How to Ripen those Green Tomatoes
Garden rescue for fall
When fall hits, the end of tomato season is near. No more of those luscious ripe, red home grown beauties are in store until the next summer. It always seems like such a waste to throw out the green ones that came from all the spring’s efforts.
Every gardener grieves knowing all those small and medium sized green tomatoes are going to waste. If you live in the southern US, fried green tomatoes are a staple this time of year, but they are more than a little tiresome night after night.
A well grown tomato plant will be loaded with lots of green tomatoes at the end of the season, and while green tomato relish is wonderful, it is not the reason most of us labored so long and hard to grow the plants.
If you know what to do, those unripe tomatoes can be coaxed into ripeness with time, patience, and room. While they will never match the sweetness, and flavor of those ripened on the vine, they are still miles ahead of the red pieces of cardboard you buy in the stores.
For starters, only choose green tomatoes that have some small tinge of pink on them. If they are totally green, they will never ripen. Those are candidates for the frying pan.
For just a few tomatoes, you can put them into a brown paper bag with a ripening banana in the bottom. A “ripening” banana is one that is ideally yellow in the middle and a little green on the end. Ripening fruit produces ethylene gas which speeds the ripening process. Bananas are champion ethylene producers, and are a good choice because they continue to ripen after being picked. Tomatoes are losers in this department, by comparison.
If you have more tomatoes than you have room for bags, try using paper boxes. Line the bottom with newspaper, and put a layer of green tomatoes, stem end down, but not touching. Another layer can be added on top of a second layer of newspaper, but no more than two. Be sure to select only tomatoes that have no insect damage, and are firm and intact. A ripening banana can be used to speed the process, but the tomatoes will ripen on their own without help. But a banana can be used in one box, then the next to stagger the ripening process. Put the boxed tomatoes in a dark, cool, slightly humid spot and check them every few days.
If there is a frost coming, don’t bother harvesting individual fruits. Pull the entire plant out of the ground and shake off as much dirt as possible (getting rid of the root ball removes a handle you are going to need to hang them). Remove any twigs, leaves or branches that are not needed to hold the fruit. Hang the entire plant, upside down, in a sheltered area, such as a garage, or a basement (or if you are really brave, the laundry room). They must be kept in the dark. While the leaves need sunlight to feed the plant, the tomatoes themselves will actually ripen better if they are kept in the dark.
Inspect the tomatoes, those that are darker green, hard and show no signs of beginning to ripen will ever get ripe. The ones that have begun to lighten are showing signs of getting ripe. If you are not sure whether they will ripen, it does no harm to leave them on the vines for a few days to see if any changes appear. If they remain hard, and dark green, they are good material for frying, or for relish.
They will ripen almost as well as if they had remained outside to finish their march to being table ready.
Don’t let them get hit by frost, then none of them will ever ripen. Surrender to ripping up the plant is not easy, but is better than having to discard the entire unripe lot.
But in the end, the reason anyone grows tomatoes is for the table, and even if the fresh, wonderful red ones will no longer be around, there are wonderful ways to enjoy them, green or not.
For those tomatoes that are never going to ripen, enjoy them fried, or made into relish. Try them this way:
Fried Green Tomatoes
4 medium green tomatoes, sliced into thick slices
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal, seasoned with salt and pepper.
Dip each slice in the beaten egg, then the cornmeal. Fry over medium heat in small batches and serve immediately.
Best Evergreen Tomato Relish
2 ½ pounds green tomatoes
½ pound very small onions, quartered (boiling onions work well)
6 jalapeno peppers, quartered, seeded and sliced into rings*
2 quarts water
6 cups sugar
3 cups vinegar
Boil water and add sugar, vinegar until sugar is well dissolved. Add green tomatoes, onions and peppers. Bring to boil, and then reduce heat to simmer for about 8 minutes. Ladle into sterilized ½ pint jars by putting vegetables first, leaving about ¼ inch of headroom. Fill with fluid. Remove air bubbles. Put on caps and tighten. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 6 ½ pints.
*For the faint of heart, the peppers can be reduced in number, or omitted entirely. This relish is quite hot with the full contingent of peppers.