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

 

The story of a library garden August 10, 2020

The vegetable garden on the side of Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

LEMON CUCUMBERS. Purple beans. Dill. Snap peas. Kohlrabi.

 

A developing ground cherry? Or something else?

 

Dill.

 

Ground cherries.

 

The list of vegetables grown in a community garden at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault also includes ground cherries, tomatoes, Swiss chard, eggplant, cilantro, rosemary. Plus clover and sunflowers. And maybe some plants I’ve missed.

 

A vegetable blossom.

 

Several types of tomatoes grow in the garden.

 

Purple beans.

 

While I had hoped to harvest beans during a recent stop, I found them still too small and other vegetables (the ones I would eat) not yet ready for picking.

 

 

Sunflowers burst color into the garden.

 

Another view of the garden.

 

But I still took time to photograph this wedge garden, a project of Friends of the Library. The Friends Organic Learning Garden was designed several years ago as a place for folks to gather and learn how to:

  • grow delicious organic food
  • care for the earth and our water supply
  • support pollinators
  • connect with others in the community

 

There’s a bee lawn right next to the vegetable garden.

 

Another unidentified vegetable developing.

 

A warning sign next to the library and by the bee lawn.

 

It’s a great idea. Anything that brings people together, educates and meets a need—providing food—certainly holds value. I have, in past years, enjoyed vegetables from the library garden. That includes lemon cucumbers, which Lisa Reuvers, library employee and lead master gardener, says “were a hit a couple of years ago.”

 

The garden features a hummingbird sculpture, “The Color of Flight, by Jorge Ponticas. This was funded by the “Artists on Main Street” program several years ago.

 

I’ll keep an eye on those coveted orb-shaped cucumbers as they ripen and grab a few for salads…

 

TELL ME: Does your community have a similar garden? Or are you a gardener? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling