Harvesting Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes for frying aren’t often sold at markets in Chicagoland, and are one of the unique treats one can enjoy from the garden. While all tomatoes are green while unripe, there is a right time to pick a green tomato for frying, and this is not often explained in fried green tomato recipes.

The best green tomatoes for frying are, like most dishes, a matter of preference, but it’s generally agreed that you’ll want to pick an unripe tomato when it’s full-size or nearly full-size. As tomatoes grow larger, they go from feeling rock hard to firm while still green, then become a little softer as they begin to ripen and change color. Many prefer green tomatoes for frying when they are full-size, firm but not hard, and some prefer them with just a slight blush of ripe color.

These tomatoes are in the perfect stage for frying.

These tomatoes are in the perfect stage for frying.

Here’s a great recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes, from Patrick and Gina Neely.

Some tomato varieties are still green while ripe, including the heirloom Aunt Ruby’s German Green and the open-pollinated variety developed by Tom Wagner, Green Zebra, which isn’t quite old enough to be considered an heirloom. Although most gardeners use color to determine when to pick a ripe red, purple, orange or yellow tomato, it’s a little easier to use the sense of touch to determine when to pick a ripe green tomato.

Grasp the tomato between your thumb and forefinger and press gently. You’re looking for a slight “give” when pressed, the same feeling as when you hold a ripe red tomato. If it still feels firm, it’s not ready yet. Green Zebras may show a slight blush of yellow at the bottom of the tomato, while Aunt Ruby’s German Green may show a slight blush of pink throughout the middle when ripe. These varieties will make fine fried green tomatoes if picked while still firm as described above, but will likely fall apart (as any ripe tomato) when fried if picked while ripe.

Aunt Ruby's German Green, held by LaManda Joy.

A glorious Aunt Ruby’s German Green.

Green tomatoes are also fantastic in chutney. If you still have green tomatoes on the vine at the end of the season when a frost is coming, this is a great recipe to save the harvest and preserve in canning jars. Of course, don’t forget Lindsay’s famous recipe for Green Tomato Cupcakes!