It happens every year. I plant lots of tomatoes because I love them, and because I grew up on the northern coast of California, in the fog belt, where tomatoes are a nearly-impossible dream. I’ve lived for the past 27 years in northeastern California, where the growing season is just long enough to grow wonderful tomatoes, if you set them out early under cover. And every summer, I eagerly await the first ripe tomato, congratulating myself when it’s earlier than the year before, consulting other area gardeners and, of course, bragging just a little when my tomatoes ripen before theirs. And then, it’s October, and guess what? There are loads and loads of green tomatoes that won’t get a chance to ripen. What to do?
“Let them go, Mom,” my son says. He worries about me, how much I’m doing, how the work affects my back. He thinks I’m doing too much. But I can’t let them go. I can’t deliberately waste food. There are things I can do with those green tomatoes. And I have a food processor. Have food processor, will chop.
Everyone knows about fried green tomatoes. They are delicious. I really like them. But when you have 30-50 lbs. of green tomatoes, there’s no way you can eat them all fried before they start to spoil. So I’ve been investigating recipes for green tomatoes for some years, especially since I started growing heirloom tomatoes.
First, it should be noted, some of the tomatoes will box-ripen. I put mine in a cardboard box lined with newspaper and put it on a layer of towels (in case of leakage) in the coldest room in the house, which is pretty cool. I can tell which ones will ripen; they are usually a pale orange or streaky orange and green when they’re picked. Some of these will have enough flavor to eat fresh in salads and sliced on burgers and sandwiches. I’ve learned that if I want the tomatoes to ripen faster, it helps to put a couple of apples and a banana in the box and cover it with newspaper.
But I’ve found that after a few weeks, the tomatoes that started out looking green and developed some color before I got to work on them don’t really develop much flavor. These I leave in the box as long as I can and then cook them down and run them through my chinois, add herbs, onions, garlic, wine, and sugar, and make sauce, which I freeze because by then I’m so tired of canning, I can’t stand to can one more thing. And the reason I’m so tired of canning at that point is that I’ve been canning green tomatoes. Lots and lots of green tomatoes.
I’ve canned dilled green cherry tomatoes, sliced sweet pickled green tomatoes, spicy dilled sliced green tomatoes, spicy piccalilli (a green tomato relish) and sweet green tomato relish. I still have plenty of the above on my shelves from previous years. I like them all, but this year, I wanted to try something different.
This year, I made green tomato salsa verde. And I may never do anything else with all my future green tomatoes. It is that good. I made two kinds, a blended version from a recipe on a WordPress blog called bunkers down. I plan to use this for enchilada sauce: enchiladas made with chicken and Monterey jack cheese, smothered in this green tomato salsa verde. Yum. The other version, a Ball recipe, is chunkier, more like chip-dip salsa, and is delicious with tortilla chips, just like any other salsa. It’ll be wonderful on tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, too. (I like handheld food.) Both salsas have just the right amount of heat. I would reduce the amount of salt in the blended version, but I’m pretty salt sensitive. If you like more heat, turn it up with hotter peppers. (Never increase the amount of peppers to get more heat. That will affect acidity levels and create spoilage concerns.)
If you’ve got loads of green tomatoes and are looking for a way to use them, I recommend these two recipes. But save a few for frying. What’s October without fried green tomatoes?