Toriano Fredericks returns to the pages of the Clarion Content and shares his garden saga and fried green tomato secrets.
Over two years ago, as my wife’s belly began to grow and the death threats she hurled at the doctor and myself increased in intensity, I embarked on a campaign known in the animal kingdom as nesting. Sure most people associate nesting with a pregnant female’s natural instinct to start preparing for the new arrival, but we males go through it too and it usually involves building and putting stuff together. It started with the room that would have to be outfitted for this young child to sleep, play and grow (he rarely partakes in the former in this room). What started as a bare cream hued box fit for an inhabitant with a full face-mask and straight jacket, was transformed into something out of a Pottery Barn catalog.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my summers in Connecticut as a teenager were preparing me for carrying out my wife’s vision of how this young boy’s sanctuary should turn out. I spent the summer months hauling shingles up a ladder, being sent into crawl spaces to rip out itch inducing insulation and swept nails from the floor as craftsmen turned wood into beautiful homes. Sure I was usually only permitted to wield a hammer for the simplest of jobs, but I took pride in my Ring’s End tool belt and tape measure any way. I must have been paying some attention over those years because I was able to work my way through my first crown-molding job to complete a decent looking space. Sure it took a few extra trips to Home Depot to account for wood cut too short or at the wrong angle, but when the room was done and I popped open a cold beer to bask in my handyman glory, none of that mattered.
Now that I had a brand new chop saw, I felt the need to continue slicing wood and building up the nest further. I forged ahead in the garage, building high shelving for storage. Next I staked claim to a corner of the garage to build a work bench and storage area for my rapidly growing tool line-up. Debates ensued about the need for such a bench and whether there was enough room in the garage to fit the cars and a workbench. I use the word debate very loosely and the battle lines were drawn when I showed up with two old cabinets and a shelf that was in the “free” pile at the thrift shop. Serena was unable to share my vision of how these unwanted and discarded pieces of old wood could be transformed into anything but a space-hogging eyesore in our garage. A few weeks later I emerged from the garage, workbench complete, with my feathers puffed out to display the latest addition to the nest.
Next, knowing our son would have to eat, I decided it was time to build a garden. Every summer the oppressive Carolina heat and sun wreaked havoc on our attempts at the lush green lawn of our dreams. Littered with bare brown spots that exposed the hard Piedmont clay, we would have been just as happy to give up and pave over the whole thing, so sacrificing a corner of the yard for a garden was a win-win. I began ripping up grass in a small corner of our backyard to build a garden. It’s a male’s natural instinct to want to provide for his family. Sure there is a grocery store less than a mile down the road, but I decided that I would supplement what the grocery store had to offer my family with fresh fruits and vegetables tilled by our own hands. A real man would hunt and forage for his growing family. Since I wasn’t heading into the woods with a shotgun slung over my back any time soon the least I could do was grow some veggies right?
After I cleared out an area, I began construction on the boxes that would hold our plentiful crop. Once I completed the boxes and landscaped the area around them, I again rewarded myself with an ice cold beer and stood back to visualize stalks of goodness sprouting from them. I also started to wonder if was only doing any of this so I could reward myself with one of those ice cold beers.
Once Devin was born, nesting turned to feeding and exhaustion. Season after season passed without me adding a grain of topsoil or seed to the planters and doing most of my forging at the local Food Lion. The only things growing from my once proud creation were weeds that over time wrestled their way through the weed mats. A level of shame came over me when guests would ask if the boxes in the backyard were for Devin’s sandbox. That’s when I decided enough was enough and refused to let Devin’s second birthday pass with out life sprouting from those brown squares.
Last spring before I shipped out to sea, I divided up the box and added soil before rushing on to a plane to Brazil. Serena took it from there and planted cucumbers, peppers, cilantro, basil and tomatoes. We were all pretty excited when things began sprouting. Serena sent me pictures of green tomatoes on the vine and I knew when I got back home, fried green tomatoes would be on the menu. The crunch on the outside with the soft mildly tart taste on the inside is fantastic all by itself, but I knew it would go perfectly standing in for a red tomato.
Our first summer growing our own food was great, but we learned a few things on the way and look forward to growing more vegetables in the fall and getting even better use out of it. We wanted to have a garden so as he grows, so does his appreciation and understanding of the growing process along with understanding that he can grow some of his food. We hope that it’s something he can take some responsibility for at an early age. Most times when we go outside, the first thing he does is grab his Mickey Mouse watering can, and heads for the garden, I think it’s working.
Serving three sandwiches
6 slices of white potato bread
2 small green tomatoes (sliced)
2 tablespoon salted butter
2 small green tomatoes
1/2 lb thick sliced smoked bacon (used Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop’s Salt and Sugar house bacon)
3 tablespoon breadcrumbs
1/4 cup House Autry Chicken Breader
1/4 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce
Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter while spreading over the surface of the pan. Place the bread onto skillet and toast one side until golden brown. Once the first side of all slices is toasted to a golden brown, remove from skillet and add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and toast the second side. When done, remove from heat and set aside.
Next cook the bacon until brown and crisp and then set aside. Use a strainer to strain bacon grease into a bowl to save for later or use now. Pour just enough oil in cover half of a tomato slice. Heat the oil over a medium-high heat.
Mix House Autry breader with bread crumbs and place in a shallow dish. Add hot sauce to a separate shallow dish. Place flour mixture closest to the stove followed by the hot sauce the sliced tomatoes. Quickly dip the tomatoes into the hot sauce then the flour mixture followed by the hot oil. Cook on both sides for 3-5 minutes and place on a plate over paper towel to drain.
Spread a liberal amount of mayo on one slice of bread (per sandwich) then top with lettuce, bacon and green tomato.