A garden overflowing with tomato-laden plants is nothing short of a palatable paradise. Brilliant red tomatoes weigh down the branches with their bounty while green tomatoes await their turn in the spotlight.
But into this happy garden scenario arrives something decidedly unwelcome: an early frost that abruptly ends the growing season with a blast of frigid finality. What’s a disappointed gardener to do with dozens of hastily picked (yet unripe) green tomatoes?
That’s simple: Don’t let these treasures go to waste, because green tomatoes shine in a vast array of delicious recipes.
For many people, the words “green tomatoes” conjure up visions of a deep-fried Southern delicacy, and while fried green tomatoes are undoubtedly the most famous option, you won’t want to overlook other (perhaps lesser-known) possible uses for your glorious green tomatoes, including breads, soups, sauces, relishes, cakes, jams, and more.
Generations of gardeners have faced the question of “what to do” with unripe green tomatoes at the end of the growing season. (Generations of children have had the same clever answer — wait for a freeze, and then have a stinky tomato fight!) A Bloomington, Illinois, newspaper from 1852 recommends using “a pailful of green tomatoes” to create a dish called picadilla, while an 1858 Nebraska newspaper notes that “green tomatoes make good pies,” especially when baked with molasses, rhubarb, or green apples. Even Laura Ingalls Wilder reminisced about harvesting green tomatoes after an early frost in her Newbery Honor-winning book, The Long Winter. In it, Ma Ingalls cooks up unripe green tomatoes with vinegar and spices to create green tomato pickles.
When choosing green tomatoes for cooking, it’s best to select those that have achieved their mature size and are almost, but not quite, ripe. Storing green tomatoes can be a challenge, as quality tends to deteriorate quickly, but temporary storage in a cool (55 degrees Fahrenheit) place will often suffice, especially if the humidity is moderate.
Bear in mind, of course, that there’s a difference between green tomatoes that have not yet ripened to their final color and tomato cultivars that are green at maturity, such as ‘Green Zebra.’ When a mature tomato is ripe, it’s slightly softer than an unripe green tomato, which retains an overall firmness.
The possibilities are endless when you’re cooking with green tomatoes, so here are a few tried-and-true recipes to get you started. Enjoy!
Samantha Johnson is the author of several books, including The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening. She lives on a former dairy farm in northern Wisconsin with a Pembroke Welsh corgi named Peaches, and writes frequently about pets, gardening, and farm life.