Book review: Fried Green Tomatoes
Food in books is one of the many, many reasons why I love reading. I prefer reading descriptions of food, imagining vast bounties of rich, fatty, sugary, succulent, savoury, fresh, tangy, zesty, snappy, crackling mountains and piles of entrees and mains and desserts, soups and stews, curries and slurries...
Through fiction, I have encountered exotic fare such as candied yams (also tasted in real life - verdict: divine), injera (a kind of yeasty flat bread from Ethiopia), roast wild boar, bouillabaisse (Provencal fish stew...someday, I will eat you), fattoush (Lebanese bread salad) and sfouf (almond-semolina cake) and lechon liempo (Filipino-style roast pork belly).
Having made that confession, this review of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (Fried Green Tomatoes for short) by Fannie Flagg shouldn't come as a surprise.
The novel is one of those told mostly in flashback, threaded through with a storyline about the friendship between an overweight, unhappy, middle-aged housewife and an old woman who lives in a retirement home.
What I love about this novel, which sparkles with a really wicked, dark sense of humour, isn't the recipe for fried green tomatoes (Google has some good approximations if you search for it), but the fact that the author managed to write a novel based around a lesbian relationship without actually having the whole book be about that relationship, if you get what I mean.
I think what made the 1987 novel stand out for the time period it was mostly set in (1920s to 50s) - and sadly it's still relevant now - is that Flagg wrote about Idgie and Ruth's love with poignancy and sharpness, but without having to justify their relationship or in some way frame it in heterosexual terms.
Their feelings for each other were so inevitable and so self-evident that the small community they lived in rallied around them, forming almost a protective bubble between their love and the outside world.
Fried Green Tomatoes is also a meditation on the meaning of life and death. The friendship between Evelyn Couch, one of the key narrators, and Ninny Threadgoode shows the fragility of youth and beauty, and how as people get older, their lives, in a way, become less complicated as they realise what is really of importance.
The peripheral characters are also interesting, especially Big George, Idgie and Ruth's café cook, who made the best barbecue in town. Then there was Buddy "Stump" Threadgoode, Ruth's son who was conceived to her abusive husband before Idgie rescued her from the marriage, so-called because he had a stump for an arm.
Reading this book will make you crave fried green tomatoes, for sure. If you don't know what it is, it's basically made from unripe green tomatoes, sliced up and coated in flour, buttermilk, cornmeal and bread crumbs before getting fried in a tonne of oil in a skillet. Here's a fairly good recipe which I've tried before. A warning though, it's a rich dish, so you probably don't want to combine it with anything starchy like potatoes or bread. Bon appetit!
Have you read Fried Green Tomatoes?