I was NOT happy…
…when I found out it was supposed to snow several weeks ago. The calendar had *just* turned to September, and I was not ready to pull out my muck boots and coat. Not to mention this was the first year in a long time that my garden was actually thriving!
I was looking forward to homemade sun-dried tomatoes, and tucking away fresh tomato sauce to use during the cold winter months. With just one weather report all of that was now at risk.
So after I finished my little homesteader temper tantrum, I realized I was faced with a very real problem: what to do with all of my lovely tomato plants, loaded down with very green Roma tomatoes…
I agonized over this decision more than I care to admit. Part of me wanted to ignore the weather warnings and take my chances that the supposed snowstorm would skip us. But my more cautious side won out, and after asking all the smart folks on The Prairie Homestead Facebook page, I came up with a plan of action to save my poor green tomatoes.
And I’m glad I did–it snowed several inches that night. Thankfully, I’m still enjoying fresh, homegrown tomatoes, weeks after our freak snowstorm, due to the measures I took. Here’s what I did:
How to Ripen (or Save) Green Tomatoes
You have a couple of different options when dealing with green tomatoes. Being the curious blogger-type that I am, I decided to experiment with several of these choices. Here are all the juicy details—>
1. Ripen Green Tomatoes by Covering ’em.
I’ll be honest–this option scared me a bit, and I worried my rag-tag collection of sheets and quilts wouldn’t be enough. But, I decided to try it anyway.
I covered some of my plants with sheets and then topped them with quilts. I tucked the ends of the blankets around the plants to seal them in as much as possible, used clothespins to pinch up the edges and corners, said a little prayer, and walked back into the house for the evening.
The next morning I hurried outside, expecting to see a tomato disaster. But upon removing the blankets and shaking off two inches of snow, I was thrilled to find my tomato plants happy and frost-free underneath.
Now if you are dealing with subzero temps, this won’t work. However, if you are expecting a light frost (or freak summer snowstorm…) then blankets should suffice. Just make sure to pull them off as soon as possible so the weight of the fabric doesn’t crush the plants.
2. Ripen Green Tomatoes by Boxing ’em
I didn’t have enough blankets to cover all of my plants, so I decided to strip several of the plants and place the green tomatoes in boxes to slowly ripen. Now–there seem to be a lot of urban legends surrounding this whole topic of ripening green tomatoes in a box and sometimes it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.
Some people claim you have to layer them just right, wrap them individually in newspaper, or only box up the ones that are the “proper” shade of green. Most of you know me well enough to know that I am not the type of person to fuss over details, so wanna guess what I did?
Yup. I picked all the green ones (not paying a lick of attention to their shade of green) and unceremoniously dumped them in a cardboard box. I sort of put newspaper between the layers, but it got all messed up the first time I started rummaging around looking for red ones. So they ended up mostly newspaper-less.
My unorthodox boxing method worked pretty well. I checked the boxes several times per week removing any red or orangeish ones and also making sure none were rotting. I found that it didn’t really matter what the shade of green was to start with, but if the tomatoes are picked too small they are more likely to rot rather than ripen.
Some folks claim they can keep tomatoes in a box for months and months before they ripen, but mine usually start turning red within a couple of weeks. (I suspect this has much to do with the temperature of the room you are storing the boxes in–the cooler the temp, the longer they take to ripen.)
Regardless, I’ve had fabulous luck ripening my green tomatoes in a good old-fashioned cardboard box–no fuss required.
If you only have a few green tomatoes to ripen, simply place them in a bowl on your kitchen counter. There’s no need to keep them in the fridge– just avoid putting them in direct sunlight (like a windowsill). They’ll gradually ripen over the course of a few days.
3. Save and Ripen Green Tomatoes by Hanging ’em
When I started researching ripening methods for green tomatoes, the suggestion of pulling the entire plant out of the ground and hanging it upside-down was mentioned frequently. So of course, I had to try it.
I strung a healthy tomato plant (loaded with fat green tomatoes) upside-down in hubby’s shop and waited. And…
The green tomatoes ripen, but not any better or faster than the ones in my cardboard box. Bummer.
So, if you are wanting to drive your spouse crazy by hanging tomato plants that shed leaves and dirt clods in their workspace, this is a great method. Otherwise, I think the ol’ upside-down-green-tomato method gets more hype than it deserves.
4. Don’t Ripen Them, Just Eat ’em
If worse comes to worst and you are fresh out of blankets and cardboard boxes, then you can most definitely pick all of your ‘maters to be turned into the most delectable green tomato delicacies. Here are a few for your culinary pleasure:
- Classic Fried Green Tomatoes
- Green Tomato Salsa Verde
- Green Tomato Chutney
- Green Tomato Relish
- Grilled Green Tomatoes
- Pickled Green Tomatoes
Do You Ripen Green Tomatoes off the Vine?
Tomatoes are fruits that will ripen even after you remove them from the vine if they have the right temperature and conditions. There is so much information on how to save green tomatoes, but these 4 tricks are ones that I have experience with. Do you have other tried and true ways to ripen green tomatoes?
More Tomatoes and Ways to Use Them:
- How to Save Tomato Seeds
- Homemade Tomato Paste Recipe
- Creamy Tomato Garlic Soup
- 40+ Ways to Preserve Tomatoes
I’m with you…………the cardboard box method (we don’t put newspaper in the box) of ripening tomatoes works like a charm. We’ve been doing this the past 3-4 years and by doing this method, we eat tomatoes well into December. Love tomatoes, for sure.
Kire Brown says
Hi, I put my green tomatoes in a large flat bowl and cover with a hand towel, this ripens them slowly and I had fresh tomatoes in December last year!
Patty Davenport says
I have always put them in a brown paper bag. But they ripen quickly.
Marilyn M says
Hi Jill, have been following your blog for a bit now 🙂 I had the same problem as you this year. We got early sub-zero temps (21 degrees) and even though my tomatoes were covered, they still froze, because i was not expecting it to get THAT cold. So I had tons of frozen green tomatoes. I wrote about my adventure with them here: http://mountaintopspice.blogspot.com/2014/09/green-tomatoes.html In the past, I have found the best way to ripen the “unfrozen” green tomatoes is either in a brown paper bag, or in a cardboard box with newspaper. Both work well. Frozen green tomatoes – well, that is another story, lol.
Lat year, I hung my tomato plants upside down in my basement just before the first freeze (St. Louis, MO) in October. The green tomatoes ripened slowly, which was fine because I had fresh tomatoes at Thanksgiving and slightly wrinkled but fresh-ish ones at Christmas.
I am so glad you added “Eat Them!” Green tomatoes are rich in Vitamin K (my papaw was prescribed green tomatoes for his chronic nosebleeds as a child!)
I will not eat a red tomato-I cant stand the taste. But green? Grab the cornmeal and get to frying! The first official day of summer in my household is marked with fried green tomatoes, Spanish rice, cream-style corn, and cornbread-all from the garden (except the rice, which I am not patient enough to grow). I look forward to that meal every year, and have since I was a very young child sitting in my papaw’s lap while my memaw pulled the last crispy golden slices from the hot grease…
Jill Winger says
Very cool– I didn’t know about the vit K!
I oven fry my green tomatoes. I just dip them in cornbread and muffin mix. I put a couple of table spoons of coconut oil in the pan and spread it all around. I put the sliced battered and season tomatoes in, put s little coconut oil on top of them. Bake at 375 for about an hour. They are nice and crispy yummy.
We dice green tomatoes into anything you might use zucchini or squash for. Makes great ratatouille and can enhance most sauces and soups.
Kayla- Prairie Homestead Assistant says
That’s awesome! I’m glad you’ve been able to find a use for green tomatoes that your family loves! 🙂
I hear you Jill. I’ve had cooler temperatures pretty much all season long here in the Midwest and I’ve just picked the last tomatoes the other day and just set them on my kitchen counter to finish ripening. I’m a sucker for fried green tomatoes, sooo yummy! Love your blog Jill and there’s nothing better than homegrown vegetables fresh from your garden.
I’m in Casper & I just pulled all of my green tomatoes off of the vines today because I heard freezing temps tonight. Boo!!!! I covered them in plastic the first time & saved them. I’m pretty sure my garden will be done after tonight. 🙁
Jill Winger says
Yeah, I finally pulled all mine off this week too–it was chilly last night!
A few months ago we messed with our tomato plants a bit and had a lot of falling green tomatoes. So we quickly scoured my cookbooks to find recipes for green tomatoes. I finally picked up one of my newest cookbooks titled “The Amish Cookbook.” Sure enough, inside I found a recipe called “Green Tomato Pie.” So with raised eyebrows, I turned to my parents and siblings and said, “Well, I guess we’re going to make pie out of all those green tomatoes.” So I set some siblings to washing and slicing while I worked on the pie dough. Before long we had two green tomato pies ready for the oven. As they were cooking, I heard that my brother had invited a friend from work over for dinner, which was not too unusual. My eyebrows went up again as I realized what we were planning to have for dessert. “Mama,” I pleaded. “Can we please hide the pies till he leaves??” “Oh, no,” she answered. “We should eat it with him. I am sure he’ll like it.” So, swallowing hard, I nodded ok. After dinner, we took out the pies and cut them up. I stayed in the kitchen serving up plates, unwilling to see the look on our poor guest’s face. But as I slowly walked into the dining room, I was greeted with smiles and nodding heads. They liked it! Even out guest complimented the pie and told me he was enjoying it. I sank relieved into my chair, mentally wiping my hand across my forehead. Everything turned out alright.
So, moral of the story… Green Tomato Pie is delicious!!!! Find a recipe for it and give it a go! I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did!
Jill Winger says
LOL! Great story! I’ve also heard of Green Tomato Pie, but have been too chicken to try it. Maybe now I will!
I’m not Amish, but I grew up eating green tomato pie. I just picked mine and I sliced them, like you would for the pie and canned them. When I want a pie I drain the juice and add the thickening and spices and bake my pie.
A friend on mine makes green tomato pie. If you didn’t know different, you would think it was apple pie. Delicious!
I have made green tomato relish in the past that was indistinguishable from pickle relish. Just use a pickle relish recipe and replace the cucumbers with chopped green tomatoes.
Jill Winger says
Brilliant idea Beth!
This is also what I do with a bunch of mine. I make pickle and sweet relish. Also, Fish-House Tomatoes are excellent.
Katie Mae @ Nourishing Simplicity says
Great tips to keep in mind since our tomatoes got a late start this year! Thanks!
Last year we had a lot of green tomatoes left. I picked them and left them in their food grade plastic buckets just like you did the cardboard boxes. We kept going through them until one weekend when our granddaughter was visiting. We took the remaining green tomatoes and made 3 different kinds of very yummy relish.
We will be bringing everything in from the garden this weekend as we have frost predicted for early next week. This year, we must have 1,000 tomatoes because they were so late beginning to ripen. I’ll lay some out in the kitchen to ripen. Some will stay in their buckets to ripen and then eventually be made into more relish. I do want to experiment with coating some of them and then freezing them for fried green tomatoes this winter. I’m also going to take a look at your recipes and look for a green tomato pie recipe for the freezer. We’re supposed to have a very cold snowy winter here in the midwest. Having some extra tomato treats should help take the sting out of a bad winter.
another recipe for green tomatoes ..is great with fried fish….find recipe for bread and butter pickles, substitute green tomatoes for the cucumbers and add a bit of jalapeno for taste…GREAT
Jill Winger says
Great idea– would have never thought of combining them with fish!
i had so many tomatoes that I made stewed tomatoes w/garlic,onions,itialian herbs,and parsley,I mixed Roma’s,yellow tomatoes,steak tomatoes,cooked at a low boil for 5min,put in hot jars,with 1teas lemon juice,and 1/2teas salt,then boil bath for 40minutes,it’s great ????
I’ve put the green tomatoes in a brown paper bag (a rare item indeed) with an apple and rolled the top down. It seemed to help them ripen faster. I think the box idea would work if you had a lid or covered it with paper. I wonder if all the rummaging around for ripe ones in the box might bruise the no-so-ripe one and they would spoil.
Maggie Geraghty says
Place them in a container with a banana. The gasses given off by ripening bananas helps to ripen the tomatoes.
We have not even gotten close to freezing here in Anchorage, Alaska. Will have to give this a try in a couple weeks. Thanks Jill.
Jill Winger says
Good luck! 🙂
I am Anchorage Alaska. All this rain is really grounding my tomatoes I have them covered. I have a lot of them that are green can I bring them in my husband he did garage plants and all that and planters on the deck?
My mom found a green tomato cake recipe similar to this one in our local newspaper a few years ago. I thought she was crazy when she made it, but it tastes great and it’s so moist. Just delicious!
Green tomato pie. Use a recipe for apple pie and use green tomatoes instead! They will never know!
Or you can google green tomato mincemeat recipes, and can it or freeze it. Very good in cookies or pies.
debbie donnelly says
The mince meat is awesome no one would know any difference I have done so much in past & still have some dated 2011,it is even better well aged I usually use rum in mine .
If you like mincemeat give it a try ,it seems to a must on Canadian prairies ,we can have a mince pie anytime of year .You but every year you get the best batch you ever made so write it down ,have to experiment as you go to hit the taste you want with the spices etc .
I have only ever ripened my tomato’s in boxes or pails ,as long as they are dry less rotting occurs.
One year I heard if you wash them with a few drops of bleach in water & rinse kills any disease,we had a huge amount that year & I did this we had tomatoes forever ,after they were dry I put them on newspapers in spare room ,checked them from time to time.
It worked but a lot of work to .
Good luck preserving your crops ladies .
PL C says
Several years ago, we had a cold rainstorm predicted in late October (during the CA drought), so I cut off all the clusters of cherry tomatoes, placed single layers in multiple cardboard boxes covered with 1 layer of newspaper, and left them in our cool but dry dark basement. They neither shrivelled nor spoiled, and we ate the last of them in March! The bigger tomatoes ripened sooner, and a couple spoiled. Since all were in single layers, no bruising occurred. We’ve had quite a bumper crop this year, using the Mittleider method.
Jill Winger says
How awesome! Tomatoes in the winter make me happy. 🙂
debbie donnelly says
I missed a lot of my canning this year Had knee surgery 10 days ago ,but here’s hoping for next year .
Instead of getting my tomatoes canned I stewed them & froze them in containers & jars.
Kayla- Prairie Homestead Assistant says
I hope you heal well from your surgery! And I’m so glad you were able to preserve your tomatoes in a way that kept it really simple for you this year!! 🙂
D. Lynn says
Wonderful read thanks to all of the entries. I use the box method also, but line each layer with several sheets of newspaper and store in our insulated garage. I have red toms until the beginning of December, this year I have much greener tomatoes because my plants seemed to have a second coming (the season was much hotter and when it started cooling to normal it seemed as though every day there were more) we also had a severe drought so my watering was very well timed, and controlled maybe until January or February this year let’s hope. I am going to try the green apple pie that sounds so good. See you soon.
Linda Boster says
Fixing to pick my green tomatoes calling for frost tonight. I can’t believe its November 9 and they were still producing !! I live in Western Ky. So this is very unusual for me to still be getting ripe tomatoes !!! Thanks for tips on saving my green tomatoes !!!!
I use tomato boxes with lids.
When I need more red tomatoes
I use a grow light to ripen them.
I would assume the tomatoes should be dry if placing them n a box?
No they will rot if you let them go too long. If you want sun dried tomatoes wait until they are ripe then cut them in pieces and get rid of extra seeds / pulp and make sure they have plenty of air movement to dry.
I have an old variety of heirloom Burgess stuffing tomatoes which have almost no seeds and pulp in the center making them perfect for sun dried tomatoes.
Jill I had to laugh when I saw this on your mailing. I now live just south of you on the Front Range and we just hit 97 degrees the other day, in the high 80 since. You must not of been talking about this year.
hate all the ads re: Joanna Gaines. Why do they do this? It’s all made up and distracts from reading your page
I just put my green tomatoes in the windowsill, or close by. The majority turn well. Occasionally I have a few small green ones that do not.
My wife had a large amount of green tomatoes left over one year and she ended up making normal pickles with them. They turned out great!
Robin Lloyd says
You can also can green tomatoes they are great rolled in cornmeal.
I’ve had success placing a few apples in with the green tomatoes if you want them to ripen faster. Something “scientific” about the gasses released? Anyhoo, worked well for me!
Jill Winger says
Cherlynn Bell says
Ok, not a problem this year, none of my tomatoes made it through the big drought. But my peppers did so my problem was the peppers, Got a huge pile and I hope to come up with enough tomatoes to make salsa next week. Last year I had tons of tomatoes and took several boxes of the green ones and sliced them and then blanched them. I then proceeded to make fried green tomatoes with out frying them. I put them on trays in the freezer and then put them into freezer bags. We are still enjoying fried green tomatoes from our freezer. They taste just like fresh ones! It’s how we’ll forever do those end of the season green tomatoes! My mama always wrapped them in newspaper and put them in the cellar on shelves. We’d have fresh red tomatoes into January.
Nancy Chevalier says
I love to can green tomato chili sauce. It’s so delicious on just about everything. I also make roasted green tomatoes, seasoned with a bit of brown sugar, salt, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper and ground coriander. Next year I’m not going to wait until the bitter end of the season to try more green tomato recipes!
Hi Jill, I didn’t want to read every comment because there was so many of them. So if this is a repeat I’m sorry. I have used green tomatoes to make jelly. It’s been a while since I’ve made some, but I’m sure you could Google it to find out hoe to make it. My kids loved it,however it slipped my mind to tell what was it in.
Chop those babies up in a food processor and make pickle or sweet relish.
Douglas Blechinger says
When you are at the Lumber Yard ask if they have any lumber tarps that you can have. They are long and narrower and work great to cover your plants. The yards usually just throw them away. I always pick my tomatoes when they first start to turn and ripen in the house in meat lugs with the covers on sideways. Then the plant can put more energy into the green tomatoes.
Kim Lund says
IThe onoly way I will eat a green toamto is dill pickled. I will pickle any of the green ones I fine. One year I got blight before any of my pickles turned. My father being a cheif and master gardener was telling me about pickled tomatoes. I remember as a child living in a large Jewish community in the Detroit area that they had green pickled tomatoes all the time. So I pickled all the green ones that year and shared them with my father. Now every year I make pickled green tomatoes with all of my tomatoes that are green when the weather starts to change.
Pick them, place in a brown paper sack with a banana peel and close the bag. Place the bag in a dark dry place and check on them daily. They will ripen pretty fast.
Norrine Buchholz says
do you have to pull the whole plant or just the stems that have tomatoes on them to hang?