By: Elizabeth Webber Akre
I grew up here in South Carolina. I consider South Carolina to be pretty solidly Southern. We embrace grits, chicken bog, good barbeque, okra and Frogmore stew. However, until the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” came out, I’d never, ever, ever heard of this food. I grew up with plenty of people who would eat tomatoes right off the vine, juice dripping all down their forearms. I had countless friends who dream of sliced tomatoes and lots of mayo on white bread. And only in the South do you find gorgeous, sliced red tomatoes on a menu as a side dish. But green tomatoes? No one ate green tomatoes. In fact, as a toddler, I committed the world’s worst transgression when I picked them all, piled them up and then happily showed off my dad’s prized unripe bumper crop exclaiming “Look daddy, green balls!” He. was. not. pleased.
So, this movie comes along and I must admit, I was instantly curious. But, again, I knew no one who ate this crazy dish. I wondered, “Are they just regular old green balls, or some odd variety of tomato that is green when ripe?” Then one day, the (old) Rockaway’s started offering them on the menu. Without hesitation, I ordered some. I was an instant fan. The tomatoes were firm and tart. The outside was crisp and laced with black pepper. They were just heavenly. I ordered them every time we went there. But alas, one night Rockaway’s burned to the ground. The entire city mourned. After many months of lamenting the lack of availability of the Rockaway burger, crawfish etouffe and fried green tomatoes, the new Rockaway’s opened. That was many years ago. The burgers are back, the chicken salad is back, the cheese fries are back, but to this day, the fried greens still haven’t made it back onto the menu.
So what’s a girl to do but take matters into her own hands? That’s right, grow them yourself. This summer I planted a traditional beefsteak tomato and an heirloom variety known as “Mr. Stripey.” I’ve concluded that next year I need to have Clemson analyze a soil sample for me. Both plants grew to over 8 feet tall. Early on, they bloomed their hearts out, but produced no fruit. Finally, some small tomatoes surfaced on each plant, but they never got very big. We were able to harvest a few, but certainly not the kind of summer tomato crop that we’re used to getting around here. Since we’ve entered fall, they are now producing tons of baby tomatoes. I look at them every day wondering when the frost might sneak up on us and kill them. So, today, I picked a couple and decided to fry them up for lunch.
I dredged in corn starch, then egg wash, then back into a mixture of corn meal, flour & pepper. I cooked them in canola oil until nice and crispy and golden. Now, if you eat fried green tomatoes, you know that some salt & pepper is really all they need. However, today I had a bonus item in my fridge…leftover sriracha crème sauce from my salmon dish last night. I drizzled some of the crème sauce over the tomatoes. Shaazam! I Just perfected the fried green tomato. Mix up some mayo, sriracha & condensed milk to make this sauce. It adds a nice, slightly-sweet, zingy spice. You’ll thank me.