Fried Green Tomatoes

The place was jam-packed full of railroad men at lunchtime, so Grady Kilgore went to the kitchen door and hollered in, “Fix me a mess of them fried green tomatoes and some ice tea, will ya, Sipsey? I’m in a hurry.”

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

As a child, part of me longed to live in the American south. I devoured novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My grandpa’s favorite movie was Gone with the Wind; I remember spending many a rainy afternoon snuggled on the couch with my grandparents, feeling shock as Rhett declared, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” My grandpa grew up in Texas, and on the paternal side my ancestry stretches back to the first royal governor of Virginia, so perhaps the south is in my blood– the warm, balmy nights, the endless green fields, the porch swings, the old fashioned gentility.

As I grew up, I learned that my romanticized view of southern life was flawed; there was a darker side to the idyllic landscape I’d imagined. I began to read novels that touched on the social issues of the old south– slavery, segregation, women’s rights. When I was 14 or so, I picked up a novel at the library: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. I remember recognizing the theme of racial injustice woven throughout the story. As I became attached to the characters, the racial segregation that I’d read about in school seemed more real. I was immediately drawn into the friendship between Evelyn Couch, an overweight middle-aged housewife, and Ninny Threadgoode, an aging woman in a nursing home. Throughout the novel, Ninny shares her memories with Evelyn, recounting the adventures of her relatives and friends in Whistle Stop, Alabama. Most of the memories center around her sister-in-law’s restaurant, The Whistle Stop Cafe.

 

What I wouldn’t give for a plate of fried green tomatoes like we used to have at the cafe…

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

One of the things I remember most about the novel is the food imagery. My mouth watered as author Fannie Flagg poetically described those rich and mouthwatering southern recipes– fruit pies, deep fried chicken, and of course those iconic southern fried green tomatoes.

Recently, I rented the movie Fried Green Tomatoes on iTunes. I’d seen it when I was 16 or so, a couple of years after I read the novel, and I felt ready to revisit the characters and the story. While the movie isn’t exactly like the book, it does a beautiful job of building the Whistle Stop Cafe as I’d seen it in my imagination. As I watched the movie a second time, I suddenly got the urge to cook up some fried green tomatoes… I’d never tasted them before, but I’d always imagined what they might be like. When searching for an authentic recipe, I stumbled onto a gem of a book– Fannie Flagg’s Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook. There are, of course, multiple recipes for Fried Green Tomatoes in the book. I was ready to tackle something new (and vintage), so I went for it!

I had a heck of a time finding green tomatoes here in Los Angeles. For some reason, green tomatoes just aren’t as popular here as they are in the south. After searching in several grocery stores, I tried my luck at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market (yes, Hollywood has a terrific farmer’s market, believe it or not!). I finally found one stand with some green tomatoes for sale. Two dollars a pound, what a bargain!

I picked through to find the greenest tomatoes in the bunch and brought them home, planning to fry them up the next day. Imagine my surprise when I found a few of them already starting to turn red, just a day after I bought them:

I figured I’d better get to work, before all my green tomatoes went red! Some people prefer the pinkish-tinged green tomatoes, as they are slightly sweeter than the firm green ones. I wanted to taste the real deal, so I cooked up the greenest ones first.

There are three Fried Green Tomato recipes in the Fannie Flagg cookbook– Fried Green Tomatoes I, Fried Green Tomatoes II, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Milk Gravy. I couldn’t decide which one to try, so I combined elements from I and II, replacing the regular milk in recipe I with buttermilk, as suggested in recipe II.  As I assembled the ingredients, my husband (who ate fried green tomatoes regularly when he lived in Virginia) suggested I serve them with some sort of sauce.  The Fannie Flagg cookbook had a milk gravy recipe, but I wanted something with a little more color and flavor– something zippy. I invited my friend Tammy over, whose grandmother hails from the deep south. She suggested a creamy sauce with a mayonnaise base. I wanted to keep things simple, so I mixed mayo with a little ketchup and cayenne. I thought I’d leave it to Tammy to be the taste tester.

After battering the tomato slices, I fried them up. The result was great– crispy, tangy, with a light crunch from the cornmeal. They were best right out of the frying pan; the longer they sat, the more soggy they became. Tammy swore they tasted just like her grandma made. She liked the sauce, too, but suggested I cut down the sweetness a touch. I reduced the amount of ketchup slightly, and after that she gave a big thumbs up. That night, we dined on fried green tomatoes and sweet iced tea, a fun Southern meal for a hot summer night.

Keep in mind that the sauce recipe is my own creation. If you want to be more authentic, you might want to fry the tomatoes in bacon grease and serve them with milk gravy. Or you can serve them without sauce, au naturale. In my opinion, they’re better with some sort of an accompaniment. I’m thinking buttermilk ranch dressing would be great, too!

If you’re a fan of the book or the movie, be sure to check out Fannie Flagg’s Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook. It’s packed with terrific recipes that will give you an authentic taste of the American south.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomato Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup self rising flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or substitute regular milk)
  • 3-4 green tomatoes sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • Vegetable oil or bacon grease for frying (I used peanut oil)

Sauce Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • Pinch of cayenne, or more to taste
Total Time: 20 Minutes
Servings: 4
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and buttermilk. Use a fork to mix the ingredients into a pancake-like batter. Use more buttermilk to thin the batter, if needed.
  • Heat 2 inches of oil in a skillet until hot enough to fry. Dip tomato slices in batter, letting the excess batter drip back into the bowl. Put the dipped slices immediately into the frying pan. The oil should sizzle strongly but not pop when the tomatoes hit the oil-- if the oil pops or splatters, it's too hot. Let it cool down a bit before proceeding.
  • Fry the tomato slices in batches of 4 or 5 at a time (don't crowd the pan) for 2-3 minutes per side, turning carefully with tongs when the coating turns golden brown.
  • Transfer to a colander or wire cooling rack to drain. To keep the tomatoes from getting soggy before they're served, Fannie suggest standing them up like wheels in the serving dish instead of stacking them.
  • To make the sauce, whisk together the mayonnaise, ketchup, and cayenne in a bowl. Taste and season more, if needed. Serve sauce over the fresh fried green tomatoes.
  • Fried green tomatoes are best eaten fresh out of the frying pan, they will become soggy fast if you don't enjoy them within a few minutes of frying.
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About Tori Avey

Tori Avey acts as editor and curator of The History Kitchen, where she shares her own food history writing and seeks out creative contributors from throughout the culinary world. Tori also writes an award-winning kosher food blog, The Shiksa in the Kitchen. She explores the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Read more...
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Category: Dinner, Entrees, Literary Recipes, Lunch, Movie Recipes, Recipes, Slide Show, Vegetarian, Vintage Recipes

Comments (34)Post a Comment

  1. Larry "The Wizard" Siegfried says:

    Shabbat Shalom and thank’s Tori.. I Love Fried Green Tomatoes..
    When I’m in a rush… I use “Batter Blaster” right from the can… and season them up just before I drop them in the oil… Works every time… ;-)…

  2. Larry "The Wizard" Siegfried says:

    Come to think of it… I Actually I dont use a lot of oil… I make these in a flat pancake skillet… apply enough batter to the skillet (slightly larger than the tomato slice.. season the tomato..place it on the batter “round”.. let it cook for a min or two then apply batter over the tomato till it covers… flip it over and finish the cooking till they are golden brown…

  3. Leslie says:

    Fried green tomatoes are a family favorite – my mama always puts just a little sugar on them when they come out of the fryer. With a spicy remolaude they are the BEST.

  4. Nina says:

    What would be the substitution for self-rising flour (i.e. how much flour + how much baking powder, baking soda …)?

  5. Shawn Cady says:

    I love Ms. Flagg’s books! Her cookbook is the best for southern food! And I LOVE the stories she tells in her cookbook. The woman has a gift for story telling and a wonderful sense of humor. Mmm, nowI want some grits and sausage gravy! LOL I just might make up a plate of those tomatoes tonight – sans the bacon grease! LOL Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  6. Stella says:

    Wow, no green tomatoes in LA?! Blasphemy! How terrible.

    I’m so glad you finally found some, if only so you could share this recipe with us, your selfish readers.

    I hate tomatoes, generally, but fried green tomatoes are amazing. I need to try your recipe. I haven’t made any yet this year! And I do second the bacon grease gravy recommendation.

  7. mia says:

    I live in a tiny village in Mexico but my family is from the south and my grandmother and mother made fried green tomatoes, as well as many other goodies, in my childhood home. Here in Mexico I substitute something called tomatillos, a sour green tomato-type vegetable, for green tomatoes and the result is fabulous – they have a tart lemony taste that’s to die for. They are very cheap in the Mexican market, probably much less than the $2 lb for green tomatoes. To keep them crispy longer after cooking, try replacing part of your flour with corn starch (1T cornstarch is equal to 2T flour). The tomatillos have less water in them, which helps them stay crisp a little longer after cooking. Shen shopping, look for ones the size of a lemon or plum, not as large as American tomatoes. They have a little paper “hat” on top and sometimes a tad of purple on them. If you buy them hard, let them sit for a day or two until they give a little when you squeeze – sometimes the hard green ones are bitter.

  8. Debbie says:

    Tori, I’ve been addicted to your website for the last week, and cannot seem to take my eyes off of it! Beautiful writing, Fabulous recipes and gorgeous pictures. Truly a labor of love! Thank you for sharing :) ….quick question, are you going to link the History Kitchen site with a recipe box system as well for synching recipes, like the Shiksa ;)?
    Thanks. Keep blogging!!!

  9. Mary says:

    I just discovered your blog today, while searching for a recipe for fried green tomatoes (am in the process of cleaning up my garden before the first frost and have a surplus).

    So….we had these as a side dish tonight for supper along with the sauce – I had no ketchup so substituted chili sauce and it was lovely.

    Thanks very much.
    Mary in Nova Scotia

  10. Marcia says:

    My daughter has a recipe for 4 pounds of green tomatoes.
    I know size makes a difference, but approximately how
    many average size tomatoes would it take for 4 pounds.

  11. Kathy Mille says:

    Wonderful! Love the book, love the movie, love the tomatoes.

  12. Dan says:

    Is there a tomato plant that grows green tomatoes.Not just green befor they ripen.All the green tomatoes I have tried are bitter.And will a deep frier work? Thanks Dan.

    • Tori Avey says:

      Hi Dan, not that I know of. You’re probably choosing tomatoes that are too young, they shouldn’t taste bitter. Next time try to look for larger, lighter green tomatoes– or even tomatoes that are just starting to look a bit pink in places, those will have a hint of sweetness to them. And yes, you can use a deep frier.

  13. Cynthia says:

    Greetings, Tori.
    The fried green tomatoes caught my eye but it was the story of your feelings about the South during your childhood that really made me smile. My dad was from the South–also with the long family history (first governor of Georgia in his line) — and I had similar feelings. My favorite TV show when I was young was “The Gray Ghost,” about John Singleton Moseby. “I also loved “The Rebel.” For years, I didn’t know what the war was about, just that the Southerners were always noble and good. Like you, learned more later — and yet there is something of a longing to experience the things that were good about the culture at its best — the elegance, the gentility, the hospitality. Can we bring back that and leave the rest behind?

    Anyway, it’s fun to find someone else with that kind of connection to the Old South. And it’s great to have a good recipe for friend green tomatoes. (I got hooked on those while visiting South Carolina a few years back — and tomato pie, as well. Good food in SC.) So doubly thank you.

    See you on the IACP FB page.

    Cynthia

    • Tori Avey says:

      So happy you liked this piece Cynthia! I also have family ties to the South; I recently learned that I’m directly related to the first royal Governor of Virginia. I wrote about it here: link to thehistorykitchen.com Yes, the feelings are definitely conflicted, and my heart hurts when I think about the pain and oppression caused by our ancestors. That said, food can be a way of educating and healing. I have a new contributor joining the team soon who will be writing about African American foodways in the Old South, and I can’t wait to read more about his research!

  14. David says:

    I always assumed that the green tomatoes in fried green tomatoes were tomatillos (that Mia mentioned).
    from Wiki…
    “Even though tomatillos are sometimes called “green tomatoes”, they should not be confused with green, unripe tomatoes (tomatoes are in the same family, but a different genus)”
    link to en.wikipedia.org
    How would you keep green tomatoes green in a cafe?

  15. Rick says:

    that looks like a good recipe, I never have self rising flour in the house, but when I wanted to cheat my from scratch recipe, I would use buttermilk pancake mix, corn meal Lawrey’s season salt and pepper and water, that comes out quite well also, and you are correct, the tomatoes need to be eaten immediately !

  16. Patty Gebbie says:

    Thank you Tori: My grandmother was from McGregor, Texas and made us fried green tomatoes when I was a child. I presently have lots of green tomatoes in my garden and thought I would like some fried green ones.
    I found your site and the recipe is perfect, and seems just as I remember Grammy’s Hugs Patty

  17. Carol Maydew says:

    Thank you for the recipe for fried green tomatoes. We have watched the film countless times, and I have wanted to try them. I do have a problem; here in Shropshire, England we never see tomatoes unless they are ripe. Would firm red tomatoes give us the same taste and texture? Are green tomatoes a particular variety? Please help if you can.

    • Tori Avey says:

      Green tomatoes are unripened tomatoes. Here in the U.S. we can find them at Farmer’s Markets (if you read the post above you’ll see that’s where I found mine) and in the South they are available at some grocery stores. Your best bet would be to ask a farmer at the farmer’s market, or a friend with a tomato plant, if they can set aside some green tomatoes for you. Red tomatoes won’t work as well because they’re softer and juicier, which means the breading will become soggy very quickly. Firm green tomatoes work best. Good luck!

  18. Sissy says:

    I can’t find the answer to the self-rising flour, what would be a substitute if you did not have it.

    • Suzanna Banana says:

      Sissy, a good substitute for self rising flour is 3/4 cups flour and 1 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt. Works great.

  19. Marc says:

    Hi Tori. The inclement weather here in the UK left me with a glut of green tomatoes this year. After finding your site and recipie I’ve done them twice now and loved it. Run out of green tomatoes now but we all love the batter I’m trying something sweet. Substituting the salt and pepper for cinnamon and trying it with fresh pineapple !

  20. Suzanna Banana says:

    Tori, thank you for the recipe. In the past I’ve always just fried green tomato slices plain in butter. I love them that way but know I’m going to love them with your batter. I have but small, oval shaped green grape tomatoes from my daughters container garden. I’ve sliced them about 1/4 inch thick. Nice for a bite-sized bedtime treat. Oh, I don’t have cornmeal, so we’ll see how this experiment works. I’ll let you know.

    • Suzanna Banana says:

      I’m fast, eh? I made the tomatoes and they are amazing. Recipe worked without the cornmeal. I just added the full cup of self sizing flour but has to add about another 1/4 cup milk to give it the right consistency. Heck, I added it to be able to mix it at all.
      The tiny tomatoes worked better than large ones, I think. More batter for wonderful two bite snacks. Thank you thank you.

    • Tori Avey says:

      Great Suzanna! Happy you enjoyed them.

  21. Eq4bits says:

    I make these using the recipes (sorta combined like you did) from the book, but, I top mine with lump crabmeat and a roumalade sauce (mayo, ketchup, a tad of sugar, a bit of worcestershire sauce and a few good shakes of tabasco, optional add a few diced pickles or pickle relish – we use this at our crawfish boils)

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