Fried Green Tomatoes Became A Southern Staple Thanks To Jewish Immigrants

If your first thought when you hear fried green tomatoes is classic Southern cooking, you wouldn't be alone. While their prominence on menus and plates may be concentrated below the Mason Dixon line, there's more to their origin story than you might realize. It'd be reasonable to assume fried green tomatoes originated in the South and enjoyed a long standing in the local cuisine. But as is the case with so many of the food traditions we hold dear in the United States, it was a melting pot of influences and food customs — and likely immigrants — who we have to thank for bringing this dish into mainstream popularity. 

Specifically, food historians and experts have traced the dish to cookbooks found in the Northeast and Midwest, including in Jewish and kosher cookbooks in the late 1800s and early 1900s. No such record can be found for recipes in Southern cookbooks until far later. Meaning, the dish only relatively recently migrated and solidified itself in the lexicon of Southern cooking, thanks in large part to "Fried Green Tomatoes," the popular '90s movie that helped the dish gain its iconic status.

Jewish, Northern roots have translated into a Southern comfort classic

One of the earliest mentions that links the recipe specifically to Jewish cooking is in "The International Jewish Cookbook" from 1919, which suggests a platter of fried green tomatoes as a breakfast meal! In the past 100 years, but specifically boosted by the movie, which is based on the book "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe," the recipe has become a mainstay in Southern cuisine. But you sure don't have to be Southern to appreciate a thick-sliced green tomato, coated and battered and deep fried to juicy, crispy perfection.

It's best to whip up your own batch of fried green tomatoes in summer, or early fall as the last fresh tomatoes are being harvested. The seasonality aspect is another reason it makes perfect sense that this honorarily Southern dish originated further up north, where growing seasons are shorter. As fall and winter temps set in, any remaining green fruit on the vine would need to be harvested, thus the need for a recipe for unripe tomatoes. The slight tanginess of an unripe, thick slice lends the dish its signature tartness and ensures the tomato holds up, without going mushy. Grab simple pantry staples such as flour, cornmeal, eggs, and oil to fry them up. Serve hot and salted, plain or dipped in your favorite sauce or remoulade, or sandwiched on bread slathered in pimento cheese for a double-decker stack of comforting flavors.