Hartley Magazine

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Ripening Tomatoes

Lia has made her final harvest of tomatoes from the greenhouse

There has suddenly been a need for quick action in the greenhouse. We have been idling on, letting the green tomatoes slowly turn a sort of half hearted faded pink in the waning sun, holding out for every bit of ripening we can get. But now the temperature has dropped and quite dramatically, and it is very clear that the season is over. We are now indoors, fiddling with the thermostat, trying to get the heating working, and it seems only fair that the tomatoes join us.

I am keen on fried green tomatoes at this time of year. I will admit that I only tried them originally because of ‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café’, which I cannot now remember if I just loved for its title or if the film was any good. Anyway the title made me do it, and I’m glad it did. Cooked green tomatoes are surprisingly tasty, actually just like red ones but with a more vegetable flavour, and less sweet obviously. They are very easy to do. Set out a bowl each of flour, beaten egg, and breadcrumbs (I use panko breadcrumbs for extra crunch but you could make your own by grating a stale loaf or putting chunks of one into a food processor). You can flavour the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper and I also put in a tablespoonful or two of a spice mix such as dukka. Slice the green tomatoes thickly and then dip them in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Fry them in oil until they are brown and crispy on both sides. This happens to be the amount of time it takes for the tomato within to cook through – you don’t particularly want to eat raw green tomatoes but this little bit of cooking is all they need. Be warned that they are super piping hot when they come out, very adjacent to the temperature of tomatoes in a cheese and tomato Breville toasty when you’re a little impatient with it. You will have to leave your fried green tomatoes for a little while to cool down to non-scalding temperature. I eat them with a dip made from mixing a few tablespoons of Greek or coconut yoghurt with a spoon full of tahini, a good dash of lime juice and salt and pepper.

We are not great chutney eaters in my family so the rest will be ripened as well as we can, and used in sauces if they resist. I love to lay them all out along the windowsill and watch them turn, but I have read that this isn’t actually the best way to ripen them, simply because it toughens up the skins. The alternative way – and I have tried this too – is to put a few each into a paper bag and tuck them away somewhere dark, trying not to completely forget about them of course. When I did it I did forget about them until deep into the winter but surprisingly they were fine, ripened red and ready to eat, though, annoyingly, with pretty thick skins anyway.

It’s been a good tomato growing season here, as ever too short, and as ever I end it with a promise to myself that we will start earlier next year. My greatest results actually came from plants delivered from Simpsons Seeds early in the year, and those plants romped away well ahead of any we managed to sow ourselves. A little bit of an investment but – unusually when it comes to gardening – one that actually paid for itself as the summer wore on.