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.
And want to try making fried green tomatoes at home?
- 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.