Every September (sometimes October), we have end of season tomato plants loaded with tomatoes, and frost on the way. Waste not, want not, so all the usable green tomatoes get brought inside (or covered, depending on the forecast).
We'll share our super easy way to ripen green tomatoes, plus a few other popular methods and green tomato recipes.
This article focuses more on green tomatoes left at the end of the growing season. For troubleshooting problems during the growing season, see, “4 Reasons Your Tomatoes Are Not Ripening and How You Can Help“.
The Easiest Way to Ripen Green Tomatoes
We grow a LOT of tomatoes, so we use a simple option to ripen our end of the season green tomatoes.
- Harvest green tomatoes from the garden before frost hits.
- Spread tomatoes in a single layer in a shallow cardboard box, removing any that are damaged or show signs of spoiling.
- Keep box at normal room temperature until tomatoes are fully ripened.
Don't let your tomatoes freeze, and do not store them below 55°F (13°C). Once tomatoes drop below 55°F, they stop producing an enzyme that improves the tomato flavor – permanently. This is why end of season tomatoes grown in cooler temperatures taste so bland. Cold temperatures also make tomatoes mealy in texture – they need warmth for full flavor.
We store some of our end of season tomatoes in the garage to slow down ripening. (Since they are already bland, the flavor doesn't change significantly.)
We keep most of these tomatoes for the duckies, who regard tomatoes as one of their favorite treats. (Pearly Pink cherry tomatoes tend to hold very well in storage.) We use other late season red tomatoes to make homemade ketchup or tomato soup. Long, slow cooking improves the flavor.
Watch out for stems. If they come off easily, it's good to remove them so they don't poke other tomatoes. BUT – with certain varieties of tomatoes, you damage the tomato when you remove the stem.
With the tomatoes spread out in shallow containers, it's easy to see if any start to spoil. If you have lots of room, leave space between the fruit so one mushy tomato doesn't ruin others.
You can stack the tomatoes a little, but be careful. It's almost always the fruit in the bottom that rots first and makes a mess.
Some people wrap individual tomatoes in newspaper and pack them in boxes, but I don't like this option. It's hard to see when the tomatoes are ripe, and if any are spoiling.
We don't wash our tomatoes before spreading them out to ripen. Too much moisture will make them more prone to mold. If you're trying to salvage tomatoes from diseased, damaged, or dirty plants, it's okay to wash them, but dry them thoroughly.
When You Want Ripe Tomatoes Faster
If you need to speed up the ripening process, a paper bag and ethylene gas boost may do the trick.
Tomatoes produce ethylene gas as they ripen. If we put unripe tomatoes in a closed container (like a paper bag) with another fruit that produces even more ethylene gas (like a ripe banana or apple), we can speed up ripening.
A study compared fruit ripened with ethylene, oxygen, and light treatments. The ethylene treated fruit had an increase in beta carotene and lycopene compared to controls.
If you don't have a paper bag handy, put the fruit in a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. (We want our tomatoes to be able to breath, so don't put them in a tightly sealed container or plastic bag.) With an apple or banana close by, you'll go from green to red tomatoes at top speed.
Ripening Tomatoes in a Windowsill
You can also ripen green tomatoes by placing them in a sunny windowsill. This works best if you have only a few tomatoes, and they are close to being ripe.
Extended exposure to direct sunlight toughens the skins of the tomatoes, and will dry them out over time. (Sun dried tomatoes, anyone?) Too much sun with tomatoes that are too unripe, and they'll dry before they turn red.
The blossom end is firmer than the stem end, so keep tomatoes stem side up. (With our long paste tomatoes, we store them on their sides.)
Vine Ripening Tomatoes by Pulling the Entire Plant
Some people ripen green tomatoes by pulling the entire plant and hanging it upside down in a garage or shed. In theory, this method of ripening tomatoes on the vine improves the flavor.
For us, the mess isn't worth it. We're growing tomato plants that are usually 6-7 feet tall and very bushy. That's a lot of foliage to wrestle, especially since the vines from neighboring plants often tangle together.
If you want to try it, clip the tomato off at ground level to leave the dirt in the garden. You probably want to place a layer of newspaper or sheet of cardboard below the plant to catch ripening fruits and debris.
Be careful, because bringing plants in from the garden also brings in mold and bacteria. These have a place in the garden, but a slowly dying plant inside will spread them where they don't belong.
Saving End of Season Tomatoes from Frost in the Garden
Sometimes you can protect your plants enough to ripen green tomatoes in the garden. If the forecast only has one or two nights below freezing with more warm weather predicted, it might be worth it to cover the plants.
Keep in mind what I mentioned earlier about temperature. Once it gets cool outside, tomatoes get bland, so they might taste better picked and ripened inside. Also, even if the temperature drops close to freezing, but doesn't freeze, it might still kill or damage the plants.
When frost threatens, use blankets or row covers for quick plant protection. For more options, see “Protecting Plants from Frost“.
Try Out Some Green Tomato Recipes
You may not need to ripen green tomatoes at all, as there are plenty of recipes that use green tomatoes. My friend, Ann, cans her tomatoes green to make fried green tomatoes all year round. See “Canning Sliced Green Tomatoes for Frying” to see how she does it.
Other options include:
Start hunting around and you'll find tons of green tomato recipes!
To Ripen or Not to Ripen?
Do you ripen green tomatoes, or use them green? Did I miss your favorite green tomato recipe or ripening tip? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
More Tomato Tips
- Tomato Flowers But No Fruit, or No Tomato Flowers – 9 Troubleshooting Tips
- 7 Steps to Stop Blossom End Rot & Get Rid of Black Bottomed Tomatoes
- How to Save Tomato Seeds – Easy to Follow Guide