Ripening Tomatoes At The End Of The Season

UPDATE (summer 2010): See the comments for my review of the Longkeeper tomato and how long they lasted for me into the winter!

I used to let any unripened tomatoes just freeze on the vines at the end of the season. Then I read an article about a local market gardener who picked the tomatoes for the market if there was any pink blush on them. He said they ripened on their way to the market.

Hmm. Interesting. So that year at the end of the season I looked for tomatoes with any pink on them, brought them in and put them in a bowl on the counter. They ripened fairly quickly, but drew fruit flies (there’s always a few that rot), and took up a lot of counter space.

Then my brother told me about putting them in paper bags to ripen, and that worked much better, allowing me to close the bags and put them in a different room.

So now when frost threatens I pick all the tomatoes I can find that have even the slightest hint of pink on them and do this:

I put them in large brown grocery bags about two tomatoes deep, fold the top over and keep them closed with a clothespin in the laundry/mud room.

By the way, I can’t believe how handy clothespins are for a lot of things other than clothes. I use them to hold bags closed from these to chips, in the classroom to mark our schedule and such and for crafts. I almost don’t have enough left to hang up the clothes!

These are the two types of paste tomatoes I grew this year. We had an early frost, so I pushed the envelope and picked some that were just yellowing and didn’t really have any pink. These rarely ripen, but I can’t help myself when there are so many left on the vines…

I put the different tomato types in their own bags because they ripen at different rates. The paste ones are the longest lasting and usually don’t spoil as easily as the slicing tomatoes. In the other bags are the heirloom tomatoes which usually spoil the quickest and the medium-size slicers like Early Girl which ripen in between the other two.

The past few years we’ve eaten our last roma tomatoes at the end of November and one year it was the first week in December!

I had to show you this bag of Long Keeper tomatoes because this is beyond anything I’ve experienced before. This is a new tomato (well, to me anyway- it’s an heirloom, so it’s been around awhile) I grew this year and according to the catalog, will ripen 1-1/2 to 3 months after picking with a pink blush on them.

You are suppose to store them individually wrapped in paper and not touching, but that so isn’t going to happen in my house…

These are about a month old already and they just slooooowly turn red-orange (I hope-not one has ripened for me yet…). The flavor is supposed to be not as good as a garden-ripe tomato, but better than the store-bought ones, so this is an experiment for me.

We’ll see. It took up the space of a tomato that I could use for preserving so I didn’t get as many tomatoes this year, hence I don’t have as many quarts of marinara or tomatoes as I have had in the past. I’ll have to decided which I like better: the fresh tomatoes in December (maybe into January?) or having the convenience and flavor of homemade marinara all winter.

This last picture is an experiment. I grew some California Wonder peppers that were suppose to do well in our area and turn ripe within our season. Not one pepper ripened to red on the two plants which were loaded with huge peppers, so I’m attempting to ripen them in a bag with an apple (which lets off some gasses that ripen fruits) to see what will happen. I don’t have high hopes, so will probably be finding someone to give them to who likes their peppers green and unripe.

Which is not me. I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t know that ALL peppers will turn a color and that green is unripe, which is why they are bitter and not sweet like a colored pepper.

Growing up I thought I didn’t like peppers because they were only green and bitter. What a revelation when I first tasted a sweet, ripe, red pepper. Oh, man! And roasted? Heavenly.

Since peppers can take a long time to ripen, it was probably some creative marketing ploy years ago to get people to eat them as green. Imagine only eating green tomatoes and not knowing the flavor of a ripe one…

What tricks do you use to preserve and extend the harvest?






  1. says

    I so agree with you! New to your site. I did not know that green peppers were unripe. I have orange peppers and the sweetness in salad is to die for, along with dips also.

  2.  Anonymous says

    The tomatoes are so lovely.I hope to have a garden next year we are having
    a very dry year here in southern ca.
    If you pull your vines up by the roots before freezing and hang tomatoes vine and all in the garage
    or a shed the tomatoes will last on the vine a long time. It has worked
    for me hope this helps.
    Good luck

  3.  Jason says

    how did the experiment with the Long Keeper tomatoes go? I’m really curious how the flavor was months after harvest.


  4.  Jami @ An Oregon Cottage says

    Jason- good question, I’ll have to update the post, too. Some of them rotted, which is to be expected to some degree I suppose, but I had more than I hoped and I think it’s because I was waiting for them to turn red on the outside. I finally realized they don’t look much different from the picture above in the bag, but when you cut into them the flesh is red. The flavor was nothing to write home about, but the catalog was right- definitely better than store-bought. The ones that didn’t rot lasted through December.

    I’m not growing them again this year, though, because I don’t have room for a plant that doesn’t give me any ripe tomatoes during the season. I also have paste tomatoes that last to December for me using this bag method, so I don’t really need the Longkeepers.

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