23 Feb Savor The Story:
Fried Green Tomatoes
Bite into that warm and crunchy, salt-seasoned cornmeal coating and into the sassy tang of an unripe green tomato with just the right amount of juicy goodness. Of course fried green tomatoes are a quintessential Southern dish.
Except they’re not.
Many accounts dispute the South as being the place where fried green tomatoes originated, culinary historian Robert F. Moss’ in particular. Moss is the author of The Fried Green Tomato Swindle and Other Southern Culinary Adventures (Palmetto New Media, 2011), wherein he puts forth that fried green tomatoes first appear in 19th century cookbooks – in the Northeast and Midwest!
Moss cites the 1877 Buckeye Cookbook and the 1873 Presbyterian Cookbook, published by the First Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio. Wait! What? Fried green tomatoes . . . a Northern delicacy? Moss follows up that bombshell with this: Recipes for fried green tomatoes can also be found in Jewish cookbooks from the early 20th century, like Florence Kreisler Greenbaum’s 1919 International Jewish Cookbook.
“I found eleven recipes for fried green tomatoes published in newspapers between 1900 and 1919,” Moss wrote in his book, “And, interestingly, all eleven were in Northern and Midwestern cities, spanning an area from Fitchburg, MA, to Lincoln, NE.”
Before you reach for the smelling salts, consider this: No one is going to argue the origins of friend green tomatoes with Fannie Flagg, Southern writer extraordinaire, who singlehandedly launched the fried green tomato into the national culinary conversation over 30 years ago.
In 1987, Flagg’s book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, became an instant sensation. The book pretty much guaranteed a place for this cornmeal-crusted delectable in the annals of Southern cookery – and on menus across the South. Then, three years later in 1991, the Oscar-nominated movie came out. Who in their right mind would tell Kathy Bates that fried green tomatoes aren’t a Southern thing?
They sprang up on menus all over the South, not to mention north of the Mason-Dixon line. Flagg herself penned a 1995 cookbook giving the dish a headlining shout-out: Fannie Flagg’s Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook: Featuring Fried Green Tomatoes, Southern Barbecue, Banana Split Cake, and Many Other Great Recipes. And it’s safe to say that every Southern town worth its salt developed a special recipe for fried green tomatoes – and Shelbyville and Simpsonville are no exceptions.
The Bell House Restaurant in downtown Shelbyville serves its fried green tomatoes with an herbal horseradish cream. A homemade special sauce raises the yum factor of the lightly breaded fried green tomatoes at Cattleman’s Roadhouse in Shelbyville. Mmm.
No matter which restaurant you enjoy them in, just remember raise your fork in a salute to the inimitable Fannie Flagg.