for his father, Hap Townes, that defined meat-and-three meal service. Since sides outnumbered the main three to one on a typical lunch plate, vegetables starred on the menu: butter beans, crowder peas, golden hominy, fatback-laced steamed cabbage, candied yams, and mashed turnips, all accompanied by corn bread hot off the griddle. Most memorable of the repertoire were stewed tomatoes, simmered with bread and sugar to become a fruity compote that is an ideal companion for ham or pork chops. The recipe, Townes told us, was his grandmother's. His kitchen staff said that most of the old-time cooks they knew made their stewed tomatoes with biscuits, but they all agreed that toasted white bread makes a more buoyant dish.