Thursday, September 02, 2010

from the garden to the table : : fried green tomatoes

My grandfather was born in 1929 and raised in Kentucky. He often speaks about eating fried green tomatoes, reminiscing about just how tasty they were. The history of the dish is most likely lost amid the pots and pans of many a small farm kitchen but, according to food historian Robert F. Moss, the dish is not exclusively southern (as most people believe) and recipes for making the tomatoes can be found in old newspapers from the midwestern and northern parts of America between 1900 and 1920, as well as in some Jewish cookbooks from the early part of the 20th century. My own instinct is that the dishes origins come from the backyard garden―early in the season, we had a green tomato pull of the vine when tying one of the plants to the fence. Not wanting to waste it, I sliced and fried it. My guess is, people with gardens have always had the odd green tomato come off the vine, or needed an early summer meal before the tomatoes were ripe, or had tomatoes left as the midwestern winter arrived early and, not wanting to waste the fruit, found ways of cooking the hard, green tomatoes.

The traditional recipe is to slice the tomatoes ¼ an inch thick, salt and pepper the slices, dust them in cornmeal and then fry them in hot bacon fat. I basically follow this recipe but use butter rather than bacon fat and add a bit of flour, garlic powder and onion powder to the cornmeal for the breading.  After heating up the cast-iron skillet and browning the butter, the slices go in, frying on each side until golden brown. Because I love sauces, I mix up a light sauce of sour cream, paprika, lemon juice, a few drops of Tabasco, and finely grated cheddar cheese to spoon over the tops of the tomatoes. Served with potato salad and watermelon, you have a light and tasty Midwestern meal.

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