How to Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors
We’ve had a summer growing season as strange and unpredictable as 2020 itself. Despite a warm, sunny spring, the summer got off to an unseasonably cool, wet start in June and July. This meant that some of our heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers got off to a slow start too.
Normally we start our tomato seeds in late February or early March, and by July we’re starting to pull in tomatoes form our garden. Last year we were practically swimming in ripe, red tomatoes by the beginning of August. Every single red tomato we enjoyed was vine-ripened and full of the most amazing flavour.
We were drowning in ripe tomatoes… last year
By the end of the season last year, we had a bunch of green tomatoes left over too. We made green tomato relish and chutney, we ate fried green tomatoes. I made a fermented green tomato and hot pepper hot sauce that was out of this world.
And still, the tomatoes just kept coming. There were more tomatoes than we knew what to do with! In fact, we were so sick of tomatoes that by the end of the season I started giving baskets of green tomatoes away.
But even after all of that tomato-production and all of the jars of tomato preserves we enjoyed all year, by the time summer rolled around again this year we were completely out of every tomato-based product we’d put up last year.
Obviously we eat a lot of tomatoes throughout the year, so it makes sense for us to grow as many as we possibly can. That being said, we increased our crop from 30 plants to about 40 plants this year AND started our seeds a few weeks early this year.
Naturally, we expected to be drowning in ripe tomatoes once again by midsummer, but when August rolled around again this year, there was nary a ripe tomato to be found.
When tomatoes don’t ripen…
Now, don’t get me wrong, there were lots of tomatoes on our plants. But they were all green! The lack of heat and direct sun meant they were ripening at the speed of molasses.
By the end of August, I was seriously starting to panic, wondering if we’d be able to put up enough jars of tomato sauce to get us through this year or if we’d have to rely on grocery store tomato sauce instead. (This is the stuff of nightmares for me).
I held out hope that we’d get a hot spell in September and that the pounds and pounds of green tomatoes in our garden would get a chance to ripen after all. Finally, in the first week of September, the weather forecast read full sun and hot temps. We were certain this would be the lucky break our tomatoes needed.
For two or three days, the sun shone and everything went crazy in the garden. Clusters of tomatoes all began ripening at once, pumpkins started growing and the cucumbers and zucchinis went nuts. Even our little watermelon plant started givin’er!
A disappointing end to summer
But as soon as the sun came out, the smoke rolled in from the west coast wildfires and that was that. We were back to grey skies and lukewarm temps. Boo!
That pretty much sealed the fate of our tomato plants. The smoke stuck around for a solid 10 days or so, and now that it’s finally cleared out, the rain clouds have moved in and fall is well and truly here. The tomatoes are still hanging on and some are ripening slowly, but we’ve come to terms with the fact that we are going to be harvesting mostly green tomatoes this year.
We’ll be making lots more of the green tomato relish (my fave!) and chutney (my husband’s fave:), and I’ll definitely be fermenting them along with our jalapeños and enjoying them breaded and fried and dipped in ranch dressing. I’m good with all of that. But I’m NOT good with having little to no tomato sauce or salsa on our pantry shelves this winter.
Luckily, there is a trick we’ve been using to get our green tomatoes to ripen as we pull them indoors. It’s an old trick that I remember my great grandma used to use when harvesting her green or underripe tomatoes. (Maybe yours did too?) It’s really quite simple, and we’ve been having great success with it so far this year, so I knew I had to share it with you.
Okay, are you ready?
Here’s what you do…
How to ripen green tomatoes indoors
Step 1: Harvest your green tomatoes and bring them inside.
Step 2: Place them in a single layer in a crate, basket or cardboard box with good airflow all around. Put a layer of newspaper or brown bag/kraft paper in between additional layers if you have lots of tomatoes. Then, place the tomatoes somewhere out of direct sunlight (I’ve heard lots of people put them under their bed).
Step 3: Do nothing. Seriously, it’s that simple. The tomatoes will ripen all on their own.
Step 4: Check them every two or three days and remove tomatoes as they ripen to eat or process for preserving. (I just toss mine in the freezer until I have enough to make a batch of sauce).
Step 5: Repeat until all of your green tomatoes have ripened!
How fast do green tomatoes ripen indoors?
How fast your green tomatoes will ripen indoors depends on a couple things, including how ripe they were when you picked them (tomatoes that were yellow or starting to turn red will ripen quicker), as well as how warm it is in the room where you’re storing them (keep them away from direct sources of heat like heaters or wood stoves). But they will all ripen in time.
Now, in my opinion, the flavour still isn’t quite the same as a vine-ripened tomato. Nothing beats that. But tomatoes ripened indoors still make a damn good sauce, which is what my most recent batch of “box-ripened” tomatoes is about to become.
When to pull tomatoes (and when NOT to leave them on the vine)
I’m looking at the forecast now and wouldn’t ya know, it says we’re expecting full sun next week. But the temperature is starting to drop and, being that it’s 2020, I’m not taking any chances. (Tomatoes can withstand temperatures down to 10ºC / 50ºF, but if temperatures are expected to drop below that then you should probably pull them, even if they’re green).
My plan is to leave the really green tomatoes on the vine for as long as I can and hope that the sun helps to at least get them started next week, but any tomatoes that have any colour on them now are coming inside.
Once I’m fully satisfied that we’ve got enough red, ripe tomatoes to give us a year’s worth of tomato sauce, then and only then will I surrender and submit to eating them green. Because, let’s face it, as delicious as green tomatoes can be, nobody grows tomatoes with the intention of harvesting them green.
Tomatoes are meant to ripen! They’re meant to become beautiful jars of rich, red tomato sauce. It’s their destiny, and damnit, it’s my responsibility as the gardener to help them fulfill it… one way or another;)
What do YOU do with green tomatoes? Do you have any tricks for getting them to ripen, either on or off the vine? What’s your favourite recipe or way to enjoy green tomatoes? Let me know in the comments below!
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness:)
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