At the end of summer, we’re often left with a surplus of produce from the veggie patch that needs to be picked and stored before bad weather sets in, like tomatoes.
We enjoy their ripe red fruits through mid-summer, but they don’t taste as good when there’s a chill in the air. At the end of the growing season, ripening of the vine slows and then stops.
And while the vines may look pungent at this point, there are often still lots of fruit—green ones, orange ones that are half-ripe, and ripe red ones, all at the same time.
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Luckily, there are plenty of ways to preserve and preserve their delicious flavor for months to come.
Box storage is a good option for slowly ripening green fruits, and extends the season well for fresh fruits.
Other options – such as canning, dehydrating and freezing – make smart choices when your harvest is too large to be used fresh.
Here’s what you need to know about how to store your homegrown tomatoes!
Basics of Baking
Being able to ripen the tomatoes you choose depends largely on the temperature.
Photo by Lorna Kring.
And that means how you choose them will be determined in large part by their level of ripeness at harvest.
Generally, green fruits ripen in about two weeks at temperatures of 65 to 70°F.
But they will take up to four weeks at temperatures of 55 to 60°F.
And at temperatures of 55°F and below, the fruits are stunted and do not ripen further.
Very ripe fruits can be refrigerated to stop the process, but they should be brought back to room temperature before consumption for best flavor.
If you have a handful of green tomatoes, they can ripen in a bowl on the kitchen counter.
Keep them out of direct sunlight and they will start to slowly change color over a few weeks.
If desired, adding ripe apples or bananas to your box or fruit bowl will also hasten ripening, as they will release ethylene gas. Replace apple or banana weekly.
For more ripening details, read this article on how to turn homegrown tomatoes red.
An open bin or box is a convenient and effective storage container in which to hold green fruits as they ripen and turn red.
Photo by Lorna Kring.
Here’s what you need to do:
Wash the fruit in cool water, and remove any leaves and stems. Dry gently with a clean towel. Line a box with lightly crumpled newsprint and arrange the fruit on top in a single layer. Place the fruit on the paper and make sure they are not touching. Add a second layer of newsprint and another layer of fruit. A third layer may be inserted for smaller fruits such as salad slicers and Romas. But maintain a maximum of two layers for heavy fruits such as beefsteak – the lower layer may bruise from the weight. Add a final layer of newsprint to cover the top. Keep the box in a cool place with moderate humidity and away from direct sunlight. Avoid areas with high humidity. Check weekly and turn fruit as needed for ripening. Discard any fruit that becomes discolored, soft or moldy. Pick ripe fruits for cooking as they change color and turn red.
The cooler the temperature in your storage area, the longer it will take for the fruit to ripen.
Suitable locations include cool or unheated basements, cellars, garages, pantries and shaded porches.
Given the right conditions, boxed green fruit can be kept for up to six months.
Dehydration of Harvest
Dehydrating your harvest is another delicious and easy way to store green and red fruits.
Photo by Lorna Kring.
Drying concentrates the flavors to an intense depth, retains most of the nutrients, and develops a satisfying, chewy texture.
Tomatoes can be sun-dried, or dried in an electric countertop dehydrator, using the following basic process:
Wash the fruits in cold water. Dry gently with a clean towel. Cut the fruit in half lengthwise and scoop out the gelatinous center and seeds. For larger fruit, slice away the skin on the back side of each half. Place half side up on scooped tray. Sprinkle lightly with salt to help draw out the moisture. Set your food dehydrator to 135°F and load the trays. After three or four hours, turn the pieces with tongs and rotate the tray as needed. Remove the pieces when they have dried and reduced to a leather-like texture that is slightly soft and flexible, but not brittle.
If you don’t have a food dehydrator, fruit can also be dried in the oven.
To do this, set your oven to 150°F or the lowest setting and place the washed, cut, scooped-out fruit on a baking tray covered with parchment paper.
Watch closely during the last hour of cooking. Check readiness every 15 minutes to make sure they do not become crunchy.
Store dehydrated pieces in an airtight glass jar or resealable container.
The dried pieces have a rich flavor and texture. But they can also be thickened and softened by rehydrating them in hot water or tomato juice for 20 minutes.
Keep in an airtight container in a cool, dark cabinet or cupboard for up to six months, or store in the freezer for up to a year.
You can learn more about how to dehydrate tomatoes in our guide. (coming soon!)
Fresh Sausages and Canning Preserves
Canning preserves or making fresh sauces for the freezer are great ways to store your surplus harvest that offers many options.
Photo by Lorna Kring.
Use the ripe red fruit to make chutney, jam, juice, ketchup, paste, sauce, or stewed whole fruit.
The green ones add a tangy flavor to chutneys, pickles, or relish, and make a vibrant salsa verde! Try this zesty recipe for salsa verde from our sister site, Foodle, using your green fruit instead of tomatillos.
Or please the kids for the tastiest ketchup they can make at home with this recipe, also from Foodle.
Fresh sauce can be stored in the freezer for three to four months.
Canned tomatoes retain their best quality for up to 18 months when stored in a cool, dry, and dark cupboard.
Always be sure to use the appropriate canning techniques for a water bath or pressure canner. Sterilize jars and check acidity of canned products containing tomatoes according to manufacturer’s instructions.
If you like the idea of canning, you might want to check out this article on the 15 Best Canning Tomatoes to Grow. Plan ahead for a big harvest next year!
Freezing is another effective way to preserve your harvest.
And although the texture changes with freezing (you wouldn’t want to serve them sliced on a salad or sandwich!), they make an excellent addition to cooked dishes like sauces, soups, and stews.
You can freeze your extra harvest in one of four ways:
complete with skins. Quickest and easiest method, but takes a while to thaw whole fruit and you may need to remove the skins later when they discolor during cooking. Sliced with skins. The fruits are cut into thicker pieces before freezing, allowing them to thaw faster. Whole with skin. Whole fruits are boiled and peeled before freezing, making them easy to incorporate into cooked foods. Large ones can be melted slowly. Peeled and sliced The fruits are boiled and peeled, then roughly chopped before being frozen. This method involves the most work initially, but is the most convenient for later cooking.
For more detailed freezing instructions, see our guide.
Another option is to uproot the entire plant rather than picking the fruit at the end of the growing season.
Simply pull the plants up and remove excess soil from the roots.
Hang them upside down in a cool, sheltered spot out of direct light to ripen. Plants can also be placed on shelves or in shallow bins.
Check weekly and pick fruit as soon as it is ripe.
As you know, this method is quick and easy, but it can be quite a mess – you can expect to have a pile of dead plants to clean up afterwards!
pull out the goodness
Tomatoes have exceptional flavor and excellent nutrients that we all love. And even though ripe fruit has a short shelf life, we can still extend the goodness of a homegrown crop.
Cook the green fruit in boxed storage or try one of the preservation methods described for long-term storage – and long-term enjoyment!
Photo by Lorna Kring
Why not visit our sister site, Foodle, for even more recipe inspiration?
Do you have a favorite way to store tomatoes? Drop us a note and share your tips in the comments below.
For more tomato knowledge, check out these articles ahead:
Photos by Lorna Kring © Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.