Fresh Tomatoes in November

Ever since I moved to northern Wisconsin, fresh tomatoes have all but vanished from my diet.  The last frost of the spring is in late May or early June, and the first frost will be sometime in August–usually we even get a hard freeze that month.  So it’s a pretty short window for growing tomatoes.  In the coming years, I will build some hoop houses, install water walls, and deploy other tricks to extend the season, but for now I am learning to have summer with only a few tomatoes.

Last year I came across a stellar recipe for green tomato salsa, and I froze quart after quart of it.  This year, we were remodeling the kitchen and I was without a stove during harvest season, so I couldn’t cook up the salsa.  During the third week of August, the forecast called for a hard freeze.  We went out and brought in everything we could.  I pulled up some of the tomato plants and hung them upside down from the rafters in the basement.  Many of you probably know that the green tomatoes will continue to ripen this way.  I still had a ton of green tomatoes, so I decided to try a trick I had read about.  I wrapped them in newspaper and put them in a cardboard box.  I stashed the box in the basement.  That was more than two months ago.  Last night I decided I better go through the box to see if they were rotting.  A few were, but most were gorgeous and still ripening!  The trees are all bare, the grass is brown, what a treat it was to open this box to see various shades of red, yellow, and orange staring back at me. Even the ones that were going bad were still mostly good, and I used them to make a spaghetti sauce.

This method is much less messy than uprooting plants and hanging them upside down, and the tomatoes in the box did not get the puckered look like the hanging ones did.  I’ve only  had a few of the tomatoes so far, so I am still figuring out whether the flavor is as good.  It’s certainly not that fresh-out-of-the-garden taste, but it’s still better than the tomato impersonations you find at the supermarket.  Next year I plan to expand my use of the cardboard box method.

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