Tag Archives: cooking

What’s Up With Fried Green Tomatoes?

Check out the menu in any New-South Culinary hotspot in Atlanta, Charleston, Greenville, Nashville, or New Orleans and you’ll usually find crispy fried chicken, biscuits, sweet tea, and fried green tomatoes. These foods rank as some of America’s most iconic Southern foods, and yet, none of them are distinctly Southern.  Say whaaaat? Crispy fried chicken originated in Scotland, sweet tea hails from the Northern US and was made popular during the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis when a vendor put ice in his tea just to have something to sell in the 100 degree heat, biscuits have been around since the Middle Ages, and we can thank the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, for the popularity of fried green tomatoes. But how exactly did these delicious treats become a Southern thing?

The concept is easy enough to understand:  take some firm, flavor-less, stubborn tomatoes that won’t turn red, salt it, batter it, and fry it in oil.  But who was the first person to do that and where were they?

 

According to Robert F. Moss, author of The Fried Green Tomato Swindle and Other Southern Culinary Adventures, fried green tomatoes first appear in 19th century Northeastern and Midwestern cookbooks such as the 1877 Buckeye Cookbook and the 1873 Presbyterian Cookbook, which was put out by the First Presbyterian Church of Dayton, OH. O-H-I-O. Ohio. Not South Carolina. Not Louisiana. Not anywhere in the south at all.  It’s depressing and disheartening: fried green tomatoes do not come from the South.

Now, the Whistle Stop Café in Fannie Flagg’s book was based on a real place, her aunt’s Irondale Café in Irondale, Alabama, where she did eat fried green tomatoes as a kid. But the staff there has admitted that it wasn’t a serious part of their menu before the movie came out, bringing hordes of people hungry for the dish. Though the movie plot is set in 1920’s Alabama, the filming took place in Juliette, Georgia, and that is where the actual Whistle Stop Cafe is located, and where you can pop in for lunch or some homemade pound cake (Restaurant hours are 11-4).

Originally, the building that houses the Whistle Stop Cafe was a mercantile store that sold everything from groceries to cattle feed to medicines.  It opened in 1927 and stayed opened for 45 years with  the same proprietor. The store was closed in 1972 when the owner had simply had enough.  The building housed a couple other businesses before the movie was filmed and became actual Whistle Stop Cafe.

Know before you go

Address: 443 McCrackin Street, Juliette, GA 31046  The largest city near Juliette is Macon.

Hours: 11A-4P

And want to try making fried green tomatoes at home?

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper or paprika
  • medium-size green tomatoes, cut into 1/3-inch slices
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste

How to Make It

  • Combine egg and buttermilk; set aside.

  • Combine 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, paprika or cayenne pepper and black pepper in a shallow bowl or pan.

  • Dredge tomato slices in remaining 1/4 cup flour; dip in egg mixture, and dredge in cornmeal mixture.

  • Pour oil to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch in a large cast-iron skillet; heat to 375°. Drop tomatoes, in batches, into hot oil, and cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels or a rack. Sprinkle hot tomatoes with salt.

A castle, a conspiracy, and a love story

Here’s the thing about Tuscany: it’s so freaking beautiful and historic. And tasty. Wine, bread, olives, olive oil. I’m sure it’s beautiful… especially in spring/summer/fall. Winter is pretty awesome too.

After spending some time taking in some winter sports with the best athletes on the planet and searching for my soul against the tiny coastal villages nestled against the Mediterranean, it was time to get down of discovering what Italy is known for:  good food, good wine, and good art.

A Castle

But first a side trip to back in time.  Enter Trebbio Castle, built in 1184!  1184.  That was the dark ages for crying out loud.  Anyway back to the story…

trebbio 1

The castle was built in 1184 by the Pazzi Family, [Italian language lesson=‘pazzi’ means crazy]. In fact, the family was pretty crazy to even attempt such a thing, but these were different times.  Ever hear of the Medicis–you know the family that rules these parts back then? The Pazzis and Medicis were rivals.  Somewhere deep in the castle [IDK if this part is true, but it sounds good] Francesco and Salviati Pazzi, with the help of Pope Sixtus IV and his newphew Girolamo Riario concocted an plan against the Medicis. The Pope was upset that the Medici’s were attempting to thwart his Papal power over the North-central Romagna region. And if you’re wondering whether it was successful or not, just check to see whose balls are all over Florence… a little hint, they’re not the Pazzis.

trebbio 2

Here’s the thing about a time before photography or the internet.  You can use your imagination to picture how things happened.  It was April 26, 1478.  Easter morning.  The most sacred of sacred mornings.  It was beautiful–spring in full bloom–warm even.   All the Florentines were in the Duomo for High Mass.  The Pazzis snuck in to the Duomo and managed to get a seat near the Medicis.  Catholics being catholics the homily was probably eerily similar to Easter homilies today.  I like to think it happened right as the priest was offering communion to the Medicis. The Pazzis managed to fatally stab one of the Medici brothers, Giuliano, but Lorenzo ‘The Magnificent’ managed to escape. The Florentines side with the Medicis and killed the present Pazzis on the spot.  And all sins were immediately forgiven…

You might be wondering what happened to the castle after the demise of the Pazzis; it fell to disrepair. A caretaker lived there for 15 years [contractually], but as soon as he was able, he skedaddled off with a young missy in tow.

The love story

Fast forward 500 years or so…A young Austrian girl come to Italy to learn Italian.  Whilst on the train, she meets the the man who would become her husband.  They married and settled in Milan.  Never-mind the 40 year age difference [I’m all about the older men, but I don’t think I could do 40 years older].  She was 19; he was 59.  Six years of marriage = 5 children.

One day he came to her and said “A few years ago, I was a lonely man, so to thank you for all that you have given me, I bought you castle in Tuscany with over 800 acres.’  [Sidenote:  If ever a man wanted to buy me a castle in Tuscany, I’d let him].  I’m sure he didn’t quite expect the turn of events that set the castle’s restoration in motion.  You see, there’s no heat in that castle; I’m sure he expected that the Missus would only want to live in the castle in the summer, but oh no–give a girl a castle, she’ll want to live there for life.
SONY DSC

And so they did.  Restorations began in 1968. They started the wine and olive oil production. The castle is now in the hands of their daughter, Anna Baj Macario, who took over the estate with her husband Stefano Casadei, who is the winemaker. They live full time in the castle, which still doesn’t have heating, and is really quite cold, especially in February.

It takes over 100,000 euros a year to maintain this place so in addition to making wine and olive oil, they give tours, offer cooking classes, have apartments for rent and host events like weddings at the castle.

The moral of this story:  Life can start at any age usually when you least expect it. [Or how it applies to me; don’t give up on life just yet].

And a bonus:  A recipe for homemade pasta

Ingredients: EGGS ( 1 egg per person), FLOUR (*100 grams per person), EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (1 teaspoon), SALT

trebbio 5

On a wooden board, put the flour in the shape of a volcano, and the eggs in the middle. Add the extra virgin olive oil and some salt. With a fork, start mixing the eggs, taking the flour from the side, little by little or it will result lumpy.

Then, start mixing the dough with the hands. Don’t work it too much, because the pasta must result porous, in order to better absorb the sauce.

Then, when the dough is homogeneous, leave it to rest for at least half an hour.

Then, roll out the dough: firstly by hand, after with the rolling pin. Put a handful of flour on the dough in order to roll it out better, or it will stick to your hand/to the rolling pin. Turn the dough once in a while in order to give it a round and not oval shape. When the dough is very flat (*1-2 mm), leave it again to rest half an hour.

Then, fold the dough. Now you can cut the dough to prepare the shape of the pasta that you prefer: tagliatelle are wide stripes, tagliolini are narrow stripes.

Open the stripes, and let them dry.

Handmade Tagliatelle with “Sausage” Sauce:

Put some onion, celery, thyme, and rosemary in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Then add fresh sausage: when the meat gets a nice brown color, add peeled tomatoes. Let it boil for about 1 hour and 30 min.

Handmade Tagliolini with Vegetarian Sauce:

Put some shallot (kind of onion) and celery in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add grated carrots and zucchini, some thyme and some fresh basil. Add some fresh cream, and chili (if you’d like).

*Metric measurement  because, you know, Italy ain’t America.