Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

I dread the end of the growing season for many reasons, but near the top of the list is that it's the end of fresh tomato season. Unless you've a) had frost already, or b) are sufficiently ahead of the game that you have already removed your tomato plants and cleaned up your tomato garden (and if you have: stop it! - you're making the rest of us look bad), there's still hope for at least some of your remaining tomatoes. This is the time of year when people post lots of green tomato recipes--chow chow, fried green tomatoes (at the Whistlestop Cafe even), green tomato pie, green tomato ketchup, and heaven only knows what else. But I'll share a dirty little culinary secret with you: green tomatoes don't taste very good. Instead of disguising them in pies or breading and attempting to sneak them down the throats of your unsuspecting family members, I suggest you ripen your green tomatoes indoors. They won't taste as good as vine-ripened tomatoes, but they'll taste better than those mushy red abominations you find in the grocery store.

Here's what to do:

1. Pick all your green tomatoes that look remotely mature and are in good shape. They should have something close to their mature shape, be somewhat close to their mature size, and not have bruises, soft spots, insect damage, or other major yucky spots.

2. Rinse or wipe them off.

3. Put them in in a single layer in some kind of container and cover them to keep out fruit flies and other pests. I use paper shopping bags. I put a layer of tomatoes in the bottom, fold the tops down to keep out pests, and put the bags in plastic trays to keep any tomato guts from dripping onto the carpet.

4. Store them somewhere dry and warm (warm as in room temperature, not warm as in Mojave Desert in August). According to a Wikipedia article, tomatoes stop ripening when the temperature drops below 54.5 °F (12.5 °C).

5. Check them regularly, removing any that are a) ripe or b) nasty. I check mine each week.

This method has worked well for me for years. Sometimes I still have fresh tomatoes at Thanksgiving, and I don't have to coerce my defenseless family into eating green tomatoes. What's not to love?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Heirloom apples

I've heard of heirloom tomatoes, heirloom melons, and heirloom squash, but until recently I'd never heard of heirloom apples. Like everyone else, I read The Botany of Desire a few years ago, but somehow I didn't think about the fact that there must be lots of old varieties of apples, since apples have been in cultivation for many centuries. Then I heard about an heirloom apple tasting in Venersborg, WA, last Saturday, and decided to do some research. According to an article on the Slow Food USA site, over 500 varieties of apples were cultivated in the US by 1850, yet only a handful are grown commercially now. Much like tomatoes, commercial varieties are often selected for appearance and durability in shipping rather than taste. Veggie Gardening Tips posted two articles on heirloom apples: Heirloom Apples and Antique Apple Varieties. The Washington State University Clark County Extension site also offers a great article on heirloom apples.

We couldn't make it to the apple tasting, but Jacqueline at Friendly Haven Rise Farm, who sponsored the tasting, invited us up to visit their farm and purchase some heirloom apple trees. The trees they sell come from an older gentleman who grows over 1000 (!!) varieties of apples, including several that even Google had never heard of. We had a lovely visit, brought home a couple of trees, and look forward to growing our own heirloom apples. If you'd like to do the same and you're within driving distance of Southwest Washington, I suggest you call the good folks at Friendly Haven Rise Farm to see if they have some trees left. You might also check out the heirloom apple tasting in Parkdale, OR, this weekend. If you're out of the area, try Trees of Antiquity, which seems to have a good selection (note: I've never done business with them, so I can't vouch for anything other than the impressive list of varieties on their web site). You too can grow your own little piece of history--a delicious little piece that will taste great in a pie.

Hmm... that last sentence should net me some interesting referral traffic. It might even compete with the infamous deer anus post on my personal blog.