Wednesday, April 11, 2012
My parents were both children of the depression and both came from families who struggled a lot economically during that time. My mother grew up in town and tells stories of her mother not eating many meals so there would be food for the children. My dad grew up on a farm in Kentucky and they were lucky enough to be able to grow much of their food. The things they could not produce, like flour and sugar, were gotten at the little general store in "town". My grandmother made quilts and traded them for the flour and sugar. How many of us would be willing to do that today? We are very spoiled and take so much for granted. Grandma told a story about a year during the depression when the only cash money they had during the entire year was 50 cents. That is correct - 50 cents - period! They were able to raise enough food and trade for necessities to feed their family of 6. Personally, it terrifies me to think we would ever have to do this. Don't get me wrong, they didn't have a lot but they did get to eat.
Growing up we had a lot of "country" food that my parents had eaten growing up. Every week my mom would fix a pot of white beans, cook some cabbage, fry some potatoes and make a skillet of corn bread. We would have several meals of just that, many times having no meat or maybe one piece of bacon for each of us. In the summer we would have lots of fresh vegetables and again, no meat - or maybe a piece of fried baloney. Ever had fried baloney? It's not too bad really. Sometimes there were pork chops or meat loaf. On the weekend dad would grill burgers and on Sunday we may have roast. My dad was a meat, beans and potatoes kind of guy. It was his comfort food, what he had grown up on. Dan's dad was the same way. He never tasted pizza in his life, didn't want to. He also would not eat Jello because he said he had no desire to eat anything that wiggled. No casseroles, nothing mixed together. He just wanted what we would call plain food - meat, potatoes and some kind of beans. Now, how have our lives changed from this? A LOT!
Our parents rarely ate out, it was too expensive and there weren't that many places when we were growing up. I remember when the first McDonald's came to town. My dad actually took us there. You had to walk up to the window and order your food and eat it in the car. We thought it was amazing! Today, many of us eat out many nights during the week because it is easier. Me, I still like to cook and eat at home most of the time.
Now, I have rambled about the good old days all to say this - I love a lot of country food the way my grandma and mom prepared it. Some of it I have improved on with additional flavors and techniques, but there is still comfort in a pan of fried potatoes with onions, or a big pot of white beans and some crusty cornbread. Today's recipe is one I used to fix for my dad all the time in the summer. He LOVED fried green tomatoes and I don't mean the kind with the big puffy batter on it like some restaurants serve now. I am not a fan, let me tell you. Green tomatoes rolled in yellow corn meal and fried crisp are the ticket. Delicious! Our daughter Annie is a lover of fried green tomatoes and I was lucky enough to find some really great ones at the farmer's market on Saturday so I made them for Easter Sunday. YUM
The one thing I do borrow from the modern twist on fried green tomatoes is horseradish sauce. It just takes the fried green tomatoes over the top! Remember Fanny Flag's book Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe? They made it into a movie and it is still one of my most favorite books and movies to this day. Okay, I digress again. Here is how I make our fried green tomatoes.
Green tomatoes (I used 5 on Sunday, depends on how big they are - you will get 4 or 5 slices/tomato)
yellow corn meal
salt and pepper
I am going to start out with giving you a big secret to great fried green tomatoes - BUTTERMILK. Yes, you read right. Buttermilk. Now don't gag, you don't have to drink it, you are going to soak the green tomatoes in it to help soften them up. Did you know buttermilk is great for marinating meat to tenderize it? Makes the best fried chicken ever! Okay, rambling again. Back to the tomatoes.
Cut the top off of each tomato and cut them into slices about 4 to 5 per tomato. Put tomato slices in a bowl and cover with buttermilk for several hours. The calcium and acid in buttermilk help break down the fibers in meat and tomatoes. Green tomatoes can be rather hard and even frying won't always soften them up.
When you are ready to cook the tomatoes, remove them from the buttermilk and pat them dry with a paper towel. They need to be dry for the cornmeal to stick. Salt and pepper both sides of each tomato slice. Put several cups of yellow cornmeal in a flat bowl or pan (I used a corning ware dish). Dip one side of the tomato in the cornmeal and then the other, making sure the whole surface is covered.
Put about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in the pan. Grandma used lard, but it's that cholesterol thing (even though she lived to be 96). Yeah, makes you wonder doesn't it? Anyway, when the oil is good and hot, start adding the tomatoes. Let them cook on one side without disturbing them until you can see that the cornmeal is getting brown around the bottom edges of the tomatoes.
Now, it's time to make the horseradish sauce. Put 1/2 cup sour cream in a bowl. Add 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of prepared horseradish from a jar. Taste. If you want the horseradish taste stronger, add more. Put one squeeze of dijon mustard in the bowl and mix well. Serve with your green tomatoes. Oh my goodness good!
Frying these tomatoes on Easter Sunday made me think of my dad and how many times I made these for him. He really loved fried green tomatoes and he liked mine better than mom's - or so he always said. (Mom worked and I started doing the family cooking when I was 12). Always made me feel so proud. He passed away 15 years ago on April 3 and it was a good memory thinking of him and how much he loved my fried green tomatoes. Sometimes it's the little things that can bring a smile.
I hope you give this recipe a try. Not everyone loves fried green tomatoes, but if you do, this is the only way to eat them as far as I'm concerned. Crispy, crunchy tangy green tomatoes with horse radish sauce are divine. And, if you have time, watch the movie or read the book. It's so good.
Things to Remember:
Ninny Threadgoode: Oh, what I wouldn't give for a plate of fried green tomatoes like we used to have at the cafe. Ooh! Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe