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Trick to keep tomatoes fresh longer. August 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Nothing’s as good as a ripe tomato in summer. And nothing’s as gross as a tomato that’s rotted away to a moldy, squashy, splattery, stinking mess seemingly the moment your back was turned. Eeeeewwwww!!!!

No doubt the best way to avoid this is to use your bounty of vine-ripened tomatoes (whether they’re homegrown or fresh from a local farm stand or farmers’ market) to make fresh salsa or fresh tomato sauce as soon as you get them home. But what if you want to save those luscious, incomparable summer treats to enjoy on a burger or BLT or CLT (cheese, lettuce and tomato, for us vegetarian types) or in a Caprese salad (with Romaine, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt) or that classic Southern summer lunch combo, sliced ripe tomatoes topped with cottage cheese? Or chopped as an accompaniment to refried beans and all the other goodness of a Mexican Night Fiesta, or in a classic fresh corn and black bean salad? Or you name it?

Thank God, help is now at hand, thanks to the good folks at America’s Test Kitchen, the publishers of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines. They did some experiments to see how to keep ripe tomatoes from going bad, and discovered that they stay fresh a lot longer when stored stem-end down rather than stem-end up.

This is counterintuitive to me, to say the least. I of course know that you’re supposed to keep tomatoes out on the counter or in a bowl at room temperature rather than refrigerating them. But I’ve always kept mine stem-end-up, so I could monitor for the first signs of mold, which always seems to start at the point where the stem is removed from the fruit, and not be taken by surprise. (Nothing like grabbing a tomato from the bowl and discovering that half of it’s gone moldy and rotten; I check mine every day, since I’ve learned from ghastly experience that assuming everything is fine leads to nausea-inducing disaster.)

The America’s Test Kitchen folks speculate that the stem end is the entry point for mold and bacteria. So putting the stem end down prevents that from occurring. They also suggest that moisture escapes through the stem end, causing wrinkling, and that this can be prevented by keeping the stem end down.

What they don’t say, but I assume from their comments, is that they’re putting the tomatoes stem-end down on a flat surface, such as a countertop or paper-lined shelf. Not, in other words, in a bowl as I do, which presumably would still let air (with its attendant bacteria and molds) reach the stem end, no matter what way it was pointed.

But what if, like me, you don’t have the counter space to set out a bunch of stem-end-down tomatoes? Well, here’s a weird trick that the America’s Test Kitchen folks found worked just as well: Tape over the stem end and your tomatoes will keep, plump and mold-free, every bit as long as those stored stem-end-down. Both will stay fresh as just-picked for at least a week.

               ‘Til next time,




1. pixilated2 - August 20, 2011

You are an Angel for posting this! I worked my tail off yesterday canning up my tomatoes from the garden to prevent just this occurrence. I was dismayed that I didn’t have the time to can up the other 10 lbs now sitting in a tray on the counter. I worked under the same incorrect assumption that stem up was best… I will be marching over to flip them now! THANK YOU!

Most welcome, Lynda! Who’d’a thunk?! But the Test Kitchen always uses controls for its experiments, and they swore that it made a huge difference in keeping time and quality. That’s especially good news with those gorgeous sandwich-type tomatoes that you just can’t bear to can! But good for you for getting busy and putting so many up! Between the cold and rains and then the drought, my tomato crop is, sadly, a disaster this year. But I just used our last jar of home-canned spaghetti sauce, so it’s high time I hightailed it to our local heirloom tomato farm, bought a big box of “seconds,” and got busy canning myself!

2. Susan McWilliams - September 1, 2012

Stem down is absolutely correct and they don’t have to be on a flat surface. You can pile them 3 or 4 or 5 layers deep in a basket, stem down and they’ll be fine.

Hi Susan! I notice your last name, McWilliams, is the same as that of my hero Julia McWilliams Child. Are you perhaps a relative of Julia’s?

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