How to harvest, ripen and cook green tomatoes

green tomato

There’s no doubt it’s been a challenging growing season. Normally, gardeners in the Midwest wouldn’t have to worry about an oversupply of green tomatoes until early October. However, this year has been extremely tough on tomato growers. For some, green tomatoes are the only tomatoes they’ve been able to salvage.

So what are your options:

  • Leave them on the vine, hoping they don’t start to rot before they ripen.
  • Pick unripened green tomatoes to ripen indoors.
  • Cook and eat green tomatoes.

Harvesting green tomatoes

The rainy, wet and humid conditions we’ve experienced this growing season have increased the incidence of tomato diseases — one reason tomatoes are rotting before ripening. You can either learn to diagnose and combat the most common tomato diseases or you can pick your tomatoes before they have a chance to rot.

Use these tips to harvest green tomatoes:

  • Try to select nearly-ripe, mature green tomatoes. They will have a glossy, whitish-green to slightly pink fruit color and be larger in size.
  • Only pick green tomatoes from healthy vines.
  • Only choose green tomatoes that are free of disease, insect and mechanical damage.
  • Remove stems to prevent your tomatoes from damaging each other.
  • Wash away dirt and air dry fruit before storing. You may use a solution made of bleach mixed with water (1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 quart of water) to kill bacteria that could cause spoilage before ripening.

Ripening green tomatoes

Although tomatoes ripened indoors are not as flavorful as vine-ripened tomatoes, they are better than no tomatoes. If they are stored, ripened and preserved properly, they can be used to make tomato-based products to be used during the winter months.

Follow these steps to ripen green tomatoes indoors:

  1. Sort your green tomatoes according to ripeness.
  2. Put a layer of newspaper down in the bottom of a cardboard storage box.
  3. Add a layer of tomatoes that are all around the same stage of ripening.
  4. Cover the tomatoes with another layer of newspapers.
  5. Store the box in a moderately humid room. If humidity is too high, the tomatoes can mold and rot. If it’s too low, they can dry out.
  6. Keep the temperature between 55 F and 70 F. When stored between 65 F and 70 F, the tomatoes will ripen in about two weeks. When stored between 55 F and 60 F, they will ripen in three to four weeks.
  7. Keep the storage box out of direct sunlight. Tomatoes can be stored to ripen in the dark.
  8. Check tomatoes weekly for ripeness and and sort ripened fruit from green tomatoes. Discard any that have spoiled.

Cooking green tomatoes

Rather than ripening your green tomatoes indoors, you may prefer to use them right away. Check out these recipes if you need some ideas to get started:

Basic Fried Green Tomatoes


  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup self-rising cornmeal mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 medium-size, firm green tomatoes, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices (about 1 1/4 lb.)
  • Vegetable oil


  1. Whisk together egg and buttermilk to set aside.
  2. Combine cornmeal mix, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. Then set aside.
  3. Dredge tomato slices in remaining 1/4 cup flour.
  4. Dip slices in egg-buttermilk mixture.
  5. Dredge slices in cornmeal mixture.
  6. In a large skillet pour vegetable oil to a depth of 1/2 inch and heat to 375 F over medium heat.
  7. Once the oil has reached 375 F, carefully drop batches of tomatoes into oil and cook two minutes on each side or until golden.
  8. Drain fried tomatoes on paper towels.
  9. Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Green Tomato Salsa


  • 5 cups chopped green tomatoes or tomatillos
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups seeded, chopped long green chilies
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • ½ cup seeded, chopped jalapeno peppers
  • 1-3 Tablespoons oregano leaves
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 1 Tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup bottled lemon or lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.
  2. Stir frequently over high heat until mixture begins to boil.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Ladle hot ingredients into pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.
  5. Wipe jar rim. Then apply the canning cap and lid. Adjust lid to finger-tight.
  6. Process jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes.

Yield: 5 pints

Green Tomato Relish


  • 2 quarts green tomatoes, chopped or ground
  • ½ cup pickling or canning salt
  • 2 quarts cucumbers, chopped or ground
  • 2 Tablespoons mixed pickling spices
  • 1 quart chopped onions
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne (red) pepper
  • 3 sweet red peppers, chopped (2-1/4 cups)
  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 3 carrots, peeled and ground
  • 3 cups sugar


  1. Chop or grind vegetables and place them in a large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle chopped vegetables with salt and allow to stand overnight in the refrigerator or for 6 to 8 hours.
  3. Rinse and drain thoroughly.
  4. Tie spices in a spice bag.
  5. Place vinegar and sugar in a large kettle and add the spice bag.
  6. Bring to a boil and then add vegetables.
  7. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until vegetables are partially cooked.
  8. Pack hot mixture into clean, pint canning jars.
  9. Cover vegetables with the vinegar solution, leaving ½-inch headspace.
  10. Wipe jar rim. Then apply the canning cap and lid. Adjust lid to finger-tight.
  11. Process jars in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes.



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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s managing editor. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and being outdoors.



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