Put green tomato bounty to use in tantalizing dishes

This is the year of the green tomato. Most gardeners still have lots of them hanging on the vines. We are out of warm weather and the fall sun is sinking to the horizon fast. Frost has been nibbling at the edges of the garden and it won’t be long before we wake up to a full freeze. It’s time to cut our losses for the season and harvest what we can, ripe or not.

Now what do you do with all those green tomatoes?

Tomatoes that have turned a paler shade of green to yellow will ripen given some time in the house. Pick them and save only those that are blemish free. Even a tiny nick or break in the skin will allow rot to set in. Pack the tomatoes in a single layer in a flat box with a little space between them. Store them in a basement or a room that is somewhat cooler than the rest of the house. Check them every few days and bring the ones with the most color to the kitchen to finish ripening. With a little luck, you might be able to serve the last of them for Thanksgiving dinner.

If letting them sit to get ripe isn’t for you, they can be eaten as is. In the South, fried green tomatoes are a specialty. Firm tomatoes are cut into half-inch slices, dredged in egg, flour and corn meal with a little Cajun spice for a kick and fried in hot peanut oil. According to aficionados, you wouldn’t know you were eating a tomato.

Green tomato mincemeat is another way to use up the leftovers and is great for people who don’t care for traditional mincemeat. Finely chop seeded green tomatoes and mix them with finely chopped apples, oranges, lemons, raisins, and suet (or oil). Season the mix with brown sugar, vinegar, cloves, allspice, cinnamon mix and candied orange peel. Place in a large stockpot or slow cooker and cook on low heat for several hours to thicken. The mix can then be canned or frozen in pint containers – that is if there is any left after sampling.

Like salsa verde? Substitute green tomatoes for the tomato’s distant cousin the traditional tomatillo. Mix chopped green tomatoes, onions, fresh chilies (hot or mild depending on taste) and garlic. Season the mix with cumin, lemon juice and chopped cilantro and cook it for about 10 minutes to soften the vegetables. Spoon the mix into a blender and whiz to your preferred texture; coarse or smooth. Use immediately or freeze for a steaming bowl of chili verde on a cold winter night.

These ideas are only to get you thinking of ways to use up green tomatoes. A green tomato key-word search on the Web will yield thousands of exact recipes and you can add your own variations. Let your imagination loose. After all, you worked hard to grow them. It may be the only way you get a tomato this year.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by email at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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