Photo by Melody

Ripening Green Tomatoes or Using Them in a Recipe

By Paul Rodman (paulgrowOctober 21, 2011

The leaves are turning, thereís a chill in the air. Pumpkins and corn stalks are in the garden centers...and the tomato plants are loaded with green tomatoes. Donít despair, hereís how to get those to ripen or better yet some recipes for green 'maters.

Gardening pictureThe key to saving those green tomatoes is to pick them before the frost gets to them.  Standard sized tomatoes require 40 to 50 days after blossom set to reach maximum green size. Newly setting blossoms, small and very green fruit won't mature in the remaining growing season and are best pruned off.

New, vigorous shoots also may be clipped back. Don't prune off an excessive amount of fully formed leaves as these supply nutrients to fruit. Pruning directs plant nourishment to fruit that has a chance of maturing.

When the fruit set is heavy, it can work against gardeners. Ripening numerous fruit takes a lot of energy from the leaves and tends to delay the whole crop turning red. If there are only a few weeks before frost and fruit is not ripening, try removing some of the mature green fruit to ripen what's left on the vine.

Cooler fall temperatures help fruit to ripen because the red tomato pigments, lycopene and carotene, are not produced above 85 degrees F or lycopene below 50 degrees F.

As late fall approaches, gardeners often try to extend the life of their plants by covering with cloth or plastic. Covering plants works well for nearly red tomatoes, but not as well for mature green ones. Though foliage may sometimes be saved, research shows that chilling injury on green fruit occurs at temperatures of 50 degrees and decay losses rise markedly on fruit exposed to 40 degrees F. Red ones well on their way to ripening tolerate colder temperatures.

Mature green fruit will develop good flavor. Mature green tomatoes are well sized and have turned light green to white. If cut open, seeds are encased in gel and no empty cavity space is present.

  1. Cut the green tomatoes off of the vine with pruners leaving a short piece of stem. Don't pull them off, because if the stem pulls off of the fruit, you'll generally end up seeing the fruit start to rot where the stem used to be.

     Leave a piec of stem attached

  2. Wash your green tomatoes, and let them dry completely.
  3. Wrap each tomato in a sheet of newspaper or tissue paper.


     Wrap in newspaper

  4. Pack the wrapped tomatoes in a box, up to two layers deep Store the box of green tomatoes in a cool, dry area. An unheated basement, insulated garage, or enclosed porch would work very well.

    Ethylene gas is a naturally occurring process in plants that cause fruit to ripen. Tomatoes emit this gas, the newspaper creates an envelope to contain this gas and hasten the ripening process.

Check the tomatoes every week. Remove any that are starting to ripen, and let them finish ripening on your kitchen counter. Also, check the tomatoes for signs of rot. Any rotting tomatoes should be removed.

Here are some recipes for green tomatoes.

                                                  Fries Green Tomatoes

  • 4 large green tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 quart vegetable oil for frying


  1. Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends.
  2. Whisk eggs and milk together in a medium-size bowl. Scoop flour onto a plate. Mix cornmeal, bread crumbs and salt and pepper on another plate. Dip tomatoes into flour to coat. Then dip the tomatoes into milk and egg mixture. Dredge in breadcrumbs to completely coat.
  3. In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is 1/2 inch of oil in the pan) and heat over a medium heat. Place tomatoes into the frying pan in batches of 4 or 5, depending on the size of your skillet. Do not crowd the tomatoes; they should not touch each other. When the tomatoes are browned, flip and fry them on the other side. Drain them on paper towels.


           Pickled Green Tomatoes

  • 6  Chile peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 4   bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup coriander seeds
  • 1/4 cup cumin seeds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground mace
  • 4 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 8 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4 pounds green tomatoes
What you'll need:
  • 4 quart-size canning jars with lids
  • Large deep pot with lid
  • Round wire rack that fits inside the pot  
  • Jar lifter or tongs
  • Rubber spatula
  • Clean dish towels

Sterilize the jars. Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water; rinse well. Place a wire rack or empty tuna cans in the pot to keep the jars from touching the bottom. Fill the pot halfway with water and bring to a simmer (do not boil). Submerge the jars in the water and let simmer until you're ready to fill. Sterilize the lids in a separate small pot of simmering water.

Make the brine Combine the chilies, bay leaves, coriander and cumin seeds cloves, mace, peppercorns, garlic, vinegar, honey, salt and 1 cup water in a large saucepan Bring to a boil; cook for 3 minutes. Cool slightly. Remove the chilies and bay leaves with a slotted spoon

Pack the tomatoes. Slice the tomatoes into wedges using a sterilized knife and cutting board. Remove the jars and lids from the simmering water with a jar lifter or tongs; fill with the tomatoes and some chilies and bay leaves

Fill and close. Pour the warm pickling liquid over the tomatoes in each jar, stopping 1/2 inch from the top. Slide a clean rubber spatula around the inside of each jar to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rims with a clean towel, and then position the sterilized lids on top. Screw the lids shut, being careful not to over tighten.

Boil the jars. Return the pot of water to a simmer; add the jars, making sure water covers them by a few inches. Cover and boil for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, uncover and leave them in the water for 10 minutes

Remove and let cool. Transfer the jars to a kitchen towel. Let sit, undisturbed, for at least 12 hours. A vacuum seal will form as the jars cool

  About Paul Rodman  
Paul RodmanPaul Rodman has been gardening for over 45 years. He is an Advanced Master Gardener, and American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian. He is President Emertius of the Western Wayne County Master Gardener Association in Wayne County, Michigan. He currently serves as the greenhouse chairman of this group. Rodman has amassed over 5500 volunteer hours in the Master Gardener program. Rodman is the garden columnist for The News Herald newspaper, in Southgate, Michigan. He has also written for the Organic web site. He is a certified Master Canner and has taught classes on Home Food Preserving for 7 years. He has lectured on various gardening topics throughout southeastern Michigan. His favorite pastime is teaching children about gardening. For the past several years he has conducted classes for second grade students teaching them about subjects ranging from vermi-composting to propagation.

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