If your introduction to fried green tomatoes was the 1991 Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates movie by the same name, or even Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, the book on which the movie was based, you might imagine generations of home cooks across the South frying tangy, unripe tomato slices in cast-iron skillets.
But according to Robert F. Moss, author of The Fried Green Tomato Swindle and Other Southern Culinary Adventures, the first printed accounts of ‘fried tomatoes’ showed up in Midwestern cookbooks in the 19th century. Green tomato variations followed in Midwestern and Northeastern newspapers before any mention can be traced to the Southern states. And while fried green tomatoes were most certainly made in Alabama and its neighbors long before the 1990s, the movie no doubt helped transform them into a regional icon.
In this recipe from the now-shuttered Brown Bag Cafe in North Carolina, the more common cornmeal mixture is swapped out for crispy panko breadcrumbs, which makes the crust extra crunchy—perfect in a grilled pimento cheese sandwich or BLT or as a side dish to classic Southern recipes like buttermilk fried chicken. They’re also an excellent appetizer served with a spicy remoulade dipping sauce and make a great swap for the English muffins in a summery eggs Benedict.