Mention “fried green tomatoes” to a Northerner, and thoughts leap to Fannie Flagg’s best selling novel about a colorful Alabama town in the throes of the Great Depression. Mention “fried green tomatoes” to a Southerner, however, and lip smacking accompanied and soft affectionate moans are the probable response.
If you’ve never tasted this homey Southern favorite, do yourself an easy favor. Slice unripe green tomatoes about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then coat with cornmeal. Pan fry until browned on both sides. (Traditional recipes fry in bacon drippings, but vegetable oil an acceptable choice.) Eat them warm, all by themselves, or make a quick sauce made by stirring lemon juice paprika, and chopped parsley into mayonnaise.
Throughout the American South, green unripe tomatoes have a following all their own. They’re used in jams, preserves, mincemeat, pickles and the relish known as “chow-chow.” They also make appearances abroad. In Indian cuisine, they’re stewed with mustard seed, cumin and other spices to produce a lively vegetarian entree.
Knowing what to do with unripe tomatoes is a boon to gardeners rushing to rescue late season fruit from oncoming frost. Don’t confuse them with tomatillos, which look like small green tomatoes but are distinguished by their papery husks, and bear in mind that some heirloom tomatoes are green at maturity. Green tomatoes should be firm to the touch, and fairly bright in color.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.