Is your garden bursting with green tomatoes?
By Diane Wright Hirsch - Extension Educator/Food Safety, UConn Home and Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Mon., Oct. 28, 2013
It has been pretty good year for tomatoes, but the season is rapidly coming to an end with the sudden change to cooler temperatures. As much as we love our delicious vine ripened summer-red tomatoes, it is time for a reality check—summer is over. Still have a bunch of the green ones hanging on the vine? Tomatoes are actually a fruit that can finish the ripening process even when picked green. So if the temperature falls below 50F for a day or two, start picking the green tomatoes. Be sure to harvest them before the first frost.
Pick ripe, nearly ripe and mature green fruits. Mature green tomatoes are those with a glossy, whitish green fruit color and mature size. It is best to pick fruits only from strong healthy vines and only those fruits free of disease or insect damage. Remove stems before storage to prevent them from puncturing each other. If dirty, gently wash and allow the fruit to air dry (if they do not dry completely, mold and rot are more likely to occur.) Now you are ready to store the tomatoes.
First, sort the tomatoes by degree of ripeness. Greenish-whitish tomatoes have more ripening to do than a tomato tinged with orange or red. Wrap the tomatoes in newspaper or brown sandwich bags. Place in a box or on a tray no more than two layers deep. Store the tomatoes in a cool, dark room.
As tomatoes ripen, they naturally release ethylene gas, which stimulates ripening. To slow ripening, sort out ripened fruits from green tomatoes each week. To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.
Green, mature tomatoes stored at 65-70°F, will ripen in about 2 weeks. Cooler temperatures slow the ripening process. At 55°F, they will ripen in 3-4 weeks. Never expose tomatoes to temperatures below 50°F for more than a few days—the quality will suffer. An airy cellar or outbuilding with moderate humidity is ideal for storage. Too much humidity will cause decay and too little will cause shriveling.
Every week, check to see how the tomatoes are doing. Separate the red and green tomatoes and to dispose of any rotted fruit. Enjoy the red tomatoes for a snack or your next meal.
Cooking with Green Tomatoes
Of course you also have the option of enjoying green tomatoes just as they are. Green tomatoes can be tasty, but some may find them astringent. The Southern dish made popular by the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, is one way to bring out the flavor and sweetness of the tomatoes. Tomatoes are sliced, dipped in flour, beaten egg, and seasoned cornmeal or breadcrumbs, then fried in oil or bacon fat.
If you are more adventurous, green tomato catsup and a variety of relishes and chutneys also make good use of the end-of-season version of the summer-red tomato. Search your cookbook shelf, your local library, or the internet for green tomato recipes. One good source is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at www.uga.edu/nchfp. Or, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.