The Art of the Ripe Tomato

tomatoes - new hope free pressCourtesy of the folks at Rolling Hills Farm:

Most people associate hot weather with ripe tomatoes, however, this is not the case. The weather has to be perfect for tomatoes to begin to ripen. All across the area, we and other local farmers have patiently waited for our tomatoes to ripen. They turned huge, but stayed green.

For the past few weeks, as you’ve all experienced along with us, the temperatures have been excruciatingly hot. This did not bode well for the tomatoes. The temperature for tomatoes to ripen is 70-75 F. Too cold, and they rot on the vine without turning red; too hot (over 85 degrees), and they begin to stop ripening.

Lycopene, which is crucial to human health, is what causes the tomatoes to turn red. It is also helpful for preventing heart disease, and tomatoes are one of the few fruits with an excess of this. A cooked tomato’s lycopene is much more easily absorbed by our bodies then a raw tomato.  When the temperature outdoors is 90F, tomatoes can’t produce lycopene don’t turn red.

The fruit on tomatoes also stops forming above 95F. The plants will drop their flowers, and never form fruit when it’s that hot outside. So whenever an intense heat wave sets in, we know that tomato production will drop in a few weeks. Luckily, we put shade cloth on our high tunnel to prevent this very thing and to make sure our tomatoes in there keep on trucking along.

The ideal temperature to store tomatoes is also 70-75 F. Never refrigerate them! The cold temperatures cause them to turn their sugars into starch, turning them bland and mealy, ruining their delicious flavor.

With the heat wave we went through and the cooler temperatures we had last week, so many tomatoes ripened at the exact same time, leading to an excess of tomatoes!  Early this week we will be driving them to a family run farm in Pennsylvania for canning and are hoping to have some tomato butter in the share this fall, extending the tomato season for all!

Tomato Pie

  • 2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 refrigerated piecrust
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten (optional)


  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees . Place sliced tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels. Sprinkle one side of tomatoes with 1/4 tsp of the salt; let stand for 10 minutes. Gently pat salted side of tomatoes with paper towels to absorb some of the moisture. Flip tomatoes and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 tsp of the salt.
  2. Meanwhile, fit piecrust into a 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly on the bottom. Place half the mozzarella over the bread crumbs, along with a third of the tomatoes and a third of the basil. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp of the Parmesan. Layer with a third of the tomatoes, a third of the basil and remaining mozzarella. Layer with remaining tomatoes, basil and Parmesan. Season with pepper and, if desired, brush edges of crust with beaten egg.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, until crust is browned. Cool 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.


    •  Pie will have moisture. For a less wet pie, seed the tomatoes.

Where to Buy Rolling Hills Farm Produce:
Wrightstown Farmer’s Market, Wrightstown PA, Saturdays 9-1 p.m.

Asbury Fresh Farmer’s Market, Asbury Park, N.J., Sundays 11-4

DeAnna’s Parking Lot, Lambertville, Mondays 3:30-7 p.m.

Parking lot across from Washington State Park visitor’s center, Washington Crossing, PA, Wednesdays, 3:30-7 p.m.




About the author


1 Comment

  • Wait, what? In the number one tomato growing region in the world (California’s Central Valley) it is well over 90 all summer long, and they pump out record numbers of delicious and nutritious tomatoes for the rest of the world to enjoy…. packed full of lycopene.

Leave a Comment