If you’re a home gardener with an overabundance of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, you may be wondering what to do with the surplus harvest. Green tomatoes are unripe fruits that have not yet developed full color or sweetness, but they are still edible and can be used in a variety of ways. There are many delicious options for enjoying green tomatoes and preventing good food from going to waste.
Why do I have so many green tomatoes?
There are a few common reasons you may end up with lots of unripened green tomatoes at the end of the season:
- Early frost – Cool weather or an early frost can halt ripening and turn maturing tomatoes green overnight.
- Over planting – It’s easy to overestimate how many tomato plants you need, leaving lots of unripe tomatoes on the vines at season’s end.
- Deteriorating plants – Old, diseased tomato plants often stop producing ripe fruit but still generate green tomatoes.
- Fall rains – Cool, wet weather in fall can delay ripening and cause tomatoes to remain green on the vine.
Can I let green tomatoes ripen off the vine?
Yes, you can often ripen green tomatoes indoors once they are picked. To ripen green tomatoes, follow these steps:
- Select only firm, healthy green tomatoes showing signs of ripening like a pink blush.
- Set the green tomatoes out on a counter or shelf at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.
- Check the tomatoes daily for signs of ripening like color change.
- Once ripe, use immediately or store in the refrigerator.
The time required for green tomatoes to ripen varies from a few days up to 2-3 weeks depending on maturity and conditions. Adding a ripening agent like ethylene gas or a banana can speed up the process but isn’t required.
Should I just throw out excess green tomatoes?
Throwing away loads of unripe green tomatoes may seem wasteful, but these fruits are quite useful. Many recipes and preservation methods make delicious use of green tomatoes. With some creativity in the kitchen, you can transform a surplus harvest into tasty meals and snacks. Preserved green tomatoes also make unique gifts from the garden.
What are the best uses for green tomatoes?
Here are some of the top ways to put abundant green tomatoes to good use:
Fried Green Tomatoes
Frying slices of green tomato in oil or butter results in a tasty Southern favorite, perfect as a side dish or appetizer. Dredge slices in flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs before frying.
Green tomatoes are the key ingredient in salsa verde, a zesty Mexican dip or sauce made with tomatillos and green tomatoes. Add onions, jalapenos, cilantro, and lime juice.
Green Tomato Chutney
Cook chopped green tomatoes with vinegar, onions, raisins, and warm spices like ginger and cumin to make a sweet-tart green tomato chutney. Enjoy with cheese and crackers.
Pickled Green Tomatoes
Preserve crunchy green tomato slices or chunks in vinegar brine flavored with garlic, dill, and other herbs. Refrigerate pickled green tomatoes to enjoy for weeks.
Green Tomato Cake
Shredded green tomatoes lend moisture and bright flavor to sweet quick breads and cakes. Fold into cake batter or muffins in place of apples or zucchini.
Green Tomato Soup
For a creamy chilled soup, puree cooked green tomatoes with onions, broth, and cream. Garnish with fresh basil or dill.
Green Tomato Jam
Cook chopped green tomatoes with sugar and lemon juice until thickened into a tangy sweet jam. Process in a water bath canner for long-term storage.
Green Tomato Pie
Bake green tomatoes in a flaky pastry crust for a twist on traditional apple pie. Spice the filling with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
How should I preserve surplus green tomatoes?
If you find yourself overwhelmed with green tomatoes, extend their shelf life and prevent waste by preserving them. Here are some easy methods for putting up green tomatoes:
Green tomatoes are low in acidity, so it’s important to use a pressure canner for safe long-term storage. Process sliced or crushed tomatoes with added lemon juice or citric acid.
Cut out cores and freeze whole green tomatoes for several months. Or cook diced tomatoes before freezing for use in soups, sauces, and more.
Preserve crisp texture and tangy flavor in brined green tomato pickles. Refrigerate for 2-3 weeks or process sealed jars for shelf-stable storage.
Dehydrate thin slices of green tomato in a food dehydrator or low oven. Store dried tomatoes in oil or season and grind into powder.
Canning Green Tomato Salsa
Pressure can diced green tomatoes with onions, peppers, and cilantro in a zesty salsa verde. Enjoy a taste of summer year-round.
Are green tomatoes safe to eat?
Yes, green tomatoes are completely edible and safe to consume. In fact, unripe green tomatoes have some benefits over their fully ripe red counterparts:
- More tart flavor – Green tomatoes have a pleasing sourness that balances rich or spicy dishes.
- Firm texture – The crisp flesh of green tomatoes holds up well when cooked or canned.
- High pectin – Lots of natural pectin makes green tomatoes perfect for jams and preserves.
- Increased nutrients – Green tomatoes have higher levels of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium than ripe red tomatoes.
The green color and sour taste come from higher concentrations of organic acids in unripe fruit. These acids decrease as chloroplasts convert chloroplasts convert chlorophyll to red carotenoids during ripening. Green tomatoes are simply an earlier stage of tomato growth.
Tips for handling green tomatoes
To make the most of a big green tomato harvest, keep these handling tips in mind:
- Store unwashed green tomatoes at 55-70°F to slow further ripening.
- Use green tomatoes soon after picking for best flavor and texture.
- Cut out any bruised spots or damaged areas on tomatoes before using.
- Remove the core, stem scar, and blossom ends to reduce bitterness.
- Drip tomatoes briefly in boiling water to loosen skins for peeling.
- Freeze cooked tomato products in rigid plastic containers, glass jars, or freezer bags.
What’s the best green tomato variety?
Most green tomato varieties are simply unripe fruits of regular tomato cultivars. However, some types are especially suited for using green:
‘Green Zebra’ – Small fruits with light green and yellow stripes. Sweet flavor.
‘Cherokee Green’ – Medium-sized and bright green. Mild and meaty.
‘Green Giant’ – Very large, deep green fruits. Low bitterness.
‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ – Pale green beefsteak-type. Sweet and tart.
‘Tommy Toe’ – Marble-sized green fruits in clusters. Crunchy texture.
Heirloom varieties like ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ and ‘Cherokee Green’ are especially flavorful when harvested green.
Don’t let unripened green tomatoes go to waste at the end of the growing season. With this guide, you now have lots of tasty options for using up a green tomato surplus. Try your hand at fried green tomatoes, green tomato jam, or other creative recipes. Preserve crunchy slices by pickling or canning for nutritious homemade meals all year long. With proper handling and storage, abundant green tomatoes can be transformed into delicious treats your whole family will enjoy.