When an early freeze threatened in mid-October, I was forced to harvest dozens of green tomatoes on my tomato plants. It turns out, I had 40 pounds worth and no idea what to do with them.
You see, I am a southern gardener in the hot and humid southeast, and it’s a rare thing for me to still have tomatoes in my garden in October. Early blight and septoria leaf spot usually end my season by August. But even if I still have tomato plants in late summer, I’ve usually had my fill of canning tomatoes and I’m ready to move on.
But the summer of 2022 was unlike any other summer. Prolonged, extreme heat prevented the tomatoes from fruiting during the peak of tomato season, meaning I had fewer tomatoes to can. But also, seven weeks of no rain held the fungal diseases at bay. That meant, by September and October, my tomato plants rebounded in a way I’ve never seen in my decade of vegetable gardening.
In early October, I topped off those tomato plants, thinking I’d have a full month to get them to ripen before our average first frost date of November 1st. But when an early freeze of 26 degrees arrived two weeks before that, I was faced with a 40-pound bumper crop of green tomatoes.
What could I do with 40 pounds of green tomatoes?
I asked my garden community, specifically those who receive my emails each Friday with garden tips and ideas. Usually, I’m the one providing the garden how-to’s, but this time I was able to learn from them.
In fact, I received so many great ideas that I thought it would be fun to compile those ideas here.
Ripen up indoors
For those of us who want red tomatoes, not green ones, here are techniques others have used to ripen them long after a freeze has taken out the plant.
I know it sounds crazy, but put your green tomatoes in a box (or in your case, several boxes), close it, and check it in a week or so. Add a banana to the box to speed things up if you want. After a week, check every few days to remove any spoiled tomatoes and any ripening ones. I tried it for the first time this year in Michigan, and so far, most my solid, hard green tomatoes are ripening! I’d heard about this trick, but I never believed that it would work until I saw it with my own eyes.Susan
Northern gardener here 🙂 (Montana) Our tomatoes always get sorted by stage of ripeness into different boxes, any blemished ones removed. Layer them in the boxes, each single layer separated by newspaper or something similar, keeping a bit of the vine on where possible, then put them somewhere dark and relatively cool, like under a bed or in a dark room in the basement. Check every so often for ripening, and process all of the red ones as they come!Tanae
I picked 17 lbs of green tomatoes (San Marzano, White Tomesol and Roma) two weeks ago and 372 sweet cherry 100’s. What I usually do is wrap each tomato in newspaper and place them in a cardboard box. This year I just put them all in a cardboard box and closed it up, I will check weekly to see how they are ripening. Then it’s back to canning.Perri
I don’t know if you have tried this, but I pick the green tomatoes with some of the green branch still attached. I clip the branches upside down to metal clothes hangers using small binder clips. I then hang the clothes hangers in my garage. Since you have a greenhouse, I am sure that would work better. The tomatoes will ripen and you can enjoy vine ripe tomatoes in the winter. I live in Oregon, so our growing season is not that long.Barbara
One idea I found when I was in elementary school came from a kids science book worked — more or less. The idea was to put an apple in a paper bag and put the green tomatoes in a circle around it. Close the bag and keep it somewhere dark. I did try this and while it sort of worked, I hadn’t told my mom I was doing this and I forgot about it under my bed until the next time I cleaned under my bed…. The good part was I figured out why my room smelled weird 😉 Needless to say my mom wasn’t super happy about that and I never tried it again while living at home 🙂Bethany
My mother used to wipe them to make sure they were clean and dry then wrap them in newspapers and placed them in a flat box (the kind they put strawberries in) then slide it under a bed .She would check them once in a while for any rotten tomatoes. She had tomatoes ripening right up til Christmas.Fred
I brought mine into my basement where it’s dark. I lined a shelf with newspaper and covered them with more newspapers. This is my first year I’ve done this and they’re already ripening! I have so many that I have one shelf of cherries, one of Romas, and one of slicing tomatoes!Jessie
Canning Green Tomatoes
From green tomato salsa verde to relish to chutneys, gardeners have always been a creative bunch, looking for ways to make the most out of everything they harvest.
I would recommend, before canning green tomatoes, you read this well-researched article about canning green tomatoes safely.
I usually have a 5 gal. bucket that I give to my neighbor gal and she makes the best sweet relish out of them. Also adding some of my spare jalapeños to some of her jars making a splendid and very tasty spicy relish and my very favorite indeed.Jack
My grandmother in North Dakota had 8 kids and my grandfather was the town mechanic. They were very poor and little gardening (nothing too expansive as they didn’t have a large yard). One thing she did was to use green tomatoes to make jam. When she paired them with something like strawberries or raspberries you didn’t seem to notice the tomato seeds. I also think she used flavored gelatin when she couldn’t get fruit easily.Bethany
Although I now live in California, I used to live in Ohio. We often had bumper crops of green tomatoes to harvest before the first hard frost. We made green tomato relish and sold it to neighbors.Chris
We had early freeze this week, too. My sister just picked her little bucket of green tomatoes and bell peppers, onions and made green tomato relish. Many people eat it with fish, etc.Nora
Make green tomato salsa taste like tomatillo salsa that’s what we do here in Ohio. (Green Tomato Salsa Verde recipe)Antwon
Cooking Green Tomatoes
Different regions have different preferences — from southern fried green tomatoes to chutneys in the north. But we can all learn from each other and maybe try something new!
I had to also pick all my green tomatoes. Not nearly 40 lbs! I looked online for ideas. You probably know about green tomato relish. I’ve made green tomato pie before. I don’t recommend. 😊 However, I did read about roasting them. I did so in quarters with some other vegetables with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. They were delicious!Becky
Green tomatoes make great pickles. My mother makes Green Tomato Chow. Other more southern people make fried green tomatoes. I’m going to try my hand at my mother’s chow recipe with the very small batch of tomatoes I got this year.Sarah
We had a lot of green tomatoes last year. we cut them up and froze in ziplocs and discovered we could use them like zucchini etc in soups, omelets, hashes etc.Karen
Finally, Sarah was kind enough to share a family recipe with us. Though the written recipe says, “bottle and cap” — which would mean to water bath can, I’m including this in the “cooking” section because it’s not a “tested” recipe for canning. Because it has a vinegar base, though, I would imagine it would keep well in the refrigerator for several months, like refrigerator pickles.
Maybe you discovered — like I did — that there are many ways you can use green tomatoes! I’m sure there are many more! If you have a favorite, post it in the comments section below!
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