Wondering how to ripen green tomatoes and when to eat them? Here are some of my best tips for making the most of your tomato harvest.
Harvest, Ripen & Eat Green Tomatoes
At the end of every summer season, there’s usually at least one last tomato standing and it’s most likely green. To make the most of your summer harvest, I suggest 3 things:
- Harvest green tomatoes before your first frost. Keep watch on the weather and pick them before temperatures drop or rains set in.
- Ripen green tomatoes indoors, especially if they’re already showing signs of vine ripening. (See the diagram below.)
- Preserve, pickle or cook with green tomatoes, especially the ones that are intensely green and not showing signs of maturation.
Harvest Green Tomatoes
Gather green tomatoes as you would vine-ripened tomatoes. You may need clippers to make the job easier or simply twist the tomato at the stem to remove from the vine.
Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors
There’s more than one way to ripen green tomatoes indoors. In general, to force the ripening process, place tomatoes in a warm, semi-humid environment that is out of direct sunlight. The warmer the environment the faster your tomatoes will ripen and vice versa, however, they ripen best when temperatures range from 55 to 75 degrees F.
I generally store green tomatoes in a paper bag out of the sun on my kitchen counter and ignore them for a while. Somehow they always surprise me, especially when I find myself wondering: what’s in this paper bag sitting on the counter? Inside I typically find a pile of red, ripe tomatoes!
Make sure tomatoes are clean and dry and excess stems and leaves are removed before storing. Place them in a paper bag, a breathable cardboard box or on a cookie sheet and leave them on top of your washer/dryer or tucked away in your kitchen in just the right, indoor climate. Speed up the ripening process by placing a banana in with your tomatoes. The ethylene gas bananas naturally produce when maturing will give your tomatoes the extra nudge they need to ripen.
The length of time it takes for tomatoes to ripen indoors depends on how mature they are at time of harvest as well as their indoor environment. Experiment to see what works best for you.
Preserve, Pickle, Cook
If you haven’t heard, green tomato chili, fried green tomatoes, and pickled green tomatoes are the new rage. Try adding them to your favorite salsa recipe or wrapped in enchiladas for a new twist in flavor. One of my favorite ways to prepare green tomatoes is to add them to leftover pickle juice. If you have a jar of pickles in the fridge with just one or two floating in a bath of brine, save the brine for your next batch of green tomatoes. Wash and quarter tomatoes, place in the brine and pop them back in the fridge. Try eating them in about a week for full flavor. They last about 1 to 2 weeks this way and you’ll feel a small bit of satisfaction for savoring every tomato from your garden, no matter what.
When to Ripen & When to Cook
It’s true, not all tomatoes taste amazing when forced to ripen indoors — sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, so what’s the trick? I’ve found it’s best to save tomatoes for indoor ripening when they have a noticeable blush of color, like the one in the middle of the photo below (see arrow). These will have the best chance of developing the wonderful tomato taste you’re hoping for. You may be disappointed if you try ripening tomatoes that are densely green when they come off the vine, like the one on the left of the photo (see arrow). It’s probably best to cook these within a week or so of harvesting. If you have a surplus, consider canning them or make a sauce or salsa that can go in the freezer to be enjoyed at a later date.
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*This article was first published in October of 2016