The Kitchen Ade: Unripened tomatoes star in best fried green tomato dishes

While I truly love “Fried Green Tomatoes,” starring Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker, I never visited Juliette, Georgia, where the movie was filmed in 1991. Juliette was refurbished to create the fictional town of Whistle Stop, with the focal point being the Whistle Stop Café.

 

Although the movie was released almost 25 years ago, its timelessness endures, attracting visitors to Juliette who are still charmed by the performances of the actors and the story that was based on the 1987 best-seller by Alabama-native Fannie Flagg. Among those visitors, are my brother Jim and my sister-in-law Donna, who reported having enjoyed “amazing” fried green tomatoes at the faithfully preserved Whistle Stop Café.

Rich with character and passion, the Whistle Stop story is also about Southern cuisine — and the simple pleasures of well-made fried green tomatoes. It’s worth knowing, however, that to make really good fried green tomatoes, you must use firm and just slightly tart ripened red tomatoes, not ripe green tomatoes, like green zebra tomatoes (they develop a golden strip when ripe), or heirloom varieties, such as Aunt Ruby’s German green tomatoes. (An heirloom variety tomato is one that has been open-pollinated and was introduced by seed companies before 1960, or whose seeds have been passed down for generations. Open-pollination is pollination that occurs by natural means, such as by insects, birds and humans.)

Although ripe green tomatoes can be very tasty and sweet, they are too soft to hold their coating or shape when fried. Save them for your salads, or for eating out of hand.

Between not having plans to get to Juliette soon and the big green apron Jim and Donna gifted me with from the Whistle Stop Café, I’ve been inspired to make my own fried green tomatoes. If you don’t have the time, or desire, to make fried green tomatoes now, hang on to the recipes. The tomato-growing season has just begun. Like tomatoes, the recipes here are heirloom quality — meant to be shared and passed on from generation to generation.

 

Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at kitchenade@yahoo.com.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Bacon Dipping Sauce

Recipe courtesy former Bluffton resident Peggy Beck, owner/founder Joyful Palate Catering and Planning Events

 

Servings: 6 as an appetizer, or 3 as a main course

 

3 medium green tomatoes sliced 1/3-inch thick 

2 large eggs

¾ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup cornmeal

¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

Bacon drippings from one pound of bacon cooked crisp (see recipe for Bacon Dipping 

Sauce, below), plus vegetable oil for frying tomatoes 

Bacon Dipping Sauce, for serving (recipe follows)

 

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk and dill. Add tomatoes and let sit 10 minutes. While the tomatoes are sitting in the buttermilk mixture, combine flour, cornmeal, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a shallow pan; set aside. 

With a slotted spoon, remove tomatoes from buttermilk mixture, allowing excess liquid to run off tomatoes, then dredge tomatoes in the flour mixture, patting slightly so that tomatoes are well coated; set aside. 

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, render bacon until crispy, then remove bacon from skillet. Add enough oil to the bacon drippings to about 1 inch. Fry tomatoes until golden brown on each side, then remove to a paper towel-lined dish to absorb extra oil. For presentation, stack tomatoes in uneven piles, about 3 tomatoes each. Serve with Bacon Dipping Sauce on the side. 

 

Bacon Dipping Sauce

Yield: 1¼ cups

 

1 pound bacon cooked crisp, crumbled

8 ounces softened cream cheese

8 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled

¼ cup half & half

¼ cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise 

2 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot Sauce

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1 scallion, with some of the green part, coarsely chopped

 

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, pulsing several seconds until mixture is well blended. 

 

 

Middle Tennessee-style Fried Green Tomatoes 

Recipe courtesy Caroline Kennedy, Bluffton, SC

 

Servings: 4 

 

1 tablespoon Dijon-type mustard

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼  teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)

2 medium green tomatoes, sliced ¼-inch and refrigerated (about 1 pound)

½ cup yellow or white cornmeal

½ cup bacon drippings or canola oil

 

In a small bowl, combine first 6 ingredients. Spread on both sides of tomato slices. Place cornmeal in a shallow dish; dip the tomato slices in the cornmeal.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the bacon grease or oil over medium heat, and fry tomato slices 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Drain on wire rack placed over brown paper bag. 

Serve right away! Cook’s note: Bacon grease burns easily, so adjust your heat accordingly.

 

Southern Fried Green Tomatoes

Servings: 4 to 6 

 

4 medium green tomatoes (about 2 pounds)

2 large eggs

½ cup milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

1½ teaspoons seasoned salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Crisco vegetable shortening

 

Slice the tomatoes about ¼-inch thick; discard ends. In a large bowl, mix together eggs and milk. In a shallow pan, combine flour, cornmeal, salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Dip tomatoes in milk mixture, then into flour mixture, shaking off excess flour. (If you like a lot of coating, repeat process). 

Heat shortening over medium heat in a large cast-iron skillet to a depth of about ½-inch. Fry tomatoes until golden brown on one side, then flip over and fry other side, 2 to 3 more. Drain on paper towels and serve at once. 

 

Whistle Stop Café, Juliette, Ga

Based on Alabama native Fannie Flagg’s 1987 best-selling “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” released in late December of 1991, was filmed on location in Juliette, Ga. Film producers refurbished Juliette to create the fictional town of Whistle Stop, which included the Whistle Stop Café. 

Faithful to the movie café, you’ll find the real life Whistle Stop Café in Juliette, serving fried green tomatoes and many other Southern specialties, plus more. If you’d like to visit, Juliette is located approximately 20 minutes north of Macon, or go there via http://www.thewhistlestopcafe.com. 

If you are a stickler for facts, the café in Flagg’s book has to do with Birmingham, Alabama’s Irondale Café. The business, which had its roots as a hot dog stand, was purchased about 1932 by Bess Fortenberry, who is Flagg’s great aunt. For information and a look at the café’s interesting story, visit  http://whistlestopcafe.com/about-us.html.

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