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Tips for storing end-of-season tomatoes

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Last week I rushed to the garden to pick as many tomatoes as I could in anticipation of frost. The weather forecast frost forced my hand and I had to harvest RIGHT THEN, but once picked the still unripe tomatoes are rather undemanding about when I need to do anything with them. Today I separated the tomatoes by color or, in other words, by the degree of ripeness. I put a sheet of newspaper in nursery flats and use those as trays for sorting and storing the tomatoes spread out from each other. This is important — tomatoes that touch each other are more likely to rot.

I will place these flats in a cool, dark area in my home. The color/ripeness classification makes it easy  to identify which tomatoes need to be used first. (Pasta sauce, coming right up!) The sorting practice further makes me examine each tomato; those that have any cracks or soft spots aren’t worth storing until they ripen. They’ll spoil first.

You can either wait for tomatoes to slowly, slowly ripen in the cooler storage area, or you can bring a them into the warmth of your kitchen a few days before you expect to use them to hasten the ripening. The tomatoes probably won’t reach the same brilliant red of summer, but they will pack a tasty punch.

Another tactic for long-term storage is to wrap green tomatoes singly in paper. A standard sheet, 8.5 by 11 inches, is the idea size for one tomato. I had a wonderful next-door neighbor who swore by this method, and it was my privilege to help her with this and other gardening tasks when she was in her 90s. (I miss her!)  I can vouch she had tomatoes into January. When doing this check a few tomatoes every week to assess level of ripeness.

This year I’m putting that method to the test, by wrapping half of my green tomatoes in paper, and leaving the others spread out on the tray. I will store them in the same place and see what happens. I’ll share the results. I’m not sure what benefit the paper offers. Anyone know? I had a theory that the paper makes a barrier from ethylene gas from nearby ripening fruit. I looked for substantiation online and find conflicting info in two articles on the same site. One said that putting a tomato in a paper bag will concentrate the ethylene gas and make the tomato ripen faster. The other, (mind you, at the same site), said wrapping tomatoes in paper reduces the build-up of ethylene and slows ripening. Okey-dokey. (An aside: My 11-year-old has a science fair project due this week — don’t know what it will be yet — which perhaps fuels my scientific yearnings!) Stay tuned!

I mentioned that I first put a piece of newspaper in the flats, which is because the plastic bottom is a grid instead of a solid piece. The coincidence of this ad made me smile and reminded me why I bother saving the tomatoes in the first place:

They’ll be much more expensive in winter! How long have you successfully stored fresh tomatoes?


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