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A&E >  Food

Green tomatoes take a little extra care

There are still ways to enjoy those fruits

A cool spring and summer have left local gardeners with crops of green tomatoes.  (Lorie Hutson)
A cool spring and summer have left local gardeners with crops of green tomatoes. (Lorie Hutson)

I hate to admit defeat, but I know a losing battle when I see one.

I’m not much of a gardener to begin with and the weather this year was not kind to amateurs. Everything was slow to ripen, but the tomatoes in my backyard were particularly pathetic this year.

I’m in good company. Even the experts had trouble with the cool summer weather.

Last week, Pat Munts, a Washington State University Master Gardener and columnist for The Spokesman-Review, wrote that volunteers were fielding a lot of tomato questions this year, including many queries about ripening green tomatoes and saving the fruit from blossom end rot.

“Not that I’m a pessimist, but we are running out of warm weather to get them all ripe before the frosts hit,” she wrote.

At Green Wave Gardens, Chelsea Morelli says it has been the year for green tomatoes.

Morelli says she and her husband, Mojave, planted three times as many tomato plants at their family farm this year and are harvesting less than a quarter of the fruit they did last year. Green Wave Gardens’ produce is sold at the Spokane Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“Thank goodness Mojave went overboard with them. Otherwise, we might not have any,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “I wish I had a nickel for every person who has told me that they have a ton of green tomatoes, but none ripening. … It has been very frustrating for producers and customers alike.”

Morelli says tomato growers should be sure to harvest their fruit – ripe or not – before the frosts hit:

“Either pull the entire plant and hang it upside down in a shop or similar area for them to ripen, or do individual fruit harvests and then set them with ripening bananas or apples. The gas they put off will help the tomatoes to ripen, as well. They may not be as delicious as a vine-ripened tomato, but better than not getting to enjoy it at all.”

Here are some other ripening tricks from the experts at Washington State University Extension:

• If you have a bumper crop of almost red tomatoes when fall arrives, pull out the clear plastic. Drape it over plants, supported by tomato stakes. This greenhouse tent will protect plants from frost, allowing the fruit to ripen. Remove any flowers or young green fruits that won’t have a chance of ripening.

• Stress out plants by cutting the root system to encourage ripening. Push a shovel into the soil halfway around the plant, about 8 to 12 inches from the base.

• Ripen tomatoes on a sunny windowsill.

• Or, eat them green. Fried green tomatoes always come to mind, but there are many other ways to use up the unripe fruit. Relishes, sauces and even cakes are popular.

Here are a few recipes to help you use up this year’s bounty:

Recipe from Paula Deen,

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

2 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 1/2 cups diced green tomatoes

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped walnuts

Browned Butter Icing, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Gradually add to butter mixture, beating well. (Batter will be soft.) Stir in tomatoes, raisins, and walnuts.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake for 70 to 75 minutes, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool completely. Spoon Browned Butter Icing over cake.

Yield: One bundt cake

Brown Butter Icing

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until butter is lightly browned. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar until smooth.

Yield: About 1 cup

Green Tomato Hot Dog Relish

From “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine. “Use this relish for traditional jobs such as garnishing hot dogs, or add it to sandwich spreads such as mayonnaise. It also makes a great dipping sauce for fish,” editors write. New to canning? Basic canning information can be found in the Ball book, online at or at tags/canning-series/. Or, pack the jars and let them cool before storing in the freezer.

6 cups finely chopped cored green tomatoes (unpeeled)

2 onions, finely chopped

2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

¼ cup pickling or canning salt

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon celery seeds

1 cinnamon stick, about 4 inches long, broken in half

2 cups white vinegar

1 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground ginger

In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine green tomatoes, onions, green and red bell peppers and pickling salt. Cover and let stand in a cool place (70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) for 12 hours or overnight.

Transfer to a colander placed over a sink and drain. Rinse with cool water and drain thoroughly. Using your hands, squeeze out excess liquid. Set aside.

Tie cloves, celery seed, and cinnamon stick in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, mustard, salt, ginger and spice bag. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.

Add drained tomato mixture, stir well and return to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until tomatoes are transparent, about 1 hour. Discard spice bag.

Meanwhile, prepare canner, jars and lids.

Ladle hot relish into hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot relish. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes at elevations of 1,000 feet or less. Process 15 minutes for elevations of 1,001-3,000 feet. Process 20 minutes for elevations of 3,001-6,000 feet.

Yield: Six 8-ounce jars

Green Tomato Pie Filling

From “So Easy To Preserve,” from the Cooperative Extension of the University of Georgia.

4 quarts chopped green tomatoes

3 quarts peeled and chopped tart apples

1 pound dark seedless raisins

1 pound golden raisins

¼ cup minced citron, lemon peel or orange peel

2 cups water

2 ½ cups brown sugar

2 ½ cups white sugar

½ cup vinegar

1 cup bottled lemon juice

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook slowly, stirring often, until tender and slightly thickened (about 35 to 40 minutes).

Fill jars with hot mixture, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath. Process pints or quarts 15 minutes for elevations of 1,000 feet or less. Process 20 minutes for 1,001 to 6,000 feet or 25 minutes for elevations above 6,000 feet.

Yield: About 7 quarts.

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