There are ways to ripen up those green tomatoes

August 29, 2012
There are two ways to ripen green tomatoes indoors. Either hang them or wrap them in newspaper and place in a box.

Late in the season becomes a guessing game of when the first frost will strike.  Tomatoes will flower and set fruit right up until a killing frost.  Obviously any new tomatoes won’t have time to grow and ripen before the end of the season. Pinch off all tomato blossoms so the plant’s energy goes to ripening the existing fruits.

As the tomatoes wind down, give your plants a final treat of organic fish emulsion. Before hard frosts, cover your tomato plants individually with buckets, if they fit, or with a light bed sheet over entire rows to retain heat.  Remove the covers every morning so the plants can absorb all the sunshine available.

While some tomatoes such as Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato are actually ripe when green, most tomatoes are red or yellow when ripe.  So what to do with all of those green unripe tomatoes now that the growing season is ending?

If the tomatoes have more red than green on the skin you can probably get away with just picking them and setting them on the windowsill or kitchen counter to ripen.  They do not need sunlight to ripen once they are off the vine.  We just put any half-ripened tomatoes on top of the tomato stakes to ripen, looking like tiny green jack o’lanterns on sticks. But, what about those immature green tomatoes still on the plants that will not have time to ripen before frost?

You can ripen these too. Even though they might not be as juicy or flavorful as garden-ripened tomatoes, they will still be your own tomatoes from your own garden and much better than any from the store.

You can ripen tomatoes indoors in two ways. You can pull up the entire tomato plant and hang it upside down in a cool, dark place. The tomatoes will slowly ripen on the vine with no additional work on your part. An unheated garage or porch works fine. If you do not have the room or want to avoid the mess of hanging plants, you can pick the green tomatoes and ripen them off the vine.

Carefully cut your green tomatoes off the vine with a sharp knife or garden pruners. If you pull them off the vine the stem can rip off the fruit and the tomato will rot.

Gently wash and dry the green tomatoes, being careful not to bruise them.

Wrap each tomato in newspaper or tissue paper and carefully set the tomatoes in a box. You can lay them up to two layers deep.

Place the box of wrapped green tomatoes in a cool, dry area away from direct heat or sunlight.  Avoid damp areas.  Your unheated cellar, garage, or enclosed porch is fine. Or just out of the way on a kitchen counter.  Be sure the temperature does not go below 55 degrees for best flavor.

At least once a week check the tomatoes for ripeness.  Remove any tomatoes that are rotting or mushy.

You can also put your green tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripe apple. The apple gives off ethylene gas, helping the tomatoes ripen. Of course, you can simply slice up the green tomatoes, dip them in egg, dredge them in breadcrumbs, and fry them up.  Whether the tomatoes are Aunt Ruby’s German Green or your favorite beefsteak, serve up a plate of fried green tomatoes and your friends will be green with envy.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.