Culinary Classics of Crypto-Lesbian Fiction: Fried Green Tomatoes

My favorite lesbian movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, is not even technically a lesbian movie. Technically it’s a movie about two women who live together, raise a child together, defend and love each other, and have sexually-charged food fights in a Totally Heterosexual way. The relationship is a lot less subtextual in the book (although it’s never actually spelled out in the book either, you’ll have to read fanfiction for that), but I’ll always love the movie all the same. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it over the years, as it was a regular feature in the network TV Saturday Afternoon movie line-up throughout my own formative years. It’s also probably the only queer film you can comfortably watch with your foot-washing Baptist granny. While the queer aspect may have been covert, the relationship between Idgie and Ruth was a strong, positive and beautiful one which made a big impression on my own burgeoning yet equally subtextual queer identity. Before I even could fully articulate why, I thought the picnic scene where Idgie pulls out fresh honeycomb from the hive for Ruth was one of the most romantic scenes in film. All I want is someone who is willing to stick their whole arm in a tree full of bees for me. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

My love of the movie, and eventually book, made me want to try the dish. Now, I am Southern myself and the traditional thing to do here would be to lie like a rug and tell you I have been eating fried green tomatoes since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and that this recipe was in my family for generations. I do have recipes like that, but this isn’t one of them. My mother hates fried green tomatoes and completely refuses to make them. Lord knows why. They are tart, juicy, crispy, with just a little bit of a kick, and take no time at all to make. They’re great on their own, but also make a wonderful complement to a wide variety of dishes.

You’ll see two different styles of fried green tomato in the world: deep-fried and covered with a thick batter, or shallow fried and lightly crusted with seasoned cornmeal. I think the second kind tastes far better and is so much easier and cheaper to make at home. Like all great southern vegetable dishes, fried green tomatoes are traditionally cooked in bacon grease, but you can use plain vegetable oil instead.

Depending on where you live and what time of year it is, finding green tomatoes might be the hardest part of the recipe, but never fear. Green tomato season is coming up soon, depending on where you live. They’ve already hit the grocery stores here in North Carolina, but it will be another month before local ones are available.

A little background: tomatoes are green for one of two reasons, either they haven’t ripened yet or they are one of the few tomatoes that just never turn red no matter how long you leave them on the vine (little weirdo outcast tomatoes – anyone sensing a metaphor?). The first kind are available starting a few weeks before tomato season, and the second are available all the way through the end of the season, although they are rare, so unless you grow your own, you’ll probably have to get the first kind. In the South, you can get them at any supermarket or farm stand throughout the season, but they show up all over the country sometimes as well, but I’ve found them in grocery stores in Washington and Pennsylvania. If you can’t find them in your grocery store, check the Farmer’s Market and ask any tomato growers to pull you some green ones for the next week’s market.

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You’ll need:

  • 2 green tomatoes (or more, just scale up the recipe as needed. double, triple, whatever it’ll work fine. About two fit in a 10-inch skillet)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk (Pro tip: make it vegan by mixing 1/2 a cup of non-dairy milk with a 1/4 tsp of vinegar and letting stand for ten minutes)
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp Creole seasoned salt such as Tony Cachere’s (or half as much plain salt), or more to taste
  • enough oil or bacon grease to cover the bottom of your skillet by about 1/2 a centimeter

To make them:

1. Pour some buttermilk in a shallow bowl.

2. Pour cornmeal and salt in a second dish and stir together with a fork.

3. Slice the tomato into about centimeter thick slices. You’ll get about four slices from each tomato, not counting the top (which can’t be used, but the bottom can)

4. Dip each slice first in buttermilk, then cornmeal, coating both sides evenly. Transfer to a plate.

5. Heat a oil or bacon grease in a heavy skillet over medium heat until it’s hot enough that if you flick a bit of cornmeal in, it will foam up immediately.

6. Place tomatoes in the pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each sides, until slightly browned, then transfer to a plate covered in brown paper to drain. Cool slightly and eat.

You can eat them as is of course, maybe with a little remoulade, but there’s plenty of other things you can do with them as well. They make great sandwich material, practically anywhere you would use tomatoes (in fact, if you’re eating gluten-free and don’t have any gluten-free bread, they can be used as bread or buns). Perhaps the best use, the sandwich fried green tomatoes were born for, is the Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. If you make a BLT, you can just cook the bacon, remove it from the pan, and slip in the tomatoes. One pan, no waiting. Given the stronger flavor of green tomatoes I like to use spinach instead of regular lettuce, and of course it has to have mayo (a really great Southern mayo like Duke’s or Blue Plate if you can find them, but Hellman’s/Best Foods will do otherwise). If you have a little avocado it makes a nice creamy addition.

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You can make a yummy vegetarian version by marinating a sliced portobello mushroom in a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, smoked paprika and bacon salt for a day, then pan fry and use in place of bacon. Fun fact: bacon salt is not actually made with any bacon – at least not any I’ve ever seen, but check the labels. Also, note that the biggest brand of bacon salt is made with wheat so if that’s an issue for you, well, add that to the list of stupid processed foods that have random wheat in them for no damn good reason and look for little indie brands.

Fried green tomatoes are great as a side with classic southern summer fare such as cheese grits (cheese grits are for any time), shrimp salad, or potato salad with cold ham. But, you know, nobody puts Baby in the corner. They also go well with other cuisines. One time, I was looking for recipes to use up some okra, and thought about how Indian cuisine often uses okra just as much (or more than) Southern cooks do, and then I read that Indian cooks often like to use less ripe tomatoes in cooking so the tomato serves as a tart element, which made me think of green tomatoes, then I sort of invented this thing:

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Okra/bhindi masala over fried green tomatoes with crumbled paneer cheese. Weird, but better than it has any right being, and it makes for an incredibly satisfying quick vegetarian dinner.

So does anyone else have a favorite dish inspired by a beloved movie or book?


Feature Image via stylecaster.com

Avatar of Varina

Aspiring Queer Domestic Goddess, Varina spends a lot of her time reading cookbooks, searching for the perfect sock yarn, and being a little too enthusiastic at the goat cheese people at the farmer's market. Her main icons include Julia Child, Dolly Parton, and Oscar Wilde.

Varina has written 5 articles for us.

23 Comments

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    The Lost Dog Cafe near Charleston, SC (technically Folly Beach) does eggs benedict with fried green tomatoes and that’s probably my favorite way of having them. The egg yolk mixes really well with the tart, spiced tomato and cornmeal and it’s great.

    I was also a fan of Fried Green Tomatoes as a kid (though i was very weird in that I watched a ton of similar films growing up assigned male. I have the dubious honor of seeing The Lemon Sisters in the movie theater for example), though I didn’t really pick up on the queer subtext until much older.

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    Sometimes I remember that my English teacher made us watch Fried Green Tomatoes when we were 14 and I wonder if she was subtly trying to tell us that it was possible/ok to be queer.

    Anyway, your recipe looks amazing and I will definitely try it as soon as I can find fresh green tomatoes where I live!

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    “the picnic scene where Idgie pulls out fresh honeycomb from the hive for Ruth was one of the most romantic scenes in film. All I want is someone who is willing to stick their whole arm in a tree full of bees for me. ”

    YES. Idgie is my hero.

    I really love this combination of film throwback and recipe! Thanks so much for writing this.

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    I love this movie and have wanted to try the food ever since I first saw it years ago. (While we’re all sharing fun facts about the movie, I had a teacher in high school who had to preface that Ruth and Idgie “are not, ARE NOT, lesbians” while enunciating every single word. She was a clear case of 60 years of denial. Live and let live, lady.

    I’ve made butter beer before, with various recipes found all over the Internet, most of which range from okay/pretty good to FREAKIN’ AMAZING (these tend to be the ones with alcohol in them). Sometimes I also pretend Fireball whiskey is Firewhiskey and roll with it, because I’m a weirdo.

    I’m always inspired to cook when I watch Julie & Julia, though I’ve never made any of the recipes from the movie/Julia Child’s cookbooks.

    I also love to eat egg in a hole/eggie in a basket, which is inspired by two movies. At the end of Moonstruck (yes that classic starring Nic Cage and Cher!), Cher’s mom makes breakfast of egg in a hole with Italian bread and some roasted red peppers, which is how many family always made it. Of course, it is also made for Evey by both V and Deitrich, using regular sandwich bread, which is also a suitable option.

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    The recipes look wonderful! I’ve wanted to try fried green tomatoes ever since I watched the movie for the first time – maybe I’ll actually get round to making it now! Also, the movie is the sweetest lovestory I’ve ever seen. Idgie is my favourite queer character ever! (’cause she IS queer. Anyone claiming she and Ruth are’nt a couple-well, they’re just not getting it!)

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    I think I’ve said it a few times but it doesn’t hurt to profess my love repeatedly. I love this movie and book!!! Fannie Flagg is an amazing writer, the book is far better, but the movie is a classic as well.

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    This totally reminded me of how I was trying to convince my ex how amazingly beautiful and painful the scene where Ruth kisses Idgie in the river is. And she was all like, ‘seriously? that was so weak.’ And I was pointing at the screen like, WHAT DO YOU MEAN?! LOOK AT ALL THE UNSPOKEN FEELS ON IDGIE’S FACE!! ..The experience was as bad as me eating fried green tomatoes from a not so great food truck. Sad face. Thank you kindly for your words and recipes!

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    The book “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” has recipes from the cafe at the end. Haven’t tried any of them yet, but you flung a craving on me!

    Love this line: “Idgie smiled back at her and looked up into the clear blue sky that reflected in her eyes, and she was happy as anybody who is in love in the summertime can be.”

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