Fried red and green tomatoes with a few pieces of fried, unctuous chicken skin for garnish ….. yum ……
When I was 14 years old, I read a book called Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg. It opened my eyes for various reasons.
For one, it was a mainstream account of a burgeoning and joyful lesbian relationship, which at the time, I had absolutely no knowledge of. I like to think it started the seeds of framing in my mind to accept the fact that everyone in the world would not always be a carbon copy of me and that would be okay, because, folks, LOVE IS LOVE.
For two, it showed me the power of stories. The entire narration is basically centered upon a middle-aged housewife named Evelyn who visits a woman in a nursing home weekly just to sit by and silently receive and witness another ill woman’s stories about her life that have long come to pass as she enters the years in which she will finally succumb to the inevitability of death. It branded within me, the idea that stories shared are nuggets of gold, and feeders of empathy, and bridges that build worlds I still, excitedly, have yet to know.
But the third most resonant thing for me was in the title. Fried Green Tomatoes. Ha? Who would eat unripe tomatoes? I was particularly fascinated with this culinary item and put it on my “to-eat” list, which had been boiling in my teens, ever since I went to my best friend Sylvie’s house one night and had frog legs and red wine at fifteen, proffered by her French chef father at midnight after returning from his post at one of the most iconic French restaurants near my childhood home. The whole experience made me reek with the redolence of difference and what that can do, as in shoving a wedge into reality, for a person more accustomed to Midwestern casseroles and all things cheese.
In any case, the first time I actually tried fried green tomatoes was at a down-home BBQ place in the low-nethers of Boston with an ex-boyfriend who insisted on getting the catfish and hushpuppy combo. I agreed, but also ordered a nice side plate of the fried green tomatoes. It was weird taking a train to a tony side of the famous Paul Revere city, only to duck into a shanty that held a mass of people slinging fish and grease to eat upon picnic tables thrown out for the occasion, yet we did. Everything was great, but my favorite was the fried green tomatoes, served fluffy with a coating that was crunchy yet allowed for the inner juices to roam without sogging in every single bite. Hard to explain. But I will try. A touch of crunch hits the teeth, followed by a warm sensation as the acid from the tomato swarms, then all get embroiled in the coating’s sweet embrace.
So, that was my experience, the one I was going on in my annals of lovely meals. But then, the Cute Gardener stepped in. Last night, I entered the kitchen and saw his pre-ripe tomatoes on the counter. Are you making fried green tomatoes, I asked. Yes, his answer was swift, but his body demeanor proved otherwise, I could tell he was trying to figure out the rest. Cornmeal, I stated, and I have milk in the fridge.
What resulted was a magnificent array of purple tomatoes and green unripe unknowns – each smothered in the same batter which felt like a blanket wrapped around the tongue before the inner juice, exquisite itself, put out a world of its admiring taste buds. YUM, I gave up the rest of my bacon-laden gnocchi, and even the remains of a phenomenal salad just to stuff my mouth with whatever spare part I could of those fragrant and soul-affirming deep fried tomatoes.