It never fails. Sometime in October, the weather forecaster will announce a frost warning. I can kiss all of my beautiful peppers, eggplants, melons, and tomatoes good-bye. It is a depressing time of year for me.
You can try to stave off the death of your tender plants by covering them with blankets or floating row covers. This will buy them a few degrees of warmth--sometimes, that's all they need to keep growing for a couple more weeks.
But when the time comes to give in to fate, that winter is coming whether I like it or not, I head out to the garden with a big bowl to harvest every last tomato. Whether they're slightly pink, yellowish, or solid green, I pick them. Not a single tomato goes to waste in this household.
The tomatoes that are already turning color will be set on the kitchen counter to finish ripening. They'll be tasty - almost as tasty as those that ripened on the vine.
But, what to do with all of those green tomatoes that were left on the plants? These, too, will ripen over the next few months if stored properly. They won't be as tasty, or as juicy, as the ones I enjoyed all summer long. But they will be real tomatoes from my own garden, and still insanely better than anything I can buy in the supermarket from November through May.
How to Ripen Tomatoes Indoors
There are two methods for ripening tomatoes indoors. The first involves pulling up the entire plant and hanging it in a cool, dark place while the remaining tomatoes ripen. This is a fun method, but I just don't have room to hang tomato plants in my house or garage.
I like the second method for ripening green tomatoes. Here's how I do it:
1. Cut the green tomatoes off of the vine with pruners. Don't pull them off, because if the stem pulls off of the fruit, you'll generally end up seeing the fruit start to rot where the stem used to be.
2. Wash your green tomatoes, and let them dry completely.
3. Wrap each tomato in a sheet of newspaper or tissue paper.
4. Pack the wrapped tomatoes in a box, up to two layers deep.
5. Store the box of green tomatoes in a cool, dry area. An unheated basement, insulated garage, or enclosed porch would work very well.
6. Check the tomatoes every week. Remove any that are starting to ripen, and let them finish ripening on your kitchen counter. Also, check the tomatoes for signs of rot. Any rotting tomatoes should be removed.
This method will provide you with the occasional ripe tomato for several weeks into the fall and winter. Just imagine having ripe 'Brandywines' "fresh" from your garden in January!
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