Walking along the farmer’s market one day, I saw an array of tomatoes in various colors. Red, golden yellow, purple… and then I saw it. Tomatoes as green as the day is long.
All hell broke loose.
After an embarrassing jump-and-squeal combo, I immediately jumped on the phone with my mother, who I told “Mom, I feel like I’ve been eating these things since before I was alive.”
“That’s because you have been – my sister used to make these for me when I was pregnant with you.”
As a little girl, I spent my summers in Selma, Alabama. I lived for my great grandmother’s backyard, even though I didn’t have much to play with back there other than milk crates. I didn’t sweat it, though – I was a math-y, architect-y, build-y type of kid. They were like giant lego blocks to me.
Every now and again, I’d get to play in the garden. It wasn’t huge, but it was just enough to sustain a single woman throughout her summer. I have vague memories of the other vegetables growing under her care, but I specifically remember those tomatoes.
They were just beautiful. Literally. A stunning shade of green… different shapes… all to be used for different reasons. My great grandmother is a woman who lived in a time before we were spoiled by the grocery store. “No, you don’t get to enjoy things that can’t be grown during that season. You’re going to eat what’s in this garden and like it!” You didn’t get to “dislike” a vegetable. You had to figure out a way to enjoy it.
Enter.. the “fried green tomato.” Much like many other strange recipes with decades (centuries?) of tradition behind them, the idea of battering and frying a green tomato (specified as green because the tart flavor works so well on the inside) came from that ol’ school idea of “we might only have a small amount of vegetables on hand, but we will flip this one ingredient 439,857,458,754 ways and ensure that we will be able to eat a new dish every night.”
For some strange reason, no one dares ask my great granny her recipe… but my Mother’s sister – my Aunt Pookie (hush, everyone has a Pookie) – knew it. Unfortunately, when she passed, she kept the recipe with her. I knew the recipe was lost, my mother knew it… but seeing these tomatoes at the farmer’s market pretty much felt like a sign that she wanted us to go in (and go hard) on trying to figure out her recipe.
On the inside, I’m cringing like crazy. Part of me is whining “all that flour, all that dairy, and the ooooooooil… c’mon, man… can’t I just bite into the tomato by itself?” Another part of me is shouting “Family! Tradition! DO IT!” I had to figure out a solid solution to this conflict. If not at least for my own pleasure, at least for my Mother’s sake.
Every week, I purchased a pair of tomatoes, and every week, I failed. I was failin’ left and right! But finally, after about $40 worth of green tomatoes and seven weeks, I was finally able to perfect the recipe. Trust me, there was nothing more pleasing than the look in my mother’s eye when she bit into that tomato and looked up at me. “That’s just like how my sister used to make them.” That was all I needed to hear.
Cooking this recipe brought me closer to the routine used to create a childhood favorite of mine. The challenge of identifying the recipe, however, was enough to keep me away from fried foods for an eternity. Perhaps learning the intricate details of my Southern treat ruined the mystique of it all… or maybe I only set out to help my Mother relive a moment with her sister. It certainly didn’t help to hear my mother say, as I handed her the last batch, “Gosh, you look so much like my sister.”
I don’t have to eat the darn things every day or even every month, but I at least know the recipe to pass down to my daughter… and let her playfully agonize over whether or not to indulge in a five-generation old delicacy… only to give in and fry up a batch for dear ol’ Mom.
That’s a lot to lead into a recipe… but if I’m going to share a family tradition, I can at least help someone feel a little bit of the love that goes into it.
As I sit here putting the finishing touches on this post, I receive the word that my great grandmother has passed away today. I don’t necessarily know what to make of that – the fact that I wrote this post (and a few others) detailing my early experiences in her garden, the same garden helping her to live to 99 years of age – but I do know that she is a remarkable figure in my life. Though I’m saddened in a selfish way because I’ve lost someone without being able to properly show my love and appreciation for their influence, I do believe she is at peace.
I’ll post the recipe at a later date.
Fried Green Tomatoes
2 baseball-sized green tomatoes
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup corn meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
Take your tomatoes, and slice them very thin – about as thin as the width of a toothpick (not the long way), or close to it. Grab three bowls – pour your flour in one bowl and your buttermilk in the second bowl. In your third bowl, mix together your bread crumbs, corn meal, salt and paprika.
Take your skillet, turn it on 8/10. Put your frying oil in your skillet – you’ll want it to cover the entire tomato.
Grab a tomato slice, dunk it in flour and coat it completely. Then dunk it in the buttermilk, covering the tomato completely. Lastly, drop it in the corn/crumb mixture and shake it up so that it gets coated fully. Then… drop it in the fryer. Pretty easy.
Really, this is a good way to batter just about anything – zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, chicken tenderloins, whatever. I definitely wouldn’t eat this kind of stuff on a regular basis, though – since the day I figured out how to make these… I’ve ate them once. I may make another batch today to commemorate my great grandmother’s life, but I at least know that I’ll have the recipe with me forever… and I’m okay with that. 🙂
That’s interesting that no one asked or learned her recipe. I would think she would want to pass that tradition down. But I know family stuff is rarely logical. I seem to be the only one who learned my mom’s potato salad recipe by osmosis.
I like to do this zucchini and oven bake it. I use cornstarch, egg whites and panko for the batter. I spray or brush on olive oil. It’s not grandma’s recipe but it hits the spot for me.
i’ve always wanted to try these! rest in paradise grand’ma.
Sorry to hear about your great grandmother but thanks for posting this. I was so excited to see someone sharing their love of fried green tomatoes like me. My parents have a small garden with tomato plants and everytime I go to their house I take a few green ones. I just had some last night and will be trying your recipe for sure real soon!!
Great post Erika! Your closing hit especially close to home, “I’m saddened in a selfish way because I’ve lost someone without being able to properly show my love and appreciation for their influence.”
Farmer’s Market today… might just have to pick up a couple of green tomatoes and honor your family as well 🙂
Thanks for sharing this recipe with us Erika. My heart goes out to you and your family over the loss of someone so dear.
Great story so sorry to hear about your Grandma’s passing! Thanks for sharing I am sure she knew how much you loved and appreicated her!
My husband and I were just talking about this summer’s past! My grandma and mom passed this down and I’ll be giving it to my daughter. There has been a long time since I’ve seen a green tomato…in in california and the only way we had them was because of the infamous gardens(another hobby passed to me) of my mom and grandma!
I can’t wait to try your recipe! Thanks for sharing!
thank you for the story as well as the recipe!
I miss fried green maters!
But once every few years is enough for me!
Thanks for the receipe. I was surprised that you let it go. However I’d like to respond to your comment, “Though I’m saddened in a selfish way because I’ve lost someone without being able to properly show my love and appreciation for their influence,” Forgive me if I’m over stepping my bounderies but you have shown US the love and appreciation for her influence. Almost daily you talk about clean eatting and how much you apprciated her & her garden. That was your start. You and your family remain in my prayers. Be blessed!
God Bless your grandmother and may she rest in peace! I still have my grandmother and can not image lossing her but I know I will one day God has blessed her to live a long life she is 95yrs old and thinking about all her recipes she no longer cook now becuz of ALZHEIMERS. I miss her cooking but what I’m going to do is to start making all of her dishes she use to make for us and get the recipes to everything she made ! Sorry for your lost of your grandmother. Thanks for sharing the recipe also
I have never had these before, I think I might try it with your recipe. Sorry to hear about your granny, its clear you have such wonderful memories of her!
Thanks for this wonderful post, Erika.
The recipe sounds delicious – just like all of your do, and I can’t wait to try it.
My prayers are with you and your family and I share in your grief. My father-in-law passed on yesterday.
Likewise, friend. *big hug*
Loved the post and the recipe.
Makes me also dream of fried okra:)
My sincere condolences on the loss of your great-grandmother. I never knew mine, just my Nanna. She never made fried green tomatoes, but her best friend, her partner-in-crime did. My grandmother would loan out my expert weeding and prep-chef services to her friend during summer breaks so keep me busy from sun-up ’til sun down. Her friend had the nerve to have a small garden in the suburbs of Detroit, and a HUGE one on some farmland that was in her family about 30mins away. So summers were about weeding, picking blackberries, raspberries, whatever she chose to grow, killing nasty bugs, and more weeding.
After work was done, I was asked to help make lunch. That’s when I bit into my first fried green tomato. I knew about buttermilk ’cause granddaddy drank it daily. Cornmeal was a regular also due to the weekly tradition of fried fish and spaghetti on Fridays. But to put them together on a green tomato? AS many as I could eat? And learn other kitchen secrets and gossip from those two remarkable women? It was heaven, and more than adequate payment for the forced child labor I had to endure. ‘grin!
I just taught myself this summer how to make them close to what I remembered, yet still keeping close within my new diet. There are so many lost childhood memories that helped shape who we are. I’m glad you were able to commemorate one of your many experiences with her with your recipe.
There are no coincidences in life IMHO. My condolences to your great-grandmother’s passing.
Over here ppl say when an old person dies it is like a library of books get caught in flames in the sens of wisdom and history getting lost….I am glad for you and your family that the fried green tomatoes are not lost and feel honored that you share the recipe with us. Thank you so much!
I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. You and your family will be in my prayers.
Thanks for sharing your story and your recipe.
I love FGT I only eat them once a year, just to get the taste in my mouth. I do occasionally try them at restaurants that lay claim to have good ones. Most places don’t understand that the slice is an integral part of the flavor…to thick/thin and you’ve lost it. There has only been one place that ever compared, and it went out of business.
Thanks for sharing the recipe. Sorry for your loss.
Lawd! I love fried green tomatoes! They are the one thing I refuse to give up. My mom makes them for me every time I lose 5lbs. And yes it motivates me because I’m motivated by food!!
Seriously, this is a lovely bittersweet story. Thanks for sharing.
First let me say I’m sorry for your loss 99 years young thats a beautiful thing.
Second, as I was reading all I could think was, she’s a better woman than me because me and fried green tomatoes must never part…lol. I eat them maybe 3 times a year normally when my mother comes to visit.
Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing!
Why agonize over it? I love fried green tomatoes and a lot of other stuff that I have no business eating and the key to not developing a major craving that leads to a binge is to accept the desire. That is all. Accept it and sit with it and after a while the root of that desire reveals itself to me. It is usually about the need for me to connect with family or relive something in my childhood but never about the deliciousness that I am resisting. Me resisting something gives it energy and allure. When I acknowledge, accept and reflect on it, however, it diminishes the temptation and unravels the mystery.
hmmmmm. …… my recipe is just cornmeal, salt , pepper and tomatoes. I know just you mean about them. People look at me funny when I talk about eating them and how every summer it is the only thing on my mind besides summer squash LOL!!
Yes Jennifer, my recipe calls for those few ingredients also. They are yummy without the guilt!
You have my deepest sympathy. I too love fried green tomatoes. I can’t wait to try your recipe.
Came from the farmer’s market just now… I’ll be making these tonight:-)
First let me offer my condolences to you and your family…treasure your memories. Prayers go out to you and your family.
Fried green tomatoes are tha BOMB!! Last time I had them was at Rum Boogie Cafe in Memphis (Beale St.). Thanks for sharing the recipe…I’ll have to give yours a try.
Girl my favorite Aunt….was Auntie Pookie…and one of my dearest friends was a Pookie. (both have passed on) Dont be shame and I cant wait to try your Auntie Pookies fried green tomato recipe. I love fried green tomatos!
Thanks for the recipe.
I love GFT!! I am making some tonite. I use wheat flour is that is any help. Like you said I don’t eat them often, but when I do OMG they are delicious.
I have never had these before but I have heard about fried green tomatoes quite often. I will try your recipe and I am sorry to hear about your loss. Thank you for sharing 🙂
I’m from SC, and was raised on them! I still love them to this day when I can find them. I live in MD now, and they aren’t easy to find. However, I hit the jackpot and found them at a vegetable stand a week ago along with Cantaloupes the size of basketballs! I save a few calories by not doing the double dipping of the buttermilk, flour and meal. I just season them well and use a meal batter and fry them in olive oil. Wonderful!! But I am going to keep your grandmother’s recipe to impress others with the full version. lol. My condolences on the loss of your grandmother as well.
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