Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade When You’ve Only Got Green Tomatoes

Let’s face it. This has been one freaky summer in Central Ohio. First, it was unbelievably wet and then it was ungodly hot and now it is unusually chilly. While I love our recent temperate weather for almost every activity, my tomatoes, peppers and okra do not share my enthusiasm. Tomatoes love it when it is 75 degrees. When it is too hot, they will not set fruit and will not turn green. Indeed, if it more than ten degrees warmer or ten degrees cooler, they get a little fussy about turning from green to red. Everyone I know has been disappointed with their tomato crop this year. Even OSU was grimacing about this in their last weekly Buckeye Yard and Garden report:

This "tomato time-out" is mainly due to the plant using most of its resources, like water and nutrients, in addition to its manufactured photosynthetic products, to simply survive temperature extremes. More resources maybe partitioned to produce more roots in an attempt to access more water which causes the plant to suddenly cease to grow. Remember, the plants are attempting sustain all of their physiological processes, like cool its leaf tissues, and continue to grow in order to produce new blooms and new foliage, and also ripen fruit, all at the same time! That requires a huge amount of plant resources and energy when environmental factors are perfect, so imagine what that is like when the plant is trying to cope with an environmental stress of…oh let's say 98F and dry, hot constant winds blowing!

Tomatoes do not like cooler temperatures either. In fact, temperatures lower than 50F will cause a type of chilling injury. It may take 2-3 days for tomatoes to return to their previous levels of photosynthetic activity, even after just a brief chill period. For this reason, the best way to preserve the color and flavor of vine ripened tomatoes is to keep them in a cool place out on the counter instead of inside the refrigerator! As the environmental conditions experienced by tomatoes and bell peppers this growing season were reviewed, everyone suddenly realized that just having green really a good thing!

I've pinched every flower off every plant I have to force all the energy into ripening the fruit instead of creating new fruit. However, I am still facing an overabundance of green tomatoes and there is no Indian Summer in sight.

Determined to turn these green tomato lemons to lemonade, I have begun experimenting with green tomato recipes so that I can salvage some food from this dilemma. After all, there is more to life than fried green tomatoes.

Roasted Tomatoes

My new favorite thing is roasted tomatoes. I chop up tomatoes into inch chunks (i.e., halves, quarters or eighths), toss them in olive oil, spread them skin down on a cookie sheet and then bake them at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Yesterday, I made a sauce by cooking them at 350 degrees for two hours. This is awesome with red tomatoes and is surprisingly good with green tomatoes, too. With red tomatoes, I mix them with pasta, parley and cottage cheese or just puree them into a sauce (while adding basil, rosemary and/or thyme and roasted garlic). I ate all of the green ones before trying them on crackers with goat cheese.

Green Tomato Salsa

I experimented yesterday with a tomatillo salsa recipe from The Coyote Cafe and, guess what? It worked and looked pretty to boot.

• 2 pounds fresh green tomatoes
• 6 tablespoons of red onion
• 2 red Serrano chiles, finely chopped
• ¼ cup lime juice
• 1 bunch of chopped cilantro (or ¼ cup)

1. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute. The skins might slip off for tiny tomatoes, but no worries. We’re just looking to blanch them.
2. Puree tomatoes in a food processor. You might need to do this in batches.
3. Mix ingredients together and serve.

Makes 2 pints. I also canned this, which involved bringing the mixture to a boil for one minute before putting them into the jars.

I have just started my green tomato odyssey. I found a website with 25 green tomato recipes to try, so I’ll let you know if any of them work. In the meantime, keep in mind that green tomatoes are not as juicy as red (so you will not need to strain them) and are more acidic (which means that you'll need less vinegar or lemon juice for canning them).

In the meantime, I’m waiting for my first backyard beefstake tomato to turn red before the

squirrels get it . . . . You can see that it is close.

[Editor's Note: The tomato turned red after I brought it inside. However, four days after I posted this, someone decided to steal the four green ones pictured above it (after I spent the summer watering them every other day).]

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