What To Do With Green Tomatoes

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You Might As Well Harvest Now

Many gardeners had a slow start with tomatoes this year and now quite a few readers have asked how to help ripen green tomatoes. As fall arrives, the cooler temperatures affect tomato stems, making tomatoes fall off their vines at the drop of a hat. The good news is that tumbling tomatoes will continue to ripen indoors, as will any picked green. True, they won’t taste quite as terrific as vine-ripened fruit, but they’ll definitely taste better than anything you can buy at the supermarket.

Give ‘Em Shelter

Bring pot-grown tomatoes indoors pot and all if you can offer them a light, bright place. A south- or west-facing sunporch is ideal, especially if it has curtains to pull at night (that minimizes heat loss). Given enough light and adequate warmth (60’s and up), cherry tomatoes will continue to crop well into winter. In favorable conditions, tomato plants can last for years (or until they get whitefly).

Check bed-planted tomatoes for good-sized, firm, and undamaged fruit. Those mature enough to ripen will be a light, fresh green with a glossy skin. Any that are already starting to turn red will continue to do so indoors. Harvest the best looking, healthiest vines first, picking the largest fruit. Dense green tomatoes make good chutney, while soft ones make good compost. Compost anything that is damaged or looks diseased.

Try The Ripeness Test

To check ripeness, slice open a likely looking tomato. If the seeds are surrounded with clear gel and slide off the knife, the other tomatoes will ripen. If you slice through seeds, you might as well make chutney (see below for ideas). Wash each tomato carefully to remove dust or dirt, and trim off any stems. Dry stems often jab holes into tender neighbors, a common cause of rot.  Another rot-inducer is moisture, so dry each fruit individually and put them on bakers’ cooling racks until they are completely dry on the bottom.

Never Chill Tomatoes

Whatever you do, never store tomatoes in the refrigerator. Cold turns the stored sugars unto starch, so tomatoes lose their sweet-tart flavor fast. Instead, store ripening tomatoes on several sheets of newspaper to keep them dry. Line berry boxes or the shallow plant nursery boxes with newspaper and carefully layer in your tomatoes, making sure none touch. Smaller tomatoes keep well in open egg cartons.

Keep tomatoes in a dim, fairly dry place with good air circulation, out of direct sunlight. A warm garage is fine, as is a kitchen or pantry shelf. A moist environment like a laundry room may encourage molding, while a hot, dry one can make tomatoes shrivel up. If you really want dried ones, use a real food drier; the results are a lot better.

Give Them Good Neighbors

As the reddest tomatoes ripen, their neighbors will too. Like apples, tomatoes give off ethylene, a natural gas that promotes ripening in fruit. To encourage slower ripeners to catch up, rotate greener ones closer to redder ones. Your most mature peppers and tomatoes will ripen over 2-3 weeks if your house stays between the mid 60’s and low 70’s. Any cooler, and they’ll take another week or so (too cool–low 50’s–and they’ll taste lousy as well).  You can also slow roast the whole batch and freeze or can the results, which are fabulous in sauces, soups, and stews.

Green Tomato Treats

Happily, there are many tasty things to do with green tomatoes, from savory sides and spicy chutney to deliciously sweet-tart dessert. Whichever you choose, use good-sized, evenly green fruit that’s firm and glossy, discarding any that looks wrinkled or feels mushy. Among my favorites is Grilled Green Tomatoes, a speedy treatment that softens and awakens the latent sweetness in any under ripe fruit. Here, the middles get almost creamy while the edges get lightly caramelized, which gives them a pleasing little crunch. Plain or pepper-spiked, they make a splendid side for grilled fish or chicken.

Grilled Green Tomatoes

4 firm green 3-4″ tomatoes, sliced 1/2  inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 teaspoon rosemary, stemmed and chopped

Prepare coals or start grill. Rub tomato slices with half the oil, then dust with salt, pepper(s), and rosemary. Brush grill with remaining oil and grill tomatoes on both sides until edges are well-browned (3-5 minutes per side). Serve hot. Serves four.

In Grilled Green Tomato Chutney, the same treatment brings out rich undertones in onions, apples, and plums (pears work too), making an especially rich melange. If garlic tends to slip through the grill, place the cloves on a clean piece of wire screen (this works for cherry tomatoes as well).

Grilled Green Tomato Chutney

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 medium green tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 white or yellow onions, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 apples, cored, sliced 1/2 inch thick
8 Italian prune plums, halved and stoned
6 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 red or orange sweet peppers, seeded and quartered
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/3 cup sugar

Prepare coals or start grill. Brush grill with oil and grill tomatoes, onions, apples, plums, and garlic on both sides until edges are well-browned (3-5 minutes per side), set aside. Grill peppers skin-side-down until blackened (4-6 minutes), let cool and peel off skin. In a saucepan, combine remaining ingredients with 1/2 cup water over medium high heat, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Chop fruit and vegetables into 1/4 inch dice, peel garlic and chop. Add to pan (add water to cover if needed) and simmer until barely tender (5-6 minutes). Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Makes about 6 cups.

Tender, sweet, and surprisingly juicy, Roasted Green Tomatoes are a country classic. Serve these delectable morsels with baked potatoes, sharp cheddar cheese, and a mixed green salad for a satisfying meatless meal.

Roasted Green Tomatoes

1 quart medium green tomatoes, cut in quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme, stemmed and chopped

Toss all ingredients gently to coat well, then place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in a cold oven and bake at 300 degrees F until lightly caramelized (60-90 minutes). Makes about 2 cups.

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2 Responses to What To Do With Green Tomatoes

  1. DariaW says:

    Every year I read the same thing about green tomatoes, but in my 15 yrs of experience, the truth is that any green tomato will ripen inside, provided it doesn’t have blight or injury. Yes, you have to be sure of pulling the stems off, and I wash them (not soak) with Dr. Bonner’s Eucalypus soap slightly diluted, which doesn’t affect the flavor at all, in hopes that it will remove/kill any blight spores. It’s true that when I’m picking green tomatoes as small as BB’s I wonder whether it’s in the interest of honor, madness, or science, but when I throw them into a pot of soup or rice in December they have actually ripened. Do they taste great? No, but they taste like tomato, they are ripe and they prove a point. In my experience, getting tomatoes before the blight does is the key issue and the most difficult. This year I did, last year I didn’t. But for people who like green tomaotes, may I recommend the Green Tomato tea bread (which I make as a cake) from Sasquatch Press’ The City Gardener’s Cookbook. When a tomato has blight, I salvage what’s good and freeze it for this recipe.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Daria,

      Well, good to know. In my experience, the really hard little guys never do ripen up, but I’m glad to hear that you have better luck. The tea bread sounds intriguing and I’ll give it a try. I have that cookbook too and have enjoyed quite a few of the recipes.



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