Learning to love those green tomatoes

October 12, 1997|By Rob Kasper

ONE TRUTH ABOUT green tomatoes is that they don't taste nearly as good as their red-skinned relatives.

Another truth is that while "Fried Green Tomatoes" is a pretty good film, it is not a jump-up-and-say-hallelujah dish. Unless you fry the tomatoes in lard.

That's right, lard. You drop breaded slices of green tomatoes in a skillet of sizzling hog fat, and they come out tasting like a piece of heaven.

A related truth is that if you drop a slice of most anything -- even tofu -- in a skillet of sizzling hog fat, it will come out tasting on the up side of wonderful.

Because lard makes things taste so good, it is, of course, bad for us. It is not merely high in fat, it is off the charts. Just looking at lard probably clogs an artery or two.

I figure that the way things are going in the eating world, lard will soon be declared a "controlled substance." That would mean friends of lard wouldn't be able to get a hunk of hog fat on the open market unless they could produce a note from a cardiologist.

Another dirty little secret about green tomatoes is that folks who sing the praises of other green-tomato dishes -- like pie and relish -- would never make these concoctions if they had to pay for the main ingredient, unripe tomatoes.

The motivating forces behind most green-tomato dishes are glut and guilt.

Let's take "glut" first. Most folks wouldn't mess with green tomatoes if they didn't have them coming out of their ears. There are always more green tomatoes on a plant than you expect. A plant could be dead longer than Huey Long, and it can still have more progeny than a jack rabbit. It happens every fall. The frost hits, the tomato plants die, and backyard gardeners go into trauma at the prospect of saying goodbye to the garden.

This is where the guilt comes in. I know, I have been there. You start by yanking the spindly plants out of the ground, then you end up caressing the plants' last offering of the season, the rock-hard green ovals known as green tomatoes.

Pretty soon you've got a bucket full of green tomatoes and a conscience nagging you to do something with them besides tossing them at telephone poles.

So you end up slicing them and putting them in a green-tomato pie -- one of the few pies in creation that can sit unprotected in the kitchen overnight with no chance of being attacked.

Or you chop them up, add peppers and make a few thousand jars of off-color relish that you palm off as Christmas gifts to unsuspecting relatives.

These culinary attempts to embrace green tomatoes are noble. I applaud the change-of-season dinner-table rituals they inspire. But let's face it: Most green-tomato dishes are like the drawings your kid did in kindergarten. They give you pleasure because of the kinship involved, not the artistry.

I'm as guilty as the next green-tomato guy of fawning over these little baseballs. Instead of using them to practice my fastball, I want to take them home. They remind me of the juicy delights of summer.

So, as the twilight of autumn descends, I will gather my garden survivors, the green tomatoes, in my arms. I will carry them to a warm kitchen and fry them in a warm skillet. Some will sizzle in hot olive oil. But, if no one is looking, I'll fry a batch or two in hissing hog fat.

Fried green tomatoes

Serves 4

Heat 1/8 inch of olive oil (or lard) in a cast-iron skillet. Slice 8 green tomatoes 1/4 inch thick. Dip in stone-ground cornmeal blended with freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper and salt to taste.

Fry on medium-high heat about 5 minutes on each side until golden brown and crisp. Pat with paper towel to remove excess oil and serve immediately.

From "The Kitchen Garden Cookbook," by Sylvia Thompson (Bantam, 1995, $28).

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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