What to Do With the Last Of Your Tomatoes
Backyard tomatoes don't always get the memo that it's firmly autumn. Here's what to do with their bounty.
I had a problem. Yes, I am fully cognizant of the fact that this is a great problem to have. But a problem nonetheless: There were mountains of green tomatoes all over my house.
We are fortunate to have enough yard at our house to grow a lot of things. A general harvest includes rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme, oregano, Thai basil, Tuscan kale, tomatoes, various hot and sweet peppers, carrots, and enough Genovese basil to fill the freezer with pesto.This year we got a little carried away and had about 15 tomato plants, all heirlooms from seeds. It was a wildly productive summer.
It was a long and wonderful summer of tomato eating. The Black Cherries are the perfect snack. A handful whenever you pass the plant is a joyful part of summer. The Red Beefsteaks and German Johnsons are good eating, but, as you will soon learn, they have started to pale (joke intended) compared to the Blue and Black heirlooms we’ve fallen in love with.
But then, as we live in the Northeast, there comes that sad moment when the temperature goes below 45 degrees. When you grow tomatoes, you know that those numbers trigger something in tomatoes. They don’t die at once, but the growing and ripening process changes fundamentally. So, you either give up and let the unripe fruit on the vine go, or you pick them all before those cold nights hit. And then you pray.
There are lots of theories as to what will help them “ripen.” And the reason I fudge a bit on the word ripen is because though these techniques may allow green tomatoes to redden, they will never taste the same as a ripened-on-the-vine tomato. Some folks wrap each tomato in newspaper. Some place them in a dark place, unwrapped and not touching. But as this was a ridiculously busy fall, and I was, admittedly, a little bit over having to use tomatoes in virtually every meal, I just left the literally hundreds of green and barely pink tomatoes in bowls and sheetpans all over the house.
And then one day, I noticed they were all rapidly turning red. So I cut into one. It was full of deep summer-y tomato flavor. As expected, the texture wasn’t the same as the peak summer tomatoes. But being, at my core, a cheapskate, I decided I needed to do something with them. So I washed them, cored them, sliced them in quarters, and tossed them in my largest stockpots with nothing but a dash of salt and let them simmer away. No frills, but they brought truly delicious tomato flavor that will allow us to have that incredible summer taste all winter. I cooled it, bagged it, and froze it. Now I’ll have this for the basis of sauces and soups all year. And it’s so much better than even the best canned tomatoes.
I know I’m sounding like some bearded homesteader. I’m not. I just really love feeding my little family well with things we grew. Tomatoes are easy to grow. And even at the end of the season, they will provide you with tons of spectacular, bright, acidic sauce from the end of season specimens many people just toss away.