Green is good: Don't give up on tomatoes if they aren't ripeIt’s been a crazy year. Winter was unseasonably cold, and there was above-average snowfall. Spring ended cool and wet, with gardeners and farmers struggling to get their planting done. Plus, summer wasn’t nearly as nice as most of us would have wanted.
By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald
It’s been a crazy year. Winter was unseasonably cold, and there was above-average snowfall. Spring ended cool and wet, with gardeners and farmers struggling to get their planting done. Plus, summer wasn’t nearly as nice as most of us would have wanted.
And to top it off, we’ve had near-record highs this month. It could go down as warmest September on record in Grand Forks. Temperatures have hit 80 or higher more times in September than any other summer month.
The recent warm — and fairly dry — weather has been a blessing for farmers who are wrapping up a good harvest. And for gardeners who’ve been waiting patiently for their vegetables to ripen, it’s also been a boon.
But despite the recent trend, many people still have a lot of green tomatoes in their gardens. That point was brought up when I spoke recently to a group from the Greater Grand Forks Dietetics Association. Several dietitians were wondering what they could do with the fat-free orbs that usually are red by now and suggested I write something about it.
I’ve been fortunate this summer, since my garden was in earlier than most, and we’ve been eating tomatoes since the beginning of August. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have green tomatoes.
On the contrary, we have our share of unripe tomatoes, just like every fall. Most years, I collect the mature green ones (those with a glossy, whitish green fruit color), put them on a table in our basement kitchen/pantry and cover them with newspapers. (Those I pick come from strong healthy vines, are disease-free and have no insect damage.) Eventually, they ripen. It’s my version of placing them in paper bags.
Here’s the reason for doing this. As the covered tomatoes ripen, the gas ethylene is given off, is trapped in the bag and permeates the tomatoes’ tissue. That triggers all sorts of reactions in the tomatoes, including making them softer and redder — or ripening them. (Some people even put apples, pears and bananas in a bag with tomatoes, since they also produce ethylene and can speed up the ripening.)
Here are a couple of other ripening tips:
— If you have a cool, moderately humid room, simply place tomatoes on a shelf.
— Store tomatoes in boxes, one to two layers deep, or in plastic bags with a few holes for air circulation.
— Keep fruit out of direct sunlight.
— Green, mature tomatoes, stored at 65 to 70 degrees, will ripen in about two weeks. Cooler temps slow the ripening process. At 55 degrees, they will ripen in three to four weeks. Storage temperatures lower than 50 degrees will slow ripening, but results in inferior quality.
Nutritionally, red and green tomatoes are remarkably similar, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database. They have about the same amount of fiber, calories and beta carotene. Green ones have three times more calcium, but the red ones lead in folates. And the greens have slightly more vitamin C, the reds a bit more potassium.
As far as suggestions for using green tomatoes in recipes, a friend told me his son-in-law made a wonderful green tomato apple pie, which I would like to try (recipe at www.grandforksherald.com/event/tag/group/Features/tag/ food/). And I’ve also found a couple of fried green tomato recipes that look like they’re worth making, including one with shrimp.
Of course, my preference still is to ripen the tomatoes, so I can use them in salsa or for juice. They aren’t as flavorful as the vine-ripened ones, but compared with store-bought ones, there’s still no contest.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.