Fall is in full swing and November is just around the bend. Time to say goodbye to the fresh bounty of the summer garden and tuck everything in for the winter to come. After the particularly tough growing season we just had, you won’t want to waste a single edible thing from the garden – and that includes green tomatoes! With a little creativity, those crispy green orbs can be turned into an amazing array of sumptuous edibles.
Begin by picking all the tomatoes that are at or near their full size. Don’t bother picking those that are mere nubs or those that are overly hard or deformed. Sort the tomatoes into two groups – those that have begun to blush or have some red coloration and those that are fully green with no sign of blushing.
In the first group are the blushing tomatoes. Their changing color indicates that they were beginning to mature on the vine and makes them the best candidates for further ripening indoors. The more color they have, the faster and more fully they will ripen. Do not wash these tomatoes unless they have a lot of dirt, tomato juice or green leaves stuck to them. If you must wash them, be sure they are completely dry before storing.
For large, slicing tomatoes, wrap each tomato in a sheet of newspaper and place it in a large paper bag or sturdy cardboard box. Place the greenest tomatoes at the bottom and the ripest at the top. Small cherry and plum tomatoes should be placed in a single layer and covered with several sheets of newspaper to keep out the light. Keep layers to three or four to make inspecting the fruits easier. Place the box in a cool dark place. Once a week check the tomatoes, removing any that have ripened fully. They will not have the same luscious sweetness as a vine-ripened tomato, but they are just as edible and in some ways, even more satisfying.
Many of you know my penchant for saving seeds – so as an aside to our discussion of the culinary uses of green tomatoes I would like to point out that ripened green tomatoes do not make good candidates for saving seeds. It’s not impossible by any means, but to harvest quality seed, fruits should ripen fully on the vine to ensure complete maturation of the germ.
Your second group of tomatoes should include all the very green tomatoes with no sign of blushing. These will never ripen and should be processed within two weeks of picking. Begin by washing the tomatoes in plain cold water. Spread them out on a clean towel in a single layer and allow them to dry. After they are dry, sort them by size and process as desired.
Large green tomatoes make good candidates for fried green tomatoes or for use in baked dishes such as scalloped tomatoes, green tomato gratin, crunchy croquettes or savory parmesan. The medium to small tomatoes can be used in a wide variety of dishes, but are particularly suited for crunchy refrigerator pickles, chutneys, relishes, marmalades and “fruit butters”. Raw green tomatoes are especially good in mixed green or fruit salads.
If you can’t use all your fresh green tomatoes within two weeks, consider freezing them for later use. Simply chop them into the desired sizes and freeze on a cookie sheet before transferring them to a zip-top freezer bag. Taking this extra step keeps the tomato pieces from sticking together, allowing the removal of as much or as little as you desire for any recipe.
For those who are a little hesitant to cook with green tomatoes, let me assure you that unless the tomatoes are your main ingredient, you will hardly notice them at all. Cooking softens and sweetens the crunchy flesh and they tend to become more of a background texture and flavor, much like celery or bell peppers. Try adding a handful or two to any soup, stew or sauce and you won’t be sorry.
While doing some research on cooking with green tomatoes, I was surprised to find recipes that called for using raw green tomatoes in baked goods, such as breads, cakes, and cookies. But the one recipe that really piqued my interest was this recipe for green tomato “figs” made with green cherry or plum tomatoes. Based on two recipes: Tomato Figs – A Sweetmeat from the book Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty (1986), and Green Tomato Figs from the booklet 52 Great Green Tomato Recipes! from the Garden Way Publishing Bulletin A-24 (1978). Although it involves a bit of work, these Faux Figs can be eaten out of hand or used in sweet breads, cookies, pies, cakes, puddings and sauces exactly as you would use real figs.
Green-Tomato Faux Figs
4 lbs plum or cherry tomatoes
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
dry ground ginger (optional)
2 tablespoon strained fresh lemon juice
Wash and core tomatoes as needed. Only very large tomatoes require coring.
Place tomatoes in a large stock pot and stir in the sugar until. Do not add water.
Heat very slowly over low heat. Do not cover. As the juice forms a syrup with the sugar, swirl or very lightly stir so as not to break the fruits.
Cook very slowly (do not boil) until translucent around the edges, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Using a slotted spoon or strainer, remove the tomatoes from the syrup one at a time, allowing each to drain slightly. Place them in a single layer on cookie sheets, leaving room between each. Flatten slightly with a fork or spatula.
Pour a dab of the remaining syrup over each fruit. Sprinkle evenly with the lemon juice and ground ginger, if desired.
Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place cookie sheets in the oven arranging the racks as needed. After 30 minutes, lower the heat setting to between 140 and 150 degrees and crack the oven door slightly.
During drying, turn the tomatoes over 2 two 3 times, flattening them gently each time. After each turning, brush the upper sides with a little of the reserved syrup, which will gradually form a glaze. Rearrange racks every two hours for even drying.
Continue drying until figs are leathery but not hard – about 8 hours depending on the oven, weather and thickness of figs.
Cool figs completely and roll them in confectioners’ sugar. Pack in airtight jar with a generous amount of confectioners’ sugar between the layers and on top. Store them in a cool, dry place.
I hope you have found some new and interesting inspirations for using green tomatoes. Please feel free to post your favorite green tomato recipe so that others may enjoy it as well!