Monday 6 September 2010

Ripening tomatoes

Well, yes, obviously the best way to ripen tomatoes is probably to leave Nature to do it for you. But, at this time of year in England we often get precious little sunshine but lots of wet and windy weather which can cause havoc with tomato plants laden-down and top-heavy with swelling fuit, so I often harvest some of my tomatoes before they are fully ripe -- usually just as they begin to turn from green to orange (assuming that they are ones that will eventually be red). Actually, even fruits that are completely green will normally ripen given time -- it just takes longer.

A well-laden (but top-heavy) Ferline plant. Note the brick for added stability

Ferline tomatoes at various stages of ripeness

I then bring them indoors and keep them in trays on the Dining Room table. This way the warmth of the the house ripens them more quickly than if they were outdoors, and the fruit is preserved from damage -- e.g. bruising caused by falling off in a storm onto a hard surface. Furthermore, the "chef" [Jane] can keep an eye on them and select them for cooking at the perfect moment.  Oh, and I nearly forgot: I actually like looking at them!  Seeing the crop assembled there in front of you is very satisfying. If possible you should avoid putting tomatoes in the fridge, since this will diminish their flavour and aroma. I have read that putting a ripe banana next to your unripe tomatoes will speed up the ripening process, but I have never felt the need to try this.

Tomatoes ripening indoors

This year I am going to try ripening some of my Ildi tomatoes indoors. This variety produces vast quantities of fruit - small, oval-shaped, and lemon yellow when ripe. Apparently, if you cut a whole truss (these often comprise upwards of 100 fruits) and hang it up indoors, the fruit will ripen more quickly and without being exposed to the elements. Worth a try, I reckon, so I have done this. Here's a picture of a truss I have cut off from its parent plant.

A fine truss of Ildi tomatoes

So now I have hung this truss on the rail above the kitchen sink, where we keep a variety of cooking utensils. Luckily, this is a place where the tomatoes will get several hours' of sunshine in the afternoon and evening (weather permitting). I will compare the rate of ripening of these ones with the ones outdoors.

Ildi tomatoes hanging up in the kitchen to ripen

Another way to speed-up the ripening process is to give the plants much less water. When you do this, their survival instinct kicks-in and they "get a hurry on" and try to bring their fruit to maturity before they die of thirst. Cruel! This also works with chillis, by the way.

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