AS AN INSURANCE POLICY against damaging insects, curious chipmunks, blights, and severe weather, I pick most of my tomatoes at their mature, but still-green or mostly-green stage. These unripe tomatoes are blemish-free. Furthermore, they are only too happy to develop their delicious flavor and vibrant color indoors. The following ripening-procedure has never failed me:
Next, arrange the tomatoes in a single layer in paper bags. I sometimes place a few sheets of newsprint or paper towels on the bottom of each bag (as shown) in order to cushion the fruit. Also, I leave an inch or so of space between each tomato to encourage air circulation.
To hasten ripening, place an almost-ripe banana in each bag of green fruit. The banana contributes ethylene gas, a necessary component of ripening. Tomatoes which are already showing color don’t require this banana-boost; they make their own ethylene.
Ripening is also hastened by warmth. In my 65-70 degree kitchen, tomatoes which had already shown signs of color usually turn fully red in their paper bag quarters within 5-7 days. Green fruit, if encouraged by a banana, will usually ripen in 14-21 days.
Now, if you can’t use your tomatoes at their peak of room-temperature perfection, do what I do, and freeze them in zip-lock bags. There’s no need to blanch or peel them first. Whole frozen tomatoes keep for months, and they are great for making sauce.
Can you ripen a tomato on a sunny windowsill? Yes, you can. But it’s a bad idea. Light is neither necessary nor desirable during the ripening process. Not only does sunlight invite rot, but it toughens a tomato’s skin. Darkness, warmth, and naturally-occurring ethylene gas are all a tomato needs to turn from green to red.
Why wait for chipmunks — or a hurricane — to discover your tasty tomatoes? Pick the fruit while it’s still green, and let it ripen in the safety of your house.
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