One of heirloom tomato plants has 47 green tomatoes dangling from its branches. Sadly, there is pretty much zero chance they will ripen on the vine before our first frost, so I am going to bring the green tomatoes indoors. We will definitely use a few to make fried green tomato sandwiches and green tomato chutney, but I will ripen the rest using a super simple technique. Not all green tomatoes ripen up reliably indoors. Give each tomato a gentle squeeze as you pull it off the vine. If it gives a little, that's a sign it is already on the road to ripening. Separate out any rock hard, deep green tomatoes and reserve them for cooking, as tomatoes that have turned from dark to light green tend to ripen better. Toss any tomatoes that are cracked, bruised, spotted, or brown into the compost pile. Also, I have found that cherry tomatoes tend to rot, rather than ripen, so I usually just compost them.
Bring the green tomatoes inside and rinse them off under a cool stream of water. Dry the tomatoes with a clean dish towel. I like to use cardboard flats to store the tomatoes as they ripen (you can pick the flats up for free from pretty much any liquor or grocery store). Layer newspaper in the bottom of each flat to soak up any juice that leaks out from tomatoes that rot. Then place the dry green tomatoes in a single layer over the paper. Leave a bit of room between each tomato to prevent bruising.
Put the flats in a warm (above 65 degrees F), dry spot. The warmer the room, the faster the tomatoes will ripen. Rotate each tomato every few days and throw out any that start to rot. As the tomatoes begin to turn red (or whatever color they are supposed to be), pull them out of the flat and set them in a warm, sunny window to finish up ripening. Tomatoes ripened indoors aren't quite as tasty as vine ripened tomatoes, but I think they are worth the effort because it is a treat to eat homegrown tomatoes all the way into November!
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Willi Galloway writes The Gardener column. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes about her kitchen garden on her blog DigginFood. Her first book Grow. Cook. Eat. A Food-Lovers Guide To Vegetable Gardening will be published in January 2012.
(Image by Willi Galloway)