Published in the Bitter Southerner
I had the fried green tomatoes — even though I’ve been a lifelong tomato hater. It was April 1, 2017, my father’s 74th birthday, and almost the whole family was at Upperline Restaurant in New Orleans. Everyone was there — save for my mother, Eartha. She transitioned about two years ago; she was 75. I ordered the dish, with its shrimp remoulade slathered atop the fried delight, on a bed of lettuce, because it was among my mother’s favorite treats. Folk passed their turtle soups with sherry and the Spicy Shrimp with Jalapeño Cornbread & Aïoli.
However, I shared the fried green tomatoes with no one. That day, the dish meant something different to me.
Like most people, my food preferences derive from my parents. I vote along their party lines for almost all of the traditional New Orleans fare and beyond that I grew up eating — save for their indulgences in hog’s head cheese, sardines, chitterlings, and liver. I will not have relationships with those foods.
I don’t recall the taste of my mother’s foods, and I know none of her recipes — just how great they were. She had a stroke in 1998, while I was away in college, and my father has been the primary cook since. He said her deteriorated vision and her penchant for high flames made for a bad combination. But she still made fried green tomatoes. My father, LeRoy Harris, was about 7 when he started learning how to cook, by observing his mother — his father didn’t cook. She instilled in their 11 children that they never knew the kind of situations they might find themselves in, and thus had to learn as much as they could, about everything they could.
“She used to say that there is no such thing as a female job around the house,” my father recalled about my grandmother.