Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

More than just green fried tomatoes November 18, 2021

The vegetable garden outside Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota.(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

AT THE END of the growing season a few weeks back, I walked into Buckham Memorial Library and spotted a stash of green tomatoes free for the taking. To say that I reacted with joy might be an understatement.

I felt practically giddy at the thought of preparing green fries, a coveted food I haven’t eaten in years because…I don’t have a garden.

A green tomato in the library garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2020)

But, back in the day, my mom planted a sprawling garden, growing vegetables to feed our farm family of eight. Green fries were a summer-time to harvest staple as were the tomatoes left to ripen on the vine.

Items grown in the library garden are free for the taking to the community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

Earlier this summer and fall, when I stopped at The Friends Organic Learning Garden on the library’s east side to look for produce, I noticed choice green tomatoes. I was tempted to pick a few. Who would miss the green orbs? But my conscience prevailed and I walked away empty-handed.

Perfect for making green fries. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

So when those green tomatoes appeared inside the library, I quickly took four, reining in my greedy impulse to grab more.

Step one: Slice the tomatoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The next day, I sliced two of those beautiful green tomatoes, dipped both sides in all-purpose white flour and laid the slices into a hefty cast iron skillet sizzling with butter. Lots of butter. I ground on fresh black pepper, sprinkled on salt and then waited for the slices to brown, flipping and seasoning and adding butter as needed.

Frying the tomatoes to golden brown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The result: golden circles of green-fried tomatoes that tasted of sun and sky and earth. And of yesterday’s garden.

As I forked into the savory rounds, I thought of Mom and how she spaced tomato plants evenly in the tilled soil and ringed each with a rusty tin can opened on both ends. The cans protected the tender plants from the prairie wind and cold. I remember pouring water into those cylinder reservoirs, overflow sometimes flooding the surrounding ground. When the plants edged over the cans, Mom removed the weather shields.

To me, green fries rate as much more than a food I enjoy. They are part of my culinary family history. A connection to my now 89-year-old mom who, though no master chef, did her best to feed her family with food sourced from our farm.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite food tracing to your childhood and that you crave today? I’d like to hear. And, have you ever eaten, or made, green fried tomatoes?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


12 Responses to “More than just green fried tomatoes”

  1. Joan Smith Says:

    My grandfather worked at Del Monte in SleepyEye and he could buy dented cans at a low price. We are a lot of creamed peas on toast.

    • Joan, thank you for sharing your family culinary memory. I must admit that, as much as I like peas (fresh or frozen, but not canned), creamed peas on toast doesn’t sound appealing. Did you like it?

      After Del Monte in Sleepy Eye closed, a pet treat company has since moved into the building. That’s great because of the jobs it will keep in that community.

  2. I was very blessed to grow up on a farm and just am a lover of fruits and veggies to this day 🙂 We had multiple gardens as well as raised chickens and pigs. I grew up around dairy and beef cows too with working neighboring or family farms. My grandmother was big on the coffee cans/regular cans planting trick too. Love a good green tomato and a good green tomato/tomatillo sauce (have not made in years). Happy Day – Enjoy!

  3. Valerie Says:

    I have never tried fried green tomatoes. I’m glad you found some to make a favorite childhood dish.

  4. Carrots and new potatoes straight from the garden! They taste wonderful. They taste as the should, if the richness of the earth.

  5. Fried green tomatoes are a staple in Southern states. Happy to know that this was part of your childhood as well. There is nothing quite like it and I am sure you were giddy when you spied them. Yum.

  6. Susan Ready Says:

    Thanks for sharing your culinary memory. For me would be my mother’s shortbread cookies that were chocolate frosted. They were such a coveted item mother would keep them under lock and key in our extra refrigerator in the garage. You see with 8 children were quite capable of polishing the whole pan off in no time at all.

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