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Posted on Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 4 p.m.

Using paper bag magic to ripen green tomatoes

By Jim and Janice Leach


Janice Leach | Contributor

Maybe every home gardener knows this trick, but, if not, everyone should.

I learned the tomato bag trick from Jim long ago, but it still never fails to delight me. I think it’s kind of a miracle. This technique is extremely handy for the end of the season, when frost is threatening, and green tomatoes still hang on the vines. We enjoy a few fried green tomatoes, but since the red ones are far more popular at our house, we use the tomato bag or box to ripen most of the stragglers.

Start by picking tomatoes that are mostly green, but that show some change in color — like a spot of red or an overall turn toward yellow. Completely green tomatoes will also sometimes work but not always. 

Take these still basically green tomatoes inside and give them a good washing to remove any dirt. As you wash the tomatoes, you can easily pop off the stems too so they don’t puncture each other. Sort the tomatoes at this time. Ones with pokes, nibbles or other flaws are not suitable for this experiment; it’s better to compost them now! Dry the tomatoes completely and then put them all into a big paper grocery bag.

Fold the top over to close the bag.


Janice Leach | Contributor

Then wait.

Look inside every day to see what magical ripening action has taken place. Take out the fully ripened tomatoes and add more newly-picked mostly green tomatoes if you have them.

Check the tomatoes' ripening progress every day or so. If a slip-up occurs and one goes mushy, simply sort out the rest into another paper bag, washing away anything suspect, and toss out the damp paper bag (or recycle it).

This year, I’ve used a wide but shallow cardboard box (approximately 18” x 12” x 6”) as the tomato ripening center. I put a paper bag in the bottom as a liner and added a single layer of tomatoes inside and then closed the lid. I’ve also heard of people wrapping tomatoes individually in newspaper and putting them all together in a box. I find the paper bag or layer of tomatoes in the box approaches simpler and easier to keep track of.


Janice Leach | Contributor

To ripen tomatoes this way, it’s important to pick the tomatoes before even a touch of frost gets them. I have tried to ripen frostbitten tomatoes in the past and it never worked at all. They go mushy suddenly, and it’s not pretty.

What makes the tomatoes in the bag ripen? The scientific explanation is that the ethylene gas from the ripening tomatoes stimulates the other tomatoes to ripen. The tomato bag or box is a cool trick to get the most out of your tomatoes.

Janice and Jim Leach garden a backyard plot in downtown Ann Arbor and tend the website 20 Minute Garden.


Jim and Janice Leach

Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 1:17 p.m.

@ Pam Stout: Good luck with ripening your green tomatoes! Some people claim they aren't as good as ones ripened outside, but I think they are a lot better than anything store-bought. @ Monica Milla: Our bag has some Rose, Volkov, San Marzano, and Costoluto Genovese tomatoes... a 'mixed bag' for sure! @ dading: I know of people who use this technique with other fruits, although I haven't done so myself. We don't usually have mounds of unripe fruit on hand, other than tomatoes. The fruit vs vegetable debate is a bit controversial, as Jim wrote about here on in August. Botanically, fruits are the seed container of a flowering plant, which would include many things we usually consider vegetables. In the kitchen and at the table, fruits are usually sweet and vegetables savory, although even that is a blurry line. Tomatoes should be fruits, but they were defined as a vegetable by the US government in 1883 in order to be taxed differently. Ketchup as a fruit smoothie got a laugh at our house! @ Breadman: In 2001, we ate hamburgers at the soon-to-close Motoraunt Restaurant in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada while on a big road trip vacation. The owners grew all of their own tomatoes in dozens of 5 gallon pots lining the sidewalk and lot. Edmonton is pretty far north with a short growing season, and the owner said she ripened tomatoes all winter long for their amazingly good and huge burgers. We were impressed with that level of devotion!


Wed, Oct 6, 2010 : 10:28 a.m.

Yes it does work! I do it every year just befors the frost kills them off. But I place mine in a box lined with news paper and store them it a dark cool place and they still come out red. We get a few bads but most of all more good.... Still beats store tomatoes bby far.

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Oct 6, 2010 : 5:01 a.m.

works for bananas too. probably everything that would ripen on a vine. is tomato a fruit? if so, does that make ketchup a fruit smoothiee?

Monica Milla

Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 1:27 p.m.

Yep, this is a great trick. I have some 'German Johnsons' and 'German Strawberry' ripening in a paper bag as I type, lol. :)