Such a shame! My tomatoes have finally succumbed to blight and it’s only a matter of days now before they’ll be totally dead. All is not lost though, as we’re about to find out.
Hi, I’m Ben, and if you’re faced with a sudden glut of green tomatoes – whether because of blight, a late start, an impending frost or perhaps storm damage – there are some handy tricks you can use to rescue your tomatoes.
Pick and Sort Your Tomatoes
When temperatures start to drop and there’s no chance of fruits ripening further (or if they’re at risk of being consumed by blight), it’s time to harvest all of the fruits that are left on your plants. Cut off whole trusses of fruits, and handle them with care so as not to bruise them.
With that done, the next step is to check through your haul of fruits. Any that show signs of disease should be removed and discarded. They won’t keep and won’t make good eating either. Any fruits that are simply damaged should be set aside for immediate use.
Now separate your healthy, clean tomatoes into two piles. Those that are showing any hint of colour (usually at the blossom end of the fruit) have a good chance of ripening indoors, off the vine. Full-sized, darker green fruits may also ripen but will take a little longer – up to several weeks. The second pile of tomatoes are paler green. There’s next to no chance of these ripening to maturity, but the good news is you can use them up in some green tomato recipes – more on that later!
Ripening Green Tomatoes
So how do you ripen tomatoes without them being attached to the plant? One of the simplest ways to do this is to place them in a paper bag or lidded cardboard box along with a ripe banana. Most ripe fruits give off ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening of nearby fruits, and bananas are especially good at emitting ethylene. It’s a common misconception that tomatoes need sunlight to ripen – it’s actually warmth that does the trick.
Fruits that already showing some colour will ripen just fine simply left on the countertop at room temperature, out of direct sunshine. But again, adding that banana will help to hurry things along.
If you have lots of green tomatoes, you can stagger ripening by keeping the bulk of your underripe tomatoes in a cool, dark and – crucially – dry place to reduce the risk of them going mouldy. Aim for a temperature of around 50-55ºF (10-13ºC) and then, when you need them, bring them up to room temperature to ripen up.
Check out our video on ripening green tomatoes for more tips.
Fried Green Tomatoes
With your ripening hopefuls sorted, it’s time to use up your other green tomatoes, starting with a Southern soul food classic: fried-green tomatoes. Firm, underripe tomatoes are perfect for this as they’ll hold their shape when fried.
Let’s get cooking! Start with three bowls: one filled with a quarter cup (30g) of plain or all-purpose flour, one with two beaten eggs, and the third with another quarter cup (30g) of flour mixed with a half cup (65g) of cornmeal. If you can’t find cornmeal, polenta will do, and I like to add a good pinch of cayenne pepper to this mix for a spicy kick.
Prepare three or four standard-sized tomatoes by slicing them into quarter inch (0.5cm) thick slices, then season both sides with salt and pepper.
Now the fun part! Dust each slice in the flour, shake off the excess, then dip it into the egg. Allow any excess to drip off, then coat in the cornmeal mix. Repeat for each slice, keeping one hand for the dry coatings, and the other for the wet.
Pour a quarter inch (0.5cm) layer of oil into a frying pan or heavy-bottomed skillet. Heat the oil up so it’s nice and hot, then lay the tomato slices into the oil. Fry till the undersides are golden brown then flip them over to fry off the topside. Each side should take a couple of minutes. Fry in a single layer, in batches and remove the fried slices onto a paper towel-lined plate to soak up the excess oil. Enjoy your crunchy fried green tomatoes with a hot sauce, salsa, or as an accompaniment to fried meats or shrimp. Just yum!
Green Tomato Chutney
And how about this classic green tomato chutney – pop it onto crackers, serve with cheeses, dollop onto curries or give it away as the perfect home-grown gift! Full credit to garden writer Barbara Pleasant for sharing this easy recipe, which uses plenty of spices for a crackingly rich, moreish taste.
It’s simple to make, because all the ingredients are simply boiled up in a single, heavy-bottomed saucepan or stockpot. And here are the ingredients:
- 4 cups (approximately 1 liter) of chopped green tomatoes
- A diced green pepper
- 2 chopped-up apples or pears
- An optional hot chilli pepper, chopped
- 1 medium diced onion
- 3 cloves of minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, minced
- The rind and juice of one large lemon
- Half a cup (120ml) of white or rice wine vinegar
- Half a cup (120ml) of sugar
- A half teaspoon of salt
- A half teaspoon of coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
- ¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon, allspice and turmeric
Warm it all up on a medium to high heat, stirring continuously until it comes to the boil. Then turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour until the chutney is reduced to a pleasingly thick consistency. Don’t forget to stir from time to time so it doesn’t stick, especially as it thickens.
Spoon the chutney into hot, sterilised jars and leave to cool. Keep the chutney in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or, to extend its lifespan to up to two years, process in a water bath. Watch our video on water bath canning for full instructions on how to do this.