Our father was a city boy who loved growing things so much that he majored in agriculture at Tuskegee College. There, as a student, he worked for Dr. George Washington Carver for two semesters until Dr. Carver’s death in 1943.
Among Dad’s faded reprints of G.W. Carver-authored “bulletins” originally published in 1918 by the “Experiment Station” of what was then known as Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, “How to Grow the Tomato and 115 Ways to Prepare it” was devoted to what has become my favorite food during late harvest, when I eat tomatoes freshly picked and vine-ripened for every meal.
This year, since early July, my sister has made a regular practice of sending pictures by email to chronicle her first foray into tomato growing, a single potted plant on her Evanston balcony.
I’ve enjoyed witnessing dozens of tiny blossoms growing into luscious ruby fruit with these updates, but it didn’t take long for both of us to appreciate a deeper meaning rooted under our devotion to this plant. We both shared girlhood memories of what our dad annually referred to as his George-Washington Carver tomato crop in family backyard gardens.
Based on Dr. Carver’s top 10 points for promoting tomatoes, he enjoyed them as much as I do. Carver’s points include:
*They can be prepared in so many delicious ways that one can eat them every day in the week and not get tired of them.
*The old vines contain splendid dye-stuffs, which could be used as a by-product for dying fabric of various kinds.
*With a little intelligent effort, fresh tomatoes can be produced in this locality almost the year round.
Year round? Not on an Evanston balcony. But that’s a good thing, thanks to our mom, who long-ago perfected this recipe far north of Carver’s 10-month season.
Mom’s Fried Green Tomatoes
5 medium to large green tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 to 3 tablespoons Creole seasoning blend
1/2 cup peanut oil, or more as needed
Spicy Yogurt Sauce, recipe follows
Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet. Place flour, cornmeal and milk in 3 shallow containers. Season flour with Creole seasoning. Dredge tomatoes in the seasoned flour; set aside on wax paper 1 minute. Dip floured tomatoes in milk; dip in cornmeal; Add to oil. Cook, turning once until browned on each side, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining slices. Serve with Spicy Yogurt Sauce. Makes about 5 servings.
For Spicy Yogurt: stir 1 teaspoon, or more to taste, of Asian chili sauce, such as Sambal Oelek into 1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt. combine 1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt with 1 teaspoon or more Asian chili sauce, such as Sambal Oelek.
Donna Pierce is currently working on a cookbook about historic Black recipes and cooks. She is the former Assistant Food Editor and Test Kitchen Director for the Chicago Tribune and Contributing Editor for Upscale Magazine. She completed a Visiting Nieman Foundation Fellowship at Harvard in 2015.
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