Thursday, October 21, 2010

How To Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors the Really Easy Way

Green Tomato Harvest 10-17-09
Green Tomatoes Harvested on 10-17-09

While you're waiting for your green tomatoes to ripen—or if you have a lot of immature ones, which probably won't ripen—you could turn some of them into my no sugar, so easy, salsa-like green tomato relish, which is one of my most popular recipes.

Will green tomatoes get ripe and turn red after picking them (or yellow or orange, depending on the variety)? Yes.

Is it difficult to get tomatoes to ripen off the vine? No.

Do you have to pull up the whole tomato plant and bring it inside? No.

Do you have to do anything special to get green tomatoes to ripen? No.

Do they have to be kept at a specific and/or steady temperature? No.

Will tomatoes ripened indoors taste as good as vine-ripened garden tomatoes? Probably not, but any homegrown tomatoes are going to taste better than no homegrown tomatoes—especially if you're enjoying them on Thanksgiving or Christmas. And they'll still probably taste better than storebought tomatoes, especially if you're buying them at Christmas.

Green Tomatoes Ripening Indoors 11-7-09
Getting Redder by 11-7-09

I've read about all sorts of rules and tricks and special ways to get green tomatoes to ripen off the vine, including everything from hanging entire tomato plants upside down in a dark basement to wrapping each tomato individually in newspaper and gently layering them in a cardboard box with an apple or a banana.

But I'm a lazy, busy gardener, and just the thought of carefully wrapping dozens of green tomatoes in newspaper—and then unwrapping and rewrapping them every couple of days to see if they've ripened or rotted yet—makes me start to twitch. I also don't have a basement. But there's good news!

I've found that if you're willing to risk losing a few, none of this stuff is necessary.

Over the years I've learned my own green tomato ripening trick: just bring them inside and set them on the counter, and eventually they'll turn red. Yep, that's pretty much it.

How fast your green tomatoes will ripen depends on what variety they are, what stage of growth they were at when you picked them, and the what temperature and humidity they're stored at. It can take anywhere from several days to several weeks.

Some people say green tomatoes have to be shiny or they won't ever ripen. Or maybe it's that they have to not be shiny. I can't remember—and if I go looking for the information again I know I'll never finish this post, because that's what happened last October.

A lot of the ones in these photos look pretty shiny. Besides a few that inevitably rot, pretty much all the green tomatoes I've ever brought aside to ripen did eventually turn red (or yellow or orange) whether they were shiny or not.

Green San Marzano Tomatoes in the Kitchen Garden 10-15-09
San Marzano paste tomatoes in the kitchen garden on 10-15-09

Last year my tomato plants went into the ground so late that come fall, I had a lot of green tomatoes still out on the vines. Our official frost date is October 15th. On October 17th I picked as many green tomatoes as I could because a heavy frost was predicted for that night.

I used to spend countless autumn hours covering and uncovering my tomato plants with floating row cover (this stuff is great), old bedsheets and blankets, and even poly tarps to protect them from frost and cold weather in order for more tomatoes to ripen on the vine. (Tomato plants, like pepper plants and basil, will die well above freezing.) Then I finally realized something.

Green San Marzano Tomatoes Harvested 10-17-09
San Marzanos harvested on 10-17-09

You know how you're never supposed to store tomatoes in the refrigerator because it messes up their flavor and texture? Well, leaving your tomatoes out in the garden when the temperature is dropping down into the 30s and 40s means you're basically refrigerating them.

So you might as well save yourself some time (and frustration, if you forget to cover your plants and the tomatoes freeze—been there, done that) and let your green tomatoes ripen indoors where it's safe.

You want to store your unripe tomatoes somewhere that's at least 55° F. I've read that they should be kept no higher than 55°, but I don't see why. They don't grow well when it's that cool outside, and they'll simply ripen faster in warmer temperatures.

The temperature in The Shack can fluctuate wildly this time of year, and that's never seemed to bother my ripening green tomatoes either. I leave some on the kitchen counter and stick the rest out of the way in our pantry, which is steaming hot in summer and turns into a handy walk-in refrigerator during the winter. As far as I can tell, they don't need to be in the dark.

I usually just leave my green tomatoes in the big colanders and bowls I use when harvesting, but if you don't regularly pick through them, after a while you may end up with a rotted, mushy mess towards the bottom of the pile.

If you have the space and inclination, you could spread your green tomatoes out on large baking sheets so that they're not touching.

Green to Red - San Marzano Tomatoes Ripened Indoors off the Vine 11-14-09
San Marzanos on 11-14-09

Some of your indoor ripened tomatoes may end up looking a little soft and wrinkled, especially if you forget about them like I do. Not to worry.

If your tomatoes don't taste or look good enough to slice up for a salad, all you have to do is roast them—and then try not to eat the entire tray of roasted tomatoes in one sitting.

Green to Red to Quick Roasted Tomatoes
It's amazing what 30 or 40 minutes at 450° will do to the flavor.

You can use your favorite tomato roasting method, or simply toss them with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar, spread them on a heavy duty rimmed baking sheet (these Chicago Metallic commercial baking sheets are the best; I line mine with sheets of unbleached parchment paper) and roast at 450° for 30 or 40 minutes, or until you like how they look.

Green Tomatoes Harvested 10-17-09
More of my 10-17-09 green tomato harvest

So what do you do with your green tomatoes? Ripen them indoors? Fry them up in a cast iron skillet? Turn them into a dessert pie? (I've been meaning to try this.) Feed them to the chickens?

Looking for more about tomatoes? On 8/18/10, I wrote about harvesting my first tomatoes of the year from the garden and why I think every garden should have at leaset one cherry tomato plant in it, and you filled the comments section with tomato growing talk.

In September 2009, I wrote about my favorite varieties of heirloom tomatoes to grow, and a couple dozen of you shared your favorites in the comments section of
that post.

In August 2009 (ha - five days later than this year!) my first tomato was ripe, and 42 of you joined in the tomato growing conversation in the comments section of that post. (Your comments are one of the best parts about keeping a garden blog, and I apologize for not being better at replying to them.)

Other tomato growing posts are here:
9/4/08: How To Freeze Tomatoes the Really Easy Way (and Why I Don't Do Much Canning Anymore) (lots of great comments from other gardeners here)
9/23/09: My Favorite Varieties of Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow (and readers share theirs, too)

And my favorite ways to use fresh tomatoes are here:
Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip (and going on factory tours)

© 2010, the frostbitten foodie farm blog where I love October, but this year it feels weird—and not just because we put up hay, which is something we usually do in May, June, and/or July. Snuggling up to the woodstove at night and then throwing open the windows during 80° sunny days is a really odd combination.


  1. It seemed like our tomatoes too forever to turn color! These all look wonderful. Especially the ones in the oven!

  2. That's it. I'm picking them all this weekend. This covering them with sheets thing is for the birds! Thanks for the tip!

  3. I can hardly WAIT until the end of the season when I have every excuse to make your Green Tomato Relish (we call it salsa)! My son has told me it's WAY better than store bought; I need to make more this year because we went through last year's two batches rather quickly.

  4. Here is what was passed down to me through several generations of New England relatives. In the days when I grew big gardens, I would have many bags of these in the cold basement.

    Just before the frost, pick the tomatoes and wrap each one individually in newspaper. Put them in brown paper grocery bags in a dark, cool, draft free spot in the basement. (In our house, it was under the stairwell to the basement. Check for ripeness weekly.

    On Thanksgiving, we would take out some tomatoes, wash them, and ceremoniously serve them in a salad and talk about the summer and the garden...often when it was snowing outside. I never knew there was any other way to ripen them.

    Were they good? Sometimes. Was it fun to do? Yes..the kids loved it.

    I must say that your roasted tomatoes look so good!

  5. This is what I do. Read about this back in the Seventies when I first grew tomatoes. Just put them in a drawer or two. I did keep them to single layers though. I used my sideboard/hutch. Every time I opened the drawer another few had ripened. No wrapping up required.

  6. I throw all of my tomatoes into a bowl and put an apple in there with them. Every couple of days I move them around and they ripen really fast.

  7. Yup. Lazy like you and, like you, discovered that they will indeed ripen sitting in a colander on the counter.

    Though this year my plants all got some kind of fungus or something towards the end and I had a hard time even getting enough green ones to make chutney. I did get enough for one and half batches of chutney (which always kind of grossed me out, until I tasted it with a lamb curry and realized the mysterious alchemy of a curry and chutney combination--YUM), but there will be none ripening on the counter this year. Bummer.

    1. I realize this post was in 2010 but this year 2012 my tomatoes started having a fungus type spot on the bottom of them. It's some kind of blossom rot, when the tomato matures, the bottom of it turns brown and gets flat. Trick is a little more water and this is my mom's trick - she adds calcium powder around the plants. WORKS! But from 2010 to 2012, by now you probably have that problem figured out.

    2. Yes! I had blossom end rot earlier this year too (2012) and went to the Garden Center. They sold me a calcium product in a spray bottle saying if you spray it right on the tomatoes and if the problem's really bad add it to the soil too. I found that my tomatoes took off great and I didn't lose any after that day of spraying! Congrats to your mom for knowing what to do!! :)

  8. I just cook mine, love the green tomato relish

  9. I live in apple country and literally all my neighbours produce tomatoes for the juice factory in town but there is a cut off date for the factory accepting them. Anything after that is free for the picking so I come home with crateloads of greenish/ orangeish/ green tomatoes.

    I am not sure it' just because this is apple country but everyone swears by adding an apple to a bag of anything unripe- kiwifruits, peaches, pears, tomatoes- anything!

    So of course I do it too and yes, they ripen. But then so do the ones that just sit in my front entranceway waiting to be dealt with, too!

    While I agree that wait long enough and they will pretty much all ripen I think the flavour gets weaker the longer you wait. For example I am at the bottom of a crate I picked green two weeks ago and they are slowly getting more like store bought tomatoes- great lookers but bland.

    I think I will give up on the rest and try your salsa!

  10. OOooh boy do I miss growing my own tomatoes. I agree, growing your own whether they ripen on or off the vine is way better and healthier than store bought!

  11. CANNOT wait to try your salsa. Who cares about green tomatoes with this back up plan. Its like turning lemons into lemonade...

  12. my fav is just a toasted cheese and thickly sliced tomato sandwich, when I can't wait for the chutney

  13. I'll have to try that green tomato relish. You mentioned you'd like to make a green tomato pie sometime. I remember nearly 30 years ago my mother made one. She served it when some friends were over. I personally thought it tasted great, but they made so much fun of her that she said she'd never make another one. So far, she's kept that promise. I'd like to find that recipe and try it myself, but I'm pretty sure she didn't keep that one around. :-)

    Stan Horst

  14. Reading through some old gardening posts 'cause my sap is rising already. Thought I'd mention that I STILL have formerly green, now mostly yellow on the way to something pinker - tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter too, where they've been all winter. The silly things might last 'til April (!).

  15. I'm getting ready to pick my green tomatoes because there's a frost heading our way.

    Do you know what would be a good yield for 1 tomato plant? I have 4 plants and I've got 13lbs of tomatoes sitting on my counter ready to be made into salsa, I think. I've also already had several more pounds that I picked before. Does this seem like a good amount or a little on the puny side?

  16. mwandry@suddenlink.netNovember 02, 2011 10:16 AM

    my brother in East Texas had an old farmer tell him to cut his tomato plants back after our three digit summer and since they still have their root system, they will grow out again and produce fall tomatoes. He was correct. I have 35 at last count on one bush and have 4 more bushes. Two tomatoes are 3 inches in diameter, but others are smaller. Don't know whether little ones will ripen or not. Going to get to 34 degrees tonight, so guess I better pick.

  17. very useful post - Thanks for sharing this - I just picked a bunch of green ones, ones I figured were on the verge and others who may not have a chance to get any bigger before the next frost :) So on my counter they are already and shall remain


  18. I Love roasted tomatoes! I am ripening my green tomatoes from about 3 weeks ago and looking for other green tomatoes to buy. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  19. I just wanted to say that this was the best advice I ever got! I just spread my tomatoes out on the dining room table and most of them have ripened just fine. Here it is past Thanksgiving and I still have some! I feel bad about all the ones I let go to waste in the past. Thanks!

  20. I'm getting ready to order my seeds for starting indoors for my 2012 garden (I live in Dayton, Ohio). Have you changed your mind on your favorite heirloom tomatoes? Or would you add any tomatoes to your recommendations from 2009? Love your entire site, so very, very glad I happened upon it :-) Thanks for the help! Pam Bettendorf

  21. Hi Pam,
    So glad you found and are enjoying my blog. Yep, the heirloom tomato varieties listed in this 2009 post are still my favorites. And don't miss the comments section of that post, where readers kindly share their favorite heirloom tomatoes to grow. Happy growing! :)

  22. I leave my green tomatoes outside on a table until they ripen in the sun I just leave them outside for a few days and pretty soon they ripen and turn a beautiful red and the taste is sooooooooo good.My back is fenced so I don't have to worry too much about animals or people getting to my tomatoes.

  23. Green tomatoes, when I have to many I make jelly with them. Here is a recipe that I got from a man selling it.. You can use any flavor Jello.. You do not have to remove the seeds if you don't want to.

    2 cups green tomatoes, crushed
    2 cups sugar
    1 package 3 oz Jello

    1 boil green tomatoes
    2 Add sugar and bring to boil for 5 minutes
    3 remove from heat
    4 Add Jello
    5 Let stand for 24 hours

    or process in 8 oz jars for 10 minutes in water bath

  24. While I was out pinching suckers and new tomato blossoms the other day, I had accidentally knocked off a few green san marzanos. I put them on a little table in front of a sliding glass door that only gets a few hours of afternoon sun light and they are slowly but surely ripening.

    I work for an organic farm and the head of horticulture recommended that towards the end of the season you should go through and remove "suckers", which are the new vines that sprout out of where the main vines fork off, think of a tree "crotch"(unless it's a sucker that is loaded with fruit), and also remove new blossoms so that your plants will focus on what is already growing and not divert their energy towards the new growth. You will get fewer, bigger tomatoes, and not so many piddly little fellas that take forever to ripen.

    I'm also trying to ripen on the vine by taking brown paper lunch bags and fitting them over fully grown tomatoes and lightly closing them with twist ties. My garden looks like I'm growing sack lunches =) but I hope it does the trick! I have loads of the most beautiful heirloom slicers I've gotten so far this dramatically temped growing season and I want each robust beauty to make it into my kitchen! If not, news paper and box it is.

  25. My grandma, God rest her soul! She taught me the easiest way to can tomatoes EVER. This year, so far, I have 50 qts. canned. Here are the steps: Bring all your ripe ones in, put them in the sink for bath to get grass, bugs, dirt off. Have large pot of boiling water. While I am rinsing dirty tomatoes, I take stems off (garbage disposal), rinse clean. Set aside on a towel. Take as many will fit in your boiling water. Blanch for abt. 45-50 seconds ( don't over cook them). Take out of boiling water, put in cold bath in sink. Make sure jars are good and clean. Take each tomato, skin and core. Cut in qtrs to check for bugs/bad spots, and put in your jar. (Large mouth jars are easiest to work with). When your jar is full, take wet washcloth & wipe off outside of jar, outside rim on jar opening. Take paper towel, rub on the very top rim of the jar to make sure it's dry. Put your flat on, but screw around and just tighen it till it stops.Do not OVER TIGHTEN. Again, wipe jar off so anything that may have spilled won't smell when it gets hot. Repeat above process. After you have all jars filled and lids/rims on, place the qt jars in a COLD oven, trying not to let jars touch. Then you bake at 250 degrees for 90 minutes. Shut oven off, leave jars in oven and they seal BEAUTIFULLY. I just don't like to cook all the good stuff out of them. These turn out so nice and great for chili, spaghetti sauce or heat up and eat with salt and pepper. Some people will add onions, peppers, etc. while canning, but I always add things like that when I use the jar. Saves steps to add anything when you get ready to use them. In my car right now, I have probably about 50 more qts to do but since I have let many people try them years earlier, now I have to try to get as many canned as possible. Only way to make chili. Anyway, thought I would add my 2¢ worth.

    1. This is very interesting. I've never heard of this method of canning tomatoes, but would it not be better to remove the skin and core before canning? Your thoughts please.

    2. The instructions do include skinning and coring:

      Make sure jars are good and clean. Take each tomato, skin and core. Cut in qtrs to check for bugs/bad spots, and put in your jar.

      But processing jars of food in the oven (rather than in a water bath canner on the stovetop) is not considered safe by the USDA, so you may not want to risk trying this method.

  26. what do i do and fastest way to store green tomatoes very overwhelming(40 lbs.)

    1. Maybe it's too late but what I did this Fall (Iowa) is put them on trays in my garage and checked every few days for ripening. It's worked out great. Just today I brought in the last few! I'd never done it before but this will be a yearly event now!!

  27. We have beautiful, almost ripe tomatoes that we bring in and turn stem side down on the counter to finish ripening. However, after a day or two, brownish/blackish spots start to form and they begin to rot from those spots.

  28. Pick the tomatoes when they are light orange. Put them in a colender STEM SIDE UP in a single row and they will ripen in about three days. I did this because my Early Girl tomatoes were being eaten by rats and/or squirrels.

  29. I picked few organish tomatoes figured I would finish ripping inside.....really gross blacks whole s with some bug inside....I don't want to have all of my tomatoes ruined.... what should I do. This is my 1st year as a gardener, loving it & seeing many mistakesI have made with my placement & container sizes but GROSS BUGS. Can you help please...what about soap spray

    Thank you

    1. Hi Terese,
      Congratulations on your first year as a gardener! It sounds like the bugs were already in the tomatoes when you brought them inside. I would throw out the infested tomatoes. When tomatoes get over ripe they can form dark round spots on the skin - or the holes could be made from the bugs. Any tomatoes that still look fine will probably be okay. You could always try cutting one open to see if there is anybody living inside. The thing about gardening is that even the pests know how good homegrown bounty tastes! :)

  30. Try this:

    Green Tomato Mincemeat

    1 1/2 pints peeled, chopped tart apples
    1 pint chopped green tomatoes
    2 tsp cinnamon
    1/4 cup vinegar
    3 cps sugar
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp allspice
    1 tsp cloves
    16 oz. raisins
    1 cup chopped suet (and you need to use true suet, not the regular fat on the outside of a cut of meat--ask your butcher.)

    Mix all ingredients together and bring to a rapid boil. Simmer until thick. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Makes 5-6 pints.

    I got this recipe from my grandmother, who had converted the original recipe into amounts that were more manageable and in language I understood. I've also doubled and tripled the recipe to give the jars or pies to friends.

    After grandma died, I got her 1935 edition of the Household Searchlight Recipe Book and I found the recipe in there. There are all kinds of great recipes in it, including this one, and it's another window into a past that I heard many family stories about: being young marrieds with babies during the Depression. The original recipes in the book has all sorts of weird measurements like pecks, or even no measurements at all, just a list of ingredients you add to taste. It's a lot of fun to read and decipher.

    Also, my grandmother, believe it or not, did not know how to cook when she married at 17. She got the cookbook as a wedding gift from my grandfather's sister. My grandma wrote a note inside the cover saying that her sister-in-law felt sorry for granddad because grandma couldn't boil water without burning the pot :-D

    I jar this recipe into pints to make it easier to use it in other dishes. I use two pints to make a mincemeat pie, one pint to make tarts or mincemeat cookies, etc. And I usually just decant it into clean, sterilized HOT jars, put the lids and bands on and let them cool. They store safely for years that way: I found that out by accident when I found a jar labeled '1998' in the back of the pantry! It made great cookies :)

    This is really a great recipe and, if you like mincemeat, you'll love what you can do with this.

  31. I have crates full of green tomatoes that I have been slowly ripening in my garage since I picked them almost 2 weeks ago. Every day I collect another 5 lbs or so that have ripened nicely. My question is...can you safely can these tomatoes the way you would with vine ripened tomatoe

    1. Hi Angela,
      I don't see why not. Most tomato canning recipes have you add a little lemon juice or ascorbic acid to each jar to ensure the tomatoes have enough acidity, which I would do with your garage-ripened tomatoes. And, as with all tomato canning recipes, if you add other, low-acid ingredients, you'll want to include enough vinegar or lemon juice to increase the acidity (or use a pressure canner).

    2. I'm late in replying to this, but you certainly may can them just like vine ripened tomatoes. I like to make various salsa recipes for canning with them as well. Sorry for using anonymous, but I'm not a member, just a reader.


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!