You’ve got the most beautiful and healthy tomato plants producing great looking tomatoes but are you really picking the tomato fruit (yes, tomatoes are considered fruit) at the perfect time?
Is This Tomato Ripe?
The first way to tell if the tomato is ripe is to look at the color. With all the varieties out there, you can’t always depend upon the color, because there is not one ‘right’ ripe color for every variety. Each variety will have its own deep rich color that appears when it is properly ripe, and you will come to know that color when it appears. Just watch the tomato as it begins to ripen, and when it is a very deep and rich color, it’s probably ripe. If you’re not sure whether your tomato is ripe or not, check the skin.
Ripe Tomato’s Skin
The skin on an unripe tomato will appear dull and have a matte finish, while a ripe one will have a glossy shininess.
Heirloom varieties are different in that you pick the tomato before the color looks just right. It’ll take a bit of practice for you to get it right on heirloom varieties.
Cherry tomato skins will crack if you leave them on the vine until they are too ripe, so pick them early.
Ripe Tomato Firmness
You can also detect a ripe tomato by feel. Tomatoes that are still growing will feel very firm, with a very tight skin. Ripe tomatoes will feel slightly softer when you squeeze them, as they reach the right degree of ripeness.
Got Green Tomatoes? Fry ‘em or Let Them Ripen Slowly
Have you ever picked a tomato too early? Don’t throw it out! You can let green tomatoes ripen slowly on a windowsill, or in a paper bag. They will slowly ripen into almost the same perfection as vine ripening produces. Or you can create the quintessential Southern dish…
Have you ever eaten fried green tomatoes? If you’ve not, you must take the time to make this distinctive southern dish. You make fried green tomatoes by slicing a fully-formed green tomato in slices (1/4″ to 1/2″), dipping them in a dry cornmeal batter with salt and pepper, and then frying them in oil in a cast iron skillet. Delicious and addicting, this dish will be a popular one at your dinner table, and as a leftover served with eggs the next morning, so make a lot! (My Southern roots are showing here.)
Can Tomatoes be Too Ripe to Use?
What do you do if you find overripe tomatoes? Well, if there is no mold growing on the tomato, and no clear fluid coming out when you gently squeeze it, it is probably just fine to eat. A tomato that falls apart when firmly held is probably too far gone, but a slightly overripe fruit can be made into dishes like salsa, sauce, and soup. Eve when you cannot slice it without the slices falling apart, it can still be used. An unusable overripe tomato, however, will also have an off odor that you’ll know when you smell it – a sharp, acidic odor that is unpleasant – in addition to the general mushy, runny condition of the flesh of the tomato. Throw these in the compost pile (don’t forget to try to salvage any seeds you can, if the tomato is of an heirloom variety).
The Ultimate Test of Tomato Ripeness
The ultimate test of ripeness of any tomato is the taste. There is nothing else quite like the taste of a fully ripe homegrown tomato right off the vine. Once you taste that distinctive taste you will always remember it – and no store-bought, tasteless excuse for a tomato will ever do again. Don’t you wish we could grow tomatoes year round?