When the first frost comes in September or October, my tomato plants are often still heavy with fruit. If I’m not planning to cover my plants to extend their growing season, I still rush home from work to pick the tomatoes before the frost kills them.
The ripe tomatoes are easy to use up. The green ones–and often there are many more of these–aren’t so obviously easy to use.
Here are three things you can do with your green tomatoes.
One: Try to ripen them
Green tomatoes ripen best when they would have ripened soon on the plant anyways. If they are not yet full size, or not close to ripening, it may be better to find another use.
If possible, I harvest my green tomatoes for ripening with the stem still attached. Because the frost will kill the tomato plant anyways, there’s no reason to be gentle with the vines.
I line a tray or half sheet baking pan with newspaper. I then spread the green tomatoes out in a single layer and cover them with more newspaper. If you don’t subscribe to the paper try parchment, brown paper grocery bags, or any other large sheets of paper.
I set the covered tomatoes in a cool dry place and check them every couple of days. Checking the green tomatoes every few days is important, because you’ll want to remove (and use) tomatoes as they ripen. Some of the tomatoes may rot. These should also be removed as soon as possible.
Two: Fry them
Not everyone likes fried green tomatoes. When I made them as an experiment last year, I liked them just fine. But my husband and kids wouldn’t try them.
If you like fried green tomatoes, making this unusual side-dish is a good way to use green tomatoes up. To make them, slice the green tomatoes. Dip them in beaten egg and then in a seasoned flour-cornmeal mixture. Fry them in oil or bacon grease. Many recipes call for a generous amount of oil, as much as one cup (250 dL). Consequently, fried green tomatoes may not be for you if you’re a member of Weight Watchers.
If you’re interested in this old fashioned Southern dish, check out Big Oven for more details and popular recipes.
Three: Pickle, preserve, or can them
Decades ago, pickling summer produce was essential in thrifty households. Because foods that are low in acid, in other words, many vegetables, are more difficult to can safely, many recipes were developed for pickled vegetables and relishes.
The vinegar adds acidity, lowering the pH of the food to be preserved. This makes it safe to can the food in a boiling-water bath. Pickling was also used to preserve food before home-canning was an option.
The Ball Blue Book of Preserving, popular with home canners, lists recipes for curried apple chutney made with a generous amount of green tomatoes, green tomato relish (piccalilli), dilled tomatoes, and pickled green tomatoes. Chow chow relish, an old-fashioned mixed-vegetable relish, is often made with green tomatoes, as well as other vegetables.
These relishes and pickles can be interesting condiments useful for spicing up meats, fish, or bean and rice dishes in the winter months. Canning and preserving extra produce gives you the chance to “open up summer-in-a-jar” come January. But it canning and preserving is a lot of work, and is best as a weekend project or spread over several evenings.
This past weekend, I made and canned a chutney with green tomatoes and apples from my back yard. Though the flavors of the chutney won’t mature for a few more weeks, it already has an interesting (and very strong) sweet and sour taste.