The Meridian Star
By Brian Livingston
While questioning a suspect in a recent case, Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department investigators were frustrated because the suspect was not cooperating.
During the questioning the suspect mentioned that he was getting hungry. Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie, upon hearing this, decided to give the suspect a big piece of his award winning carrot cake, which took top honors in The Meridian Star's Holiday Cook-off.
"There was no truth serum used to make the cake," Sollie said with a wry smile on his face. "He just ate it, sat back a lot more contented, and began to talk."
Which led to the break in case the investigators were hoping for and resulted in the suspect being charged with murder. Not bad for a piece of carrot cake.
This all leads to a little known fact that Sollie loves to cook. Many of his friends, family, and certainly his staff, know this because he frequently brings food from home to the department in downtown Meridian. But what may be surprising to many is how Sollie got many of his recipes and from whom.
William Ethan "Sarge" Sollie, Billy Sollie's father, was a cook on a minesweeper during World War II. It was here that the elder Sollie collected and perfected many of his dishes, trying them on the sailors on the ship during long war patrols to clear the Pacific of the deadly mines. The captain of the ship was especially fond of William Sollie's homemade cinnamon roles.
"He would see a recipe he liked in a catalog or magazine and he'd try it, usually putting his own spin on it," Billy Sollie said. "He came from a large family and was just used to seeing all the cooking being done. He liked doing it and I'm about the same way."
Growing up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Billy Sollie said not many fathers did the cooking around the home unless it was over a grill. But getting in the kitchen was something he watched his dad do many times so the stigma didn't stick with him. His father was also a 30-year veteran of the Meridian Police Department and Billy Sollie credits his dad for influencing his decision to become a law enforcement officer.
"A lot of boys want to grow up to be like their dads," Sollie said. "To many of us our dads were our heroes so if they cooked or were policemen, then that's what we wanted as well. It was setting a good example. Something that seems to be forgotten in many homes today."
Sollie isn't sure just how many of his father's recipes he has but thanks to his wife, Diann, many of them are displayed in a shadow box as a tribute to his father.
"That was a sweet thing she did and it really was special," Sollie said.
Those who work for Sollie need not look at the calendar to know the holiday season is fast approaching. When fall rolls around dozens and dozens of miniature pecan pies seem to appear out of nowhere.
"I will cook anywhere from 275 to 300 pecan pies during the holidays," Sollie said. "I just enjoy cooking something and seeing people eat it and not get sick."
That is the motivating factor for Sollie. Creating something from scratch, cooking it and seeing the people enjoy the food and sweets. He said it is a level of gratification that not many people get to experience.
"The gratification is immediate," Sollie said.
Of course, flattery will get you anywhere, according to Sollie.
When his wife hosts a party or gathering of her friends, Sollie takes it as a supreme compliment that she would want him to whip up something special for the ladies.
In this day and age of pre-packaged meals, fast food and quick snacks picked up at the local convenience store, the art of making a specialty dish, or even a meal from scratch, is becoming lost on the current generation. Too many meals are poured from a can or cut from a plastic bag, Sollie said. He remembers food being a special time of his life and the table fare was bursting with flavor, filling the dinner area with aromas of Americana.
"We are in too much of a hurry," Sollie said. "Kids, work, other obligations, the rush to get things done in a time frame that seems to be shrinking by the day. I like to slow down some. Live in the past, I guess, with the food I cook because it does bring back memories."
Memories of a father who didn't worry about if it was manly to be cooking in the kitchen, where a woman's place was thought to always be.