Image of tomato emoji
Tomato emoji created by Marisa Thompson in celebration of a new tomato experiment

Green with Tomato Envy

October 20, 2018


Question:

What should I do with all of these green tomatoes?

- Yours Truly, Los Lunas, NM

Answer:

As first frosts snapped across the state in the last few weeks, gardeners have been sharing photos of final harvests, many with green tomatoes piled high. There is also much discussion about how to ripen them and what to do with them.


Image of "Happy" tomato plants with emoji | Dr. Mark Marsalis with ripe tomato
Happy tomato plants getting ready for planting in the field at the NMSU Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center in May 2018. Photo and enhanced emoji credit M. Thompson. NMSU Extension Forages Specialist, Dr. Mark Marsalis, helps harvest tomatoes. Photo credit M. Thompson

If you’re a seed saver, you may want the fruits to ripen to maturity. The difference between being mature and ripe is that “maturity” refers to seed viability and ripeness is the most favorable state for consumption or use. Ripeness, then, is partly dependent on personal taste and the intended market. Many fruits (like grapes, pomegranates, and citrus) get more flavorful and achieve higher quality if allowed to ripen before being picked. Others, though, are often picked when they’re technically mature but not completely ripe, so that fewer rot during transport (e.g., bananas, pears, avocados).

The difference has a lot to do with how much ethylene each fruit produces. Ethylene is a natural plant hormone (aka phytohormone or growth regulator) that is largely responsible for fruit ripening. The group of fruits that can ripen off the vine, so to speak, tend to be higher ethylene producers. Tomatoes, lucky for us, are in this group. If you want to speed up the process of turning your tomatoes from green to red, store them with other red tomatoes (or another fruit that produces ethylene). If you want to slow the ripening process so that, for example, you still have red tomatoes to make salsa for a Halloween party next week, go through the green pile occasionally and separate the red ones.

In this column a few weeks ago, we discussed the phytochemicals that give chiles their beautiful colors. In case you missed it: the color change in a chile fruit from green to red as it matures is indicative of the changing ratio of green chlorophyll to red carotenoid pigments. Lo and behold, the same is true in ripening tomatoes. Lycopene, famous for its health benefits as a powerful antioxidant, is in this red pigment group.

Here at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas, we harvested almost 5,000 lb of tomatoes this year; almost half of them were picked last week and are very green. That is, they were green, but many are rapidly turning red. The little green ones that were not mature (seeds not developed enough) may never turn red. But the bigger greenies are ripening beautifully.

So now you can see why I need ideas for what to do with beaucoup green tomatoes. Believe me, I love crispy fried green tomatoes. I’m from South Carolina, after all. But the serving from just one large green tomato is really plenty for me.

Image of yellow-tomato-flowers | red-tomatoes
Tomato flowers on plants getting ready for transplanting in May. Photo credit M. Thompson. Over 200 lbs of red tomatoes harvested at the NMSU Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center on August 27, 2018. Photo credit M. Thompson

A few years ago, I had great success making a tasty green tomato salsa. I used a recipe for tomatillo salsa and just substituted green tomatoes for the tomatillos. That's my main plan for using up the stored tomatoes.

Valencia County Extension Master Gardener Lin Yeskie has delivered delicious loaves of green tomato bread to our office a few times this month so far. At least that's what I heard - they were devoured before I could even have a slice. The recipe (see below) came from Dina Ortega's sister. Feel free to quadruple the recipe.




Green Tomato Bread

Mix:
3 c flour
2 c sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
Stir:
2 slightly beaten large eggs
1 c vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla until just moist
Fold:
2 c finely chopped green tomatoes
1.5 c chopped pecans
Pour into greased and floured loaf pans.
Bake at 350°F for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool 10 min before flipping loaves out and cooling completely.


I haven't made it yet myself, but I already appreciate that whole green tomatoes get used and there are no extra messy steps of separating seeds.

What are you doing with your final tomato harvest this year? Share recipes and photos with me on social media using the handle @NMdesertblooms. I'll also post them on the Desert Blooms blog this week.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.

Links:

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!

Image of red and green tomatoes
Over 2,000 lbs of tomatoes, both red and green, were harvest from experimental plots at the NMSU Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center on Oct. 10 2018. Photo credit M. Thompson