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Fried green tomatoes?

I had the pleasure of hosting my folks, who live in Pennsylvania, over the course of the Independence Day holiday weekend. We had a wonderful visit, checking out the Belhaven parade and watching the fireworks. The mosquitoes were even resting peacefully this year out by the water, enjoying the fireworks display.

My folks got in Friday and to start the weekend off the right way, we took them to Fish Hooks for a nice family meal. We were looking through the menu and talking about what we were all going to order, but I was starving so I started us off with an appetizer of fried green tomatoes with an extra side of ranch dressing. They were fantastic! Perfectly fried, with a crunchy crust and that amazing tangy tomato inside! My momma was really excited, saying she hadn’t had them in quite a long time.

Later that evening, my oldest daughter, Annabelle, asked me about these tomatoes. She wanted to know if they were a special variety, why they were green and, most importantly, why we didn’t grow any in our garden! This led us into a great conversation about fried green tomatoes.

As a true Southern food favorite, I suspect you know the answer to most of these questions, and you may even have your own family recipe. Garden and Gun magazine typically has a new take on fried green tomatoes at least once a year. I really think this is why I continue to be a subscriber. As I turn the pages, my imagination and taste buds run wild. This Southern delicacy can be found on the menu at Spoon River every now again, too. Now, just because you don’t like tomatoes does not mean you will not care for fried green tomatoes. They have a crisp but tangy taste from the amount of acidity, and the texture is completely different. If that doesn’t sway you to give them a try, did I mention that they were fried?

So how about you? Have you ever had fried green tomatoes? Are they a special variety? Why are they green? Why aren’t you growing any in your garden?

There are actually several heirlooms and even a few hybrid varieties of tomato that stay green. Some of these are really neat-looking when they ripen — there is even a tie-dye variety. These can be used, but more often, what is used are the unripe tomatoes from red varieties that most of us grow in our backyard.

If you like tomatoes, most often your garden is full of them; more often than not, we have more than we can eat. We share them with friends, neighbors (not that neighbors aren’t friends) and even family! They are green simply because they are unripe. However, being unripe is what gives them that wonderful tangy taste. Pick them while they are nice and firm when you give them a squeeze. Make sure they have nice, tight skin so it doesn’t tear when you slice them up into slices about a third of an inch thick. Put them into a dredge (I like eggs and buttermilk) and then your favorite batter (I discovered seafood breader by accident) and then fry away in the oil of your choice. It isn’t quite the same, but there are some great recipes for baking green tomatoes as well that can be found online.

I have to be honest, I haven’t put out a garden this year, but there are several varieties growing in the teaching garden at the Extension Center. We have worked very hard to make this into an edible landscape. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by and I’ll give you a tour — social distancing, of course. Until then, happy gardening!

If you would like to learn more or have a specific question, call the Extension Center near you for more information. The Master Gardener Hotline is open in the Beaufort County Center from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays and Wednesdays. If you have other questions or concerns involving horticulture, email gene_fox@ncsu.edu or call 252-946-0111.

Gene Fox is the area consumer horticulture agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension.