Did you know that you can store green tomatoes inside when it’s too cold for them outside and they will gradually ripen? You can eat homegrown tomatoes in the winter time and stretch your canning out to the months where you actually don’t mind heating your house up with the stove.
Pick your green tomatoes
We inevitably have loads of green and partially ripened tomatoes still on the vine when the frost hits. My father-in-law, being the garden guru that he is, is a weather watcher. He lets us know when the hard freeze is threatening, so we can gather in the harvest.
The day before the frost was predicted, the kids and I went out to pick all the green tomatoes we could handle (and of course the red, yellow, and orange ones too) . Any tomatoes that are the mature size for their variety (because they aren’t going to grow inside), but are just waiting to turn color, will be just fine to bring inside to ripen. Leaving the stem and leaves intact will help prevent the tomatoes from going bad. We picked ours into boxes and bags, then brought them inside to sort.
Sort your green tomatoes
Sorting tomatoes by color is a great project for toddlers or preschoolers who are learning colors! We sorted them into three categories:
- Red and ready to use
- Starting to turn (yellows and oranges)
- Totally green
Having the tomatoes that are starting to turn separate from the completely green tomatoes will make checking the tomatoes much easier.
Store your green tomatoes
- I used short, open, flat boxes to store my tomatoes. I lined the boxes with a piece of paper grocery bag to help keep the boxes clean (yep, we even reuse boxes around here, especially for picking garden produce).
- Tomatoes should be stored in single-layers if possible. Having single layers makes checking for ripe tomatoes easier. If one tomato goes bad, it will be a bad influence, so to speak, on the surrounding tomatoes. When I ran out of shorter boxes, I successfully did a couple double-layered boxes.
- With the double-layered boxes, I made sure the bottom layer was entirely green tomatoes. I put a piece of paper bag on top of the green tomatoes and covered it with yellow and orange tomatoes that were nearly ripe. That way I wouldn’t miss any on the bottom layer ripening because the top layer was sure to ripen first.
- I stacked the boxes (alternating their direction) with the ones that were the closest to being ready on the top. I stored them on a shelf in the hallway (where I walk past a million times a day). With a cool, dry climate (our basement dwelling was perfect), tomatoes are less-likely to spoil.
- Some people say they shouldn’t be touching, but that would be a ridiculous prospect for the number of tomatoes we had. We have not had any problems with tomatoes going bad or not ripening evenly.
Use your ripe tomatoes
Every few days (or once a week), I would gather up the red tomatoes, and consolidate and re-sort the others. I washed the cherry tomatoes and put them in the plastic clam shells that we save from store-bought tomatoes and strawberries. My husband and daughter love these in their lunches. Pre-washed cherry tomatoes are a quick healthy addition to cold lunches or as snacks.
Some of the regular-sized tomatoes are used fresh on sandwiches or in salads. I freeze the rest. I wash, core and freeze them in gallon bags to can as tomato puree (for use in homemade tomato sauce or soup later). It just takes a few minutes (no scalding or peeling). Freezing the tomatoes as they ripen allows me to do all the canning at once instead of spreading the mess and work out.