The green tomato dilemma; or, will this fruit get any riper?

I was reminded on social media this morning of an article published back in June by John Porter on the Garden Professors blog. It’s about which fruits (some of which are vegetables in a culinary sense) continue to ripen after being harvested, and which don’t. Using more scientific words, which are climacteric and which are non-climacteric. There’s a useful list — bookmark it!

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Unripe Siberian kiwis in May

I referred to that list this summer to confirm that kiwis are among the fruits that will continue to ripen once picked. I have three Siberian kiwi plants (Actinidia kolomikta), two female and one male, and the females have been producing their tiny little fruits fairly bountifully. The problem with these kiwis, though, is that they don’t all ripen at once, and when they do ripen, the fruits tend to go from hard to soft quickly and then fall off. I’ve taken to checking the relative softness whenever I pass under the arbor during fruiting season, plucking off the ripe ones and popping them into my mouth.

So I thought, hm, what if I pick all the fruits once some have started ripening, and let them finish indoors? And, as indicated by kiwi’s climacteric status, it worked. Sort of. I have to say that the indoor-ripened fruits just weren’t as tasty. They’d be okay for jam, though, so perhaps next year that’s what I’ll do.

So what does this have to do with the tomatoes in the title? Well, you may have noticed this morning that it’s finally fall. (Cross your fingers.) If you managed to keep your remaining tomato plants watered this last month during the drought, and if they hadn’t already succumbed to fungal disease after our extremely damp spring and summer, you may still have been harvesting ripe tomatoes, but the chances of continuing to do that have now plummeted. It’s going to be chilly at night, even if we don’t have a frost for some time. Really it might be time to pull those plants out. (I’m telling myself that as well as you.)

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Tomatoes that are even less red than these are fine to pick!

Here in Grow It Eat It Land we’ve been repeating for years now that it’s fine to harvest tomatoes after they have started to change color, blushing red or yellow or whatever the ripe color will be, and let them continue to ripen indoors. Tomatoes are the classic climacteric fruit/vegetable. I still get pushback on this, and I will admit that there’s nothing like chomping on a vine-ripened tomato while standing in the garden, but that’s as much to do with the sun and the smell of tomato leaves on your hands as with the fruit itself. Indoor-ripened tomatoes taste just fine, and there’s less chance of having to fight the stink bugs for them. Fruits picked after blushing are not the same thing as those awful winter tomatoes in supermarkets that were picked green on the other side of the country and ripened artificially with ethylene gas.

And that’s the point here: if your remaining tomatoes are still hard and green, it’s time to get out the recipes for fried green tomatoes or green tomato chutney, or toss them in the compost. They are not going to ripen on your counter, or if they do they won’t taste great.

Green peppers? Take a look at where they fit on John Porter’s list. Peppers (with the possible exception of some hot peppers) are non-climacteric. Whether they are all green or partially turned, they won’t ripen further. Put them in the fridge. There are lots of great ways to use green peppers. I’ve got a vegetable drawer half full of them myself. And some green tomatoes to pick…

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