What To Do With All Those Tomatoes

How to Use Your Garden Tomatoes Before Frost Hits

September 21, 2020
Tomato Varieties
Memento Image/Getty Images

Days are getting shorter, nights are getting colder, and in many parts of the country, frost is just around the corner. Now what do we do with all those fresh tomatoes? Whether your tomatoes split, are green, or just need to get picked before frost, I’ll show you how to roast tomatoes and other delicious ways to use your tomatoes!

Rescuing Imperfect Tomatoes

Tomatoes do not need to be those perfect, round (and often tasteless) specimens you find in the grocery store. Don’t throw a tomato because it’s “wrinkly” or a weird shape.

Or, if you’ve had a lot of rain and your tomatoes have cracks or blight or blossom-end rot, it’s perfectly fine to cut around the cracks and eat in salads, sandwiches, salsas, and sauces. (However, do not use these tomatoes for canning!)

Taste it! If the tomato doesn’t taste good (sometimes the case with blight), that’s another issue; just toss it in the compost. But rest assured that it won’t harm or kill you. Also, if any pests or larvae are inside the fruit when you cut it, then discard that tomato.

Encourage Ripening

Tomatoes will keep ripening on the vine until a freeze. If you get a local warning for an overnight freeze, pick your green tomatoes and bring them in. To accelerate ripening on the vine, reduce watering, pick off extra blossoms, harvest smaller fruit, and shift the roots a bit to encourage tomatoes to ripen.

If you pick green tomatoes, you can help them ripen more quickly artificially. Place them in a paper bag, wrap them in newspaper, and set them on a rack in the garage or basement. See how to ripen your green tomatoes both on and off the vine—and also when it’s your cue to remove those tomatoes from the vine. 

Roasting Tomatoes

After a very dry summer, we just had two inches of rain in one deluge. The cherry tomatoes greedily sucked up all that water and started to spilt. We couldn’t eat them all at once and did not want a single one to go to waste. Since the weather has cooled here in New Hampshire, it is much easier to have the oven on now rather than on a hot summer day, so we decided roasting was the way to go.

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Cherry tomatoes before they split.

How to Roast Tomatoes

Roasting tomatoes is very quick and easy, and is a great way to use up those that have imperfections or won’t keep for much longer. Here’s how we did it.

  • Brush rimmed cookie sheets with olive oil. If you prefer not to use oil, line the pans with parchment paper to keep the cooked tomatoes from sticking.
  • Slice cherry tomatoes in half. I cut them along the lines where they had already started to split. If you have large tomatoes, you can roast them too. Just cut into rings about ½ inch thick.

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Sliced tomatoes ready for herbs and then it is into the oven.

  • Spread tomatoes out on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and your favorite herbs. Thyme, oregano, and garlic are my “go-tos”. Drizzle the tops with more olive oil if you wish.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until the edges of the tomatoes look dry and start to brown and the juices begin to caramelize. I let them go a little longer because the burnt ones are my favorites! Since my oven is ancient, I swap the sheets on the top and bottom racks after ½ hour for even cooking.

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Too bad you can’t smell these! They taste better than they look!

These roasted tomatoes are incredibly delicious and make a great sauce for pasta or rice—but don’t stop there! They are yummy on anything that benefits from an extra burst of flavorful tomato goodness. If you can control yourself and keep from eating them all right out of the oven, freeze them in bags or containers to use over the winter. I dole a cup or so of them out into each of the containers of soup mix I make up using whatever we have a surplus of (usually beans, summer squash, and kale or chard). It is a joy to have on hand when making soup in the winter. Just dump a quart of the mix into hot chicken broth, throw in a handful of rice or lentils to thicken it, and voila! A meal fit for a gardener!

Of course, there are many other ways to deal with a glut of tomatoes.

What Else To Do With Tomatoes

  • Drying: You can dry tomatoes in a dehydrator or in the sun if you have acces to a dry, south-facing location.

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Tomatoes ready for the dehydrator.

  • Freeze tomatoes: Wash and freeze them whole. This is what I do with a lot of our extra tomatoes. It is easy to pull out just the number you need for a recipe and the skins slide right off in warm water. Much easier than dipping them in boiling water on a hot summer afternoon and peeling them before they go in the freezer.
  • Fry or pickle green tomatoes: Tomatoes still green? No worries. Make delicious fried green tomatoes or green tomato pickle!
  • Can tomatoes: Don’t forget canning. Now that the weather is cooler, canning is easier to do. Just clear your calendar and be prepared to make a day of it if you have a lot of tomatoes to process. Be sure to follow the USDA guidelines for safe canning procedures. It is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding to see all those jars of tomatoes or sauce or salsa lined up in the pantry. See the Almanac’s Guide to Canning Tomatoes.

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Image: Roma tomatoes are perfect for tomato sauce.
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Image: One family’s annual Tomato Day! A Job Done!

Have a Tomato Day!

Enjoy this video by a family friend. Every year, they have a “Tomato Day” to process the season’s tomato harvest. It’s the entire family working together—wife, husband, daughters, and husbands participating.

Stuffed Tomatoes

We were given seeds of an unnamed experimental hybrid tomato to try. It has given us lots of the most perfect looking, round, red tomatoes. Unfortunately, they are hard as a rock even when dead ripe and, compared to the heirlooms we grow, they have no flavor. That said, they are perfect for stuffing, holding their shape even when baked for an hour. The stuffing helps to add flavor and they are quite good served that way, but I will never grow them again!

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There are still cherry tomatoes coming! As long as frost holds off we will be roasting more of them.

How do you deal with your overabundance of tomatoes?

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.

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