When to Harvest Tomatoes & Preserve Them Like a Pro


Do you know when to harvest your tomatoes? Do you know how to enjoy them fresh and preserve them? Enjoy fresh garden tomatoes year-round.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Picking a large heirloom tomato off the vine.

Do you crave the taste of sun-ripened tomatoes, bursting with flavor and freshness? Imagine picking a plump, juicy tomato straight from your garden and savoring its unparalleled deliciousness. But here’s the secret: knowing when to harvest tomatoes and how to preserve them like a pro.

Get ready to dive into the world of tomatoes, from determining the perfect time to harvest to discovering recipes and techniques for preserving their unmatched quality. Don’t let your homegrown bounty go to waste โ€“ master the art of tomato harvesting and preservation to savor these mouthwatering delights all year round.

Determining the Right Time to Harvest Tomatoes

By harvesting your tomatoes at the right time, you can ensure the perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess that makes them so irresistible. So, how do you determine when that moment has arrived?

The Color of Your Tomatoes

First, take note of the tomato’s color. A ripe tomato will have a vibrant, uniform color throughout its skin. For red tomatoes, this means a deep red hue. However, remember that different tomato varieties can have varying colors when ripe, such as yellow or even purple. The key is to look for a rich, fully developed color that indicates the fruit is ready for picking.

The Texture of Your Tomatoes

Another telltale sign of ripeness is the tomato’s texture. Gently press your finger against the fruit’s skin, and it should yield slightly under pressure. Avoid applying too much force; you don’t want to bruise or damage the tomato. The skin of a perfectly ripe tomato will feel smooth and taut, with no soft spots or blemishes. A firm yet pliable texture indicates it’s time to pick tomatoes.

The Size & Weight of Your Tomatoes

Lastly, consider the fruit’s size and weight. While size varies among different tomato varieties, a fully ripe tomato tends to be plump, with a healthy heft in your hand. It should feel substantial, indicating that it has absorbed ample nutrients and water from the plant. An overly small or lightweight tomato may not be fully mature and could lack the desired flavor and juiciness.

Should You Harvest Green Tomatoes?

Vine-ripened tomatoes can make an excellent snack – but harvesting them early from the tomato plants has many benefits for gardeners. 

Heirlooms and varieties like beefsteak tomatoes don’t always stay firmly attached to the stem when they’re ripe, and some are prone to splitting. Picking them while they’re still green can keep them from falling off and wasting. Additionally, it’s a great idea to harvest late-season tomatoes when they’re mature green to avoid the damage caused by cold weather and an unexpected first frost. 

Mature green-stage tomatoes that are brought inside to continue the ripening process slowly are often the way to go! To do this, place your mature green tomato on a windowsill that gets direct sunlight. Place the tomato stem side down to prevent it from rolling away or bruising. To speed up the process, store some bananas nearby. Bananas produce a lot of ethylene gas and will increase the likelihood of quickly getting red tomatoes.

A closeup view of green tomatoes in the garden/

Recipes for Fresh Tomatoes

One classic recipe showcasing ripe tomatoes’ flavor is the Caprese salad. Layer slices of fresh tomatoes with creamy mozzarella cheese, fragrant basil leaves, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze or olive oil. The combination of these simple ingredients creates a harmony of flavors that is hard to resist. Made with fresh mozzarella, thick-sliced ripe tomatoes, and fresh basil, this caprese salad recipe is simple yet impressive for any meal.

Try making a fresh tomato sauce if you’re in the mood for something a little heartier. Simmer together ripe tomatoes, garlic, onions, and your favorite herbs to create a rich and flavorful base for pasta, pizzas, or even as a dipping sauce for breadsticks. If you’re intimidated by making homemade sauces, making this tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes is a great place to start. The ingredients are minimal, the technique is simple, and the results are mouthwateringly delicious.

For a refreshing and light dish, consider making tomato gazpacho. This chilled soup is made with ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, red onions, garlic, and a splash of sherry vinegar. It’s ready in just 15 minutes! Serve it as an appetizer or as a refreshing summer meal on a hot day.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, explore global cuisines that highlight the versatility of tomatoes. From Italian bruschetta to Spanish paella, the world is full of mouthwatering recipes that feature these ruby-red gems. 

These are just a few ideas to get you started, but the possibilities are endless when it comes to cooking with fresh tomatoes. Experiment with different flavors, textures, and cooking techniques to find your own signature tomato recipes that will delight your taste buds.

Tomato Preservation Methods to Try

As wonderful as it would be, we can’t just fill the refrigerator with tomatoes and expect to enjoy them all winter long. In fact, tomatoes should be stored at room temperature on the kitchen counter, but even then, they only last for about a week. That’s why people preserve them for the winter.

When it comes to preserving your homegrown tomatoes, the possibilities are as vast as your imagination. These techniques will help you avoid wasting your bountiful tomato harvest and ensure that you have a ready supply of flavorsome tomatoes at your disposal whenever you need them.

The Benefits of Canning Tomatoes

Canning tomatoes is a popular preservation method that ensures the flavors and nutrients of your tomatoes are locked in for months to come. Unlike freezing, the canning process allows you to enjoy the taste of your homegrown tomatoes without the loss of texture that can sometimes occur when thawing frozen tomatoes. By canning, you bring out the best of your tomatoes and create a versatile pantry item that can be used in countless recipes.

One of the key benefits of canning tomatoes is the ability to control the ingredients and flavors in your preserved tomatoes. When you make your own tomato paste or sauce through canning, you have complete control over the amount of salt, sugar, and other seasonings you add. This allows you to customize the taste according to your preferences and dietary needs. Whether you prefer a tangy spaghetti sauce or a sweeter tomato paste, canning gives you the freedom to create the perfect flavor profile.

Another advantage of canning tomatoes is the convenience it offers in meal preparation. Having jars of homemade tomato paste or sauce readily available in your pantry eliminates the need for last-minute trips to the grocery store. With canned tomatoes at hand, you can effortlessly whip up a delicious pasta sauce, soup, or braise, adding a burst of rich tomato flavor to your culinary creations.

Simply Canning has an entire section of her website dedicated to canning tomatoes.

Making Tomato Preserves

One of the most scrumptious ways to preserve tomatoes is by making tomato preserves. While canning tomatoes allows you to enjoy their freshness and peak ripeness long after summer has ended, making tomato preserves takes it a step further by creating a rich and flavorful condiment that can elevate any dish. Imagine spreading a dollop of sweet and tangy tomato preserves on a crusty piece of bread or stirring it into sauces and stews to add a burst of intense tomato flavor. With tomato preserves, the possibilities are endless.

This easy recipe from A Spicey Prospective makes the best tangy, sweet, and savory jam with tomatoes! It can be prepared as a tomato freezer jam or for canning.

Your freshly made tomato preserves will unlock a world of flavor possibilities for your future dishes. Spread it on toast or use it as a dip.

Preserving Tomatoes in Oil

Preserving tomatoes in oil adds a rich flavor to your preserved tomatoes and provides a different texture and versatility. 

You’ll need to start with ripe, firm tomatoes and remove their skins. I’ve got a wonderful trick for that! 

Next, slice the peeled tomatoes into thick wedges, removing the seeds if desired. The seeds can add bitterness to the preserved tomatoes, so it’s a personal preference whether to include them or not. 

Once your tomatoes are ready, lay them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle them generously with olive oil. Add a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and any other herbs or spices you prefer for added flavor.

Roast the tomato wedges in the oven at a low temperature, around 200ยฐF, for several hours until they become tender and slightly dehydrated. The slow roasting process intensifies the flavors of the tomatoes while allowing them to retain their natural sweetness. Keep an eye on them to prevent over-drying, as you want the texture to be slightly soft and pliable.

Once your roasted tomato wedges have cooled, it’s time to pack them into sterilized jars. Layer the tomato wedges, ensuring they are completely submerged in olive oil. This helps to preserve their flavor and prolong their shelf life. Feel free to add additional herbs or garlic cloves to infuse the oil with even more aromatic goodness.

A jar of tomato wedges in oil.

Seal the jars tightly and store them in a cool, dark place for at least a week to allow the flavors to meld together. After this initial resting period, your preserved tomatoes in oil are ready to be enjoyed. They can be used as a topping for bruschetta, tossed into pasta, or added to sandwiches.

Roast and Freeze Tomatoes

Now that you’ve mastered preserving tomatoes in oil get ready to learn another fantastic method: roasting and freezing tomatoes. 

Roasting tomatoes brings out their natural sweetness and intensifies their flavor, making them the perfect addition to various dishes. Whether you plan to use them in soups, stews, sauces, or even as a standalone side dish, roasted tomatoes will add a burst of rich, concentrated tomato goodness.

Check out this simple roasted tomato freezer recipe from Homemade & Yummy.

Properly frozen, your roasted tomatoes can last up to a year without losing their flavor or quality.

Embrace the satisfaction of preserving nature’s sweetness, and let your tomato-filled pantry become a treasure trove of culinary delights. Armed with this knowledge, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, head to your garden, and embark on your own tomato-preserving adventure. Happy harvesting! And don’t forget to save your seeds for next year’s garden.

A pinterest-friendly graphic for my post on how to tell when to harvest tomatoes and how to eat them fresh or preserve them.

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