The Surprising History of Fried Green Tomatoes in Soul Food Restaurants

soul food restaurants

Fried green tomatoes have come to be considered a quintessentially Southern food, and they’re a favorite from our menu. However, the story of their history and how they came to be a favorite at soul food restaurants may surprise you. Mainly because they didn’t actually originate in the South! Keep reading to find out where they got their start and how a movie and book factor into their popularity in the South. 

Fried Green Tomatoes – The Start

According to South Carolina-based writer Robert F. Moss, fried green tomatoes made their first appearance in Northeastern and Midwestern cookbooks in the late 19th century. Moving into the early 20th century, recipes for fried green tomatoes were also found in Jewish cookbooks, like the 1919 International Jewish Cookbook by Florence Kreisler Greenbaum, which was published in New York. What does this mean? This all shows that the origins of fried green tomatoes did not take place anywhere near the South.

In fact, this dish is not mentioned in the South until 1944, when an Alabama newspaper printed a recipe. However, mention of fried green tomatoes shows up again in a 1975 issue of the Greensboro, North Carolina, Record. A reader wrote to the Record’s “Q&A” column to ask if anyone had a recipe for fried green tomatoes that they were willing to share. The response from another reader, an Indiana native, included her recipe for the dish as well a comment about its popularity in her home state.

A Dish Born Out of Thrift

We know now that fried green tomatoes got their start in the Northeast and Midwest, but what led to the creation of this dish? 

A fact of life in the North is that winter includes freezing temperatures. Because of this, farmers in these states did their best to harvest and make use of crops that would not have time to ripen before the frost. This led to tomatoes being picked while they were still green. Eventually, the people living in the North found a variety of ways to enjoy them, one of which included frying.

Introduction to the South

While many people in the South were enjoying fried green tomatoes long before this, evidence shows that the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, released in 1992, is what popularized this dish in the South.

In the movie and the book it’s based on, the Whistle Stop Café served this dish, now known as a Southern staple. The Whistle Stop Café was based on a real-life restaurant, the Irondale Café, which existed in Birmingham, Alabama, since the 1930s and included fried green tomatoes on its menu. After the release of the movie, the fried green tomatoes took off in popularity, and the rest is history!

Thanks to how easy it is to pair this with a variety of other Southern ingredients, it’s become a perfect way to finish off any soul food dish or as an appetizer to start a great soul food-based meal.

Soul Food Restaurants in Southern California – Felix’s BBQ With Soul

You’ll find fried green tomatoes available as an appetizer on our menu. They’re the perfect start to any meal, or can be ordered with your entree so you can enjoy them as a side.

When you’re looking for authentic soul food restaurants serving fried green tomatoes in San Diego County and Lake Elsinore, visit any of our four locations. At Felix’s BBQ With Soul, our goal isn’t just to provide our guests with great food, but with the Southern hospitality that should go along with Southern food as well. When you step into any of our locations, our goal is to make sure you feel just as comfortable and welcome as you would at home.

Visit us today! You can even order ahead of time online. We hope we’ll see you soon!