Hello fellow readers, On August 7th, I proudly announced Happy First Tomato! Excited chipmunks didn’t get the first bite, the fate of all my tomato attempts in years past. I displayed my single bounty for a few days on the windowsill before I indulged in its fantastic flavor (please don’t laugh :^)
Since then, no other tomato has come to ripen thanks to the rock wall residents who have left the remains of three or more each morning. As if to say, that’s what you get for coveting the one ripe tomato we left for you. The truth is, if they ate the whole darn thing, I’d be less upset- The slaughter would be somewhat hidden, and at least the food isn’t wasted.
Cal from East Stroudsburg, PA, reminded me of a preemptive approach. He asked if he picked tomatoes green and ripened them inside would they be just as good as vine-ripened ones. Yes indeed! Tomatoes are one of the only vegetables (actually, they’re a fruit) which you can pick before they wholly ripen. They may be better as picking early can prevent splitting or bruising and allows you control over the ripening process.
Tomatoes cannot ripen unless they reach their full size, known as the mature green stage. If picked before, they are less flavorful, meaning they taste like cardboard, such as those customarily bought off-season at the supermarket. There’s a fine line when picking tomatoes at the mature green stage and picking too early. The best way to tell is to sacrifice one just when it turns a lighter green to see if a gel-like substance is inside. At this stage, two growth hormones change and cause the production of ethylene gas, which in turn ages the cells resulting in ripening.
Place your tomatoes out of direct sunlight, and they’ll reach peak ripeness in seven to ten days. Or, if you wish to ripen faster, wrap it in newsprint or a brown paper bag that will contain the ethylene gas. Store tomatoes at 55 to 70 degrees (cooler if you wish to slow the ripening) and regularly check for ripeness. Enjoy the bounty before the assailants or the first heavy frost snags them, and at the same time, avoid skin cracks, green shoulders, and stretch marks (lucky tomato).
Column Updated 7/24/22
For more about tomatoes, check out Fall Tomato Hand-me-Downs.