Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” is one of the best novels for referencing the iconic foods of the South. There were scuppernongs and pecans in “To Kill A Mockingbird” and a very memorable chocolate pie in “The Help”, but they were no match for the biscuits, barbecue, sausage gravy, country ham and, of course, fried green tomatoes of Flagg’s most popular work which went on to become an international bestseller, with the eventual movie version being nominated for two Oscars.
It is fitting then that Flagg also wrote a cookbook. It is called “Fannie Flagg’s Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook” and in it she writes about how after the novel and then the film version of Fried Green Tomatoes came out she was inundated with letters asking if there really was a Whistle Stop Cafe and if so, could she share some of the recipes?
She goes on to explain that the Whistle Stop is based on The Irondale Cafe, started by her Great Aunt Bess in the thirties in Irondale, Alabama. Bess ran the place for over fifty years before selling it to the McMichaels family who stuck to the same classic recipes, fried green tomatoes, Southern bbq and banana split cake, that had kept the restaurant busy for so long.
“There is an early morning chill in the air. But over at the cafe the kitchen is warm, the radio is playing, bacon is frying and biscuits are being cut, and the cooks are wide awake…. As the morning progress the dishes slowly start to clatter and as the kitchen door opens and closes you can hear the sounds of eggs and bacon frying and the warm rich smell of fresh biscuits baking wafts through the room. The pace gets faster, more coffee is poured, eyes brighten, laughs start, and pretty soon the whole place is humming and rattling like a cage full of happy finches chirping away. And then, after a couple of hours, it slowly calms down into that soft quiet non-time between breakfast and lunch, that lull until the lunch bunch suddenly comes slammin’ and bangin’ in the door, once more loud and ravenous, calling out for the Blue Plate Special.” – The Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook
The Irondale Cafe has been open since 1928, they still serve classic Southern dishes on their menu, including country fried steak, sweet potato souffle, fried okra, turnip greens, hot cobbler and peanut butter pie. Here is their recipe for…
Fried Green Tomatoes
“Don’t crowd the skillet when frying green tomatoes. Keep them in a single layer with plenty of space in between slices. If too many are put in the pan, the oil temperature will be lowered and the food will absorb the grease rather than be seared by it, resulting in soggy tomatoes.”
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk (don’t have any in the fridge? make your own)
1 cup self-rising flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
6-8 green tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
Bacon drippings, vegetable oil or a mixture of both
Mix egg and buttermilk in a shallow dish. Mix flour, cornmeal, and salt in a shallow dish. Working in batches, dip tomatoe slices into egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat with flour mixture. Fry in hot bacon drippings in a large heavy skillet until browned, turning once with tongs. Transfer to a colander to drain.
“The place was jam-packed full of railroad mean at lunchtime, so Grady Kilgore went to the kitchen door and hollered in, ‘Fix me a mess of them fried green tomatoes and some ice tea, will ya, Sipsey? I’m in a hurry.'” – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe”