Saturday, November 6, 2010

Can't quit you, tomatoes

After last week's midterm-election 'shellacking' (Obama may not be perfect, but he's done some great things, not least of which is introducing gorgeous verbs back into the national vocabulary), I find myself retreating into the comforts of home. One of those is certainly home cooking, but also a waste-not want-not mentality that seems fitting for the winter chill ahead.

Like me, you may find yourself with an abundance of late-harvest tomatoes, fooled by the prolonged summer into ushering themselves into the world, only to encounter near freezing temps while they're still too young to ripen.

Don't despair.

My mother gave me a trick a few years ago, and I'm happy to say it works like a charm. Some of you are intrepid enough to make fried green tomatoes or green tomato jam, but my overextended life makes such magic nearly impossible. I need something simple, quick, and foolproof, and the following seems to be the ticket. So join me in faking out your tomatoes this year. They're not as good as picked right off the vine, but when it's February and you're eating a caprese sandwich straight (ok, nearly straight) from your garden, you won't be as wistful as you may think:

Step 1. Wrap each tomato individually in newspaper and place gently in a cardboard box.

Step 2. When the box is full, fold the top flaps in securely and place it in a dark spot of your basement.

Step 3. Check once a month or so for ripeness (my last attempt took over 3 months and just as I was about to give up, lo and behold, I had splendid red fruit in January).

It's a mystery to me why something that craves heat and light will also respond to its opposite. I know shamefully little about the vegetables I grow, so if you know why this works, I'd welcome the science lesson. For now, though, I'm excited to think about watching the transformation of these sweet heirlooms well into the bitter months of winter. It should make the legislative gridlock a little easier to swallow.


tracy said...

Thanks for this great tip! I'll have to experiment and figure out how to modify this for those of us without basements (and with iffy climate control).

I know the answer to your query, because of my awesome Botany prof in college! Tomatoes (and other fruits) naturally put out ethylene gasses that enable ripening. This is why fruits ripen faster in a paper bag--they're all gassing each other and the gas is contained instead of floating away.

This is also why ripe *looking* fruit at supermarkets tastes like crap; the mass producers just blast unripe fruit with forced ethylene, which causes the exterior to change color, but isn't slow enough to enable ripening all the way through the fruit.

I'm guessing that the individually wrapped method traps the ethylene so that, even in smaller amounts in a cool climate, the fruit can hold onto its ripening gasses. The paper allows it to breath so it won't rot, and it keeps the fruits separate, so they won't over-gas each other or pass along fungi and such. That's my guess anyway.

Signing off,
Little Miss Science

Christy said...

Thanks, Tracy! This is great info. And I have a feeling a cool, dry closet would be a fine substitute for a basement.

Adriane Harrison said...

I know it's far less interesting, but I use Debbie Meyer's Green Bags to slow ripening. They are designed to trap ethylene in the plastic so ripening is slowed significantly. But your method is tried and true and less expensive, so I would stick with it.