Tonight, we’re violating the no-fry zone
By Carole Townsend
The wet, stifling heat of a Georgia summer brings to mind so many things for us, doesn’t it?
Especially for those of us who grew up here, Georgia summers mean swimming in any body of water that’s available (or running through the glittering water drops of a busy lawn sprinkler), hearing the air conditioning units kick on (somehow a cooling effect, even if we’re outside), and summertime foods. In my family, I remember watermelon and homemade ice cream being two treats that we’d enjoy outside on the patio. Today, I still associate those two deliciously cool indulgences with being a kid in the heat of summer.
I also remember the bounty of my dad’s garden at this time of year. I’d trail behind him every evening, as he walked row after row of green vines, bending to pick some squash here, some green beans and cucumbers there. I thought my dad was a superhero – I guess most every child does – because he could turn the stubborn ice cream churn when it got too hard for any of us kids to do, and he could grow vegetables right smack in the middle of a suburban subdivision.
Having fresh vegetables in our household when I was a child didn’t mean we’d be having crisp, cool salads or fresh veggie slices as snacks. No, both of my parents were southerners from way back. Fresh vegetables meant fried vegetables, and if the occasion was really important, it likely meant that gravy was in the cards, too. I was well into my twenties before I learned, and I mean really understood, that fried foods were bad for you. It was as shocking and disappointing a revelation as that whole Santa Claus thing. It still pains me to think about it.
Think about it I have though, and I am proud to say that I have raised my children in a nutritional “no-fry” zone. I had to work at it, mind you. My parents fried everything. Well, almost everything. When they cooked green beans or collards, they’d simmer them on the stove for what seemed like days, and that whole time, those dark green veggies would be swimming in a pot full of some kind of fat, bubbling away and just itching to clog up an artery as soon as they were ingested, washed down with some syrupy sweet iced tea. When I established my own kitchen and started cooking for my own family, I had to start, quite literally, from scratch.
I think most would say that I have become a pretty good cook by now, and most of what I cook (with the exception of holiday foods, which are sacred) would be considered healthy. We have our own garden now, and I truly enjoy preparing nutritious dishes with the natural goodness of homegrown vegetables. Every year, though, I make one single exception to our “no-fry” rule.
When the tomatoes on the vine are green and fat, warm and firm, and when the summer squash is just the right size for picking, I set aside one night for cooking fried green tomatoes and fried squash. It’s kind of funny, but this one night has become an anticipated family tradition. It’s never the same night from year to year; it’s just a night when I know everyone will be home for dinner, and the vegetables are just right for slicing and frying. I mix up buttermilk and eggs, and I prepare my secret coating (it involves some cayenne pepper and cornmeal, but that’s all I’ll divulge).
I slice the vegetables in just the right thickness, drag them through the buttermilk and dry coating, and drop them one by one into a skillet of very hot oil. I could tell a lie and say that I use olive oil for the frying, but it would be just that – a lie. To my credit, I do not use that solid, white fat that comes in a can. I grew up believing that that was its own food group; parting ways with it was quite difficult, but I did it years ago.
When the vegetables are fried to a crisp, golden brown, I remove them from the oil to drain on a plate covered with paper towels. When they are finally cool enough to eat, everyone gathers around and indulges in this rare, delectable summertime treat.
When we have had our fill, the smell of hot oil and overcooked nutrition hanging heavy in the air, we all exclaim how very good this year’s batch was and just like that, the magic is over. The no-fry zone is once again established, and we’ll wait another year to violate it again. Come tomorrow morning, I’ll wipe down everything in the kitchen, because the mist of hot oil settles on everything in the kitchen. If you’ve ever fried anything, you know exactly what I mean.
Is there guilt that goes with this annual celebration? Yes there is, but not enough to cancel it. Not yet, anyway.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.