How to Store Tomatoes

How to Store Tomatoes

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How to Dry Tomatoes And Store In Olive Oil

A tutorial for the time-honored tradition of safely drying tomatoes and storing in olive oil at room temperature without canning. It's a great way to preserve tomatoes to use in any recipe calling for dried tomatoes.

Read through this tutorial and then also check out the Drying Tomatoes & Storing in Olive Oil video we made for more visuals and details. (Affiliate links included where appropriate for you convenience.)

*Updated with more safety information*

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a tutorial for canning tomatoes in oil, since there is NO way to do that at home safely. I am not recommending that. Removing all the air from the covered tomatoes would create an environment for botulism to grow (low acid + no oxygen). This simply shows how you can cover completely dried tomatoes with oil (and NO other ingredients), screw a lid on and store at room temperature.

This tutorial for drying tomatoes and storing on the shelf in oil is how I've preserved and kept my dried tomatoes for years. You'll find them in a vintage canning jar covered in olive oil and sitting in a cabinet in my kitchen. They are SO much easier to use this way, versus simply dried and packaged: you can cut them up immediately to use in Italian pastas, over salads, and in dips - all without needing to rehydrate first in water.

I learned of this technique by reading a well-known local food preservationist writer, Jan Roberts-Dominguez in the Oregonian newspaper in the 1990's. I actually taught myself to can using some of her articles and many of her recipes are my favorites even now. She always used recommended USDA guidelines and her preservation recipes were tested and approved. Once I started using her technique for drying tomatoes and storing them in oil, I never looked back. It's a huge money-saver as well as a great item to have on hand for recipes.

But, here's a note on safety : Many of you know I'm big on food safety, and I don't do things based on the "I've done it for years and it's never killed anyone" train of thought. However, this particular preserving method is a time-honored technique that has stood the test of time for two reasons:

  1. Tomatoes are naturally acidic (and I never add any fresh garlic or herbs)
  2. The tomatoes are dried until they are still pliable, but no liquid comes from them when I test them with my fingers.

As an added precaution, I also use Ms. Dominguez's recommendation to dip them in red wine vinegar to help extend their shelf life which increases the acidity as well.

However in 2010 I came across a newsletter that said the National Center For Home Food Preservation was no longer recommending storing dried tomatoes in olive oil. Why?

"Preserving tomatoes in oil is currently not recommended. Oil may protect botulism organisms trapped in a water droplet. Furthermore, oil may have a deleterious effect on lid gaskets and the at least one manufacturer of home canning lids recommends against it."

You can imagine I was NOT happy with this. Especially since:

But mostly I wasn't happy with this because when I tried to research this new recommendation, I wasn't able to find any other site or research to back up this claim.

So I emailed Ms. Dominguez (hey, I'm a fan. ) and asked if she had heard this and what her thoughts were. She had not and basically said that if the tomatoes are truly dry and not packed with any fresh herbs or garlic there should be no problem. The vinegar dip she recommends also helps tip the acidity level.

9/3/11 Update: I found this information that mirrored my own from the book, How to Store Your Home-Grown Produce: Canning, Pickling, Jamming, and So Much More by John and Val Harrison:

For years we stored in oil by simply placing the produce in a sterilized jar and filling the jar with oil, agitating to get any air bubbles out before sealing. when we published this on our website we were deluged with emails warning that we could get botulism from this…

When we researched this. we discovered that it was first mentioned on a Canadian website in reference to an outbreak of botulism from a restaurant. this was picked up and repeated. until it became a fact as far as casual searchers were concerned.

(We) decided to consult a food scientist directly. He explained that there was a theoretical risk that small droplets of water adhering to the vegetable would provide a growing medium for botulism. He couldn't quantify the risk, not being a statistician, but comparisons with being struck by a meteor. were mentioned. He wouldn't go on record as saying it was safe, although he said he would have no concerns personally about using the method.

The authors go on to say that they tired of the endless arguing on their site, so they now only recommend a "hot oil" method (whereby you heat the oil to 140 degrees before pouring it on the tomatoes and sealing), though there is some loss of flavor.

While I am glad that I haven't gotten the "endless arguing" on AOC and am still able to recommend drying tomatoes and storing in oil, since it's what I do - I do want to make sure that you are able to make an informed decision for yourself. You may heat your oil - or not - as you use your own common sense and experiences.

Because of their acidity, unseasoned (i.e., no vegetables or herbs) fully dried tomatoes may be safely stored in oil at room temperature. (Refrigeration may delay rancidity, however). The tomatoes will soften more if quickly dipped in bottled lemon or lime juice before being placed in the oil. The tomatoes can be flavored with dried herbs and garlic. NOTE: Dried tomatoes-in-oil mixtures with [fresh] garlic and/or herbs MUST be refrigerated and used within 4 days or frozen for long-term storage.

As for me, I'm glad to know I can feel good about continuing to store my dried tomatoes this way. And let me tell you- these are sooo easy and tasty and a fraction of the cost of store-bought, I'm pretty sure you will want to, too.

Not that I'm trying to sway you or anything.

How to Store Heirloom Tomatoes

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Heirloom tomatoes are a flavorful fruit that can be used in a variety of recipes. They also make a healthy snack on their own, and can be used as the base ingredient for salsa, salad, or pasta sauce. Storing heirloom tomatoes is fairly easy. Leave unripe tomatoes out on your counter, away from direct sunlight, for 1-2 days. Since ripe tomatoes store best at 55–70 °F (13–21 °C), keep them in a wine fridge or cool area of your home once they’re ripe. If this isn’t an option, store them in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Wrap cut tomatoes in plastic before putting them in the fridge.

How to Store Tomatoes

Bloomberg Creative Photos/Getty Images

Store unripe, green tomatoes at room temperature until they’re fully ripe. You can speed up the process by sticking them in a breathable container, like a brown paper bag. This traps ethylene, a hormone that fruits naturally produce, and encourages ripening.

What about once they’re fully ripe? Either use them immediately (this is your best bet for perfect flavor and texture) or into the fridge they go. Storing them in a tightly sealed container before refrigeration will help keep them plump and juicy. Let refrigerated tomatoes come to room temperature before using.

Note: These tips only apply to whole tomatoes𠅌ut fruits are a different story. If you’ve used only half the tomato, store the other half in a sealed storage container in the fridge for two to three days. For best results, place the cut side down on a paper towel to absorb moisture.

The Quest to Fix the Grocery Store Tomato

Fresh tomatoes pile high in grocery store produce sections 12 months out of the year. But for tomato lovers, they're only good for a season. (Or maybe not ever, if you ask most.) Grocery store tomatoes have long had a reputation for being bland, mealy, too firm, tasteless and just not juicy enough.

There are scientists working to save grocery store tomatoes — and not just by encouraging people to garden or shop farmers markets. Through science, an honestly good grocery store tomato may be on the market within five years. Harry Klee is a professor of horticultural science at the University of Florida, and he puts his passion for tomatoes into the long work of developing a better tomato for the mass market. "We're not going to consider our program a success until all grocery store tomatoes taste good," he says in a recent interview.

According to Klee, the No. 1 complaint about produce in America is the flavor of grocery store tomatoes. It's a problem that's been around for decades — Klee remembers a 1977 essay in The New Yorker about how hard it is to find truly ripe, fresh tomatoes.

How Did Tomatoes End Up Tasting So . Blah?

The problem lies in the entire market chain.

"Farmers aren't paid on flavor," Klee points out. "They're paid on the pounds of tomatoes they put in a box. Growers will tell you they can't control flavor." What the market values motivates growers to prioritize fast growth, high yields, disease resistance and a long shelf life. Breeders have been developing tomatoes in response to those qualities that growers are looking for. Tomatoes don't have to taste good for any of that to happen.

"Flavor's been neglected for decades," Klee says. "Over time, neglect leads to deterioration. So the flavor loss isn't intentional on the growers' part, or anyone's part." Klee compares it to a symphony. If one instrument is missing, you probably wouldn't notice. If two or three instruments bow out, an experienced musician might notice. And if, one by one, instruments leave the orchestra, eventually you'll notice something's missing. And in the case of fruit like tomatoes — well, in Klee's words, "Flavor, over fifty years, has gone to hell."

The growers who do get paid on flavor focus on local sales to customers who live nearby and provide repeat business — both home cooks and restaurants. Those are the growers who can pick tomatoes once they've ripened on the vine, and they don't have to ship them far and risk damage.

Julie Dawson is a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she does tomato variety trials including varieties from a number of different public and private sector breeders. Some varieties in the trials come from Seed Savers Exchange, an organization that's devoted to preserving America's diversity in food and garden plants by collecting, sharing and saving seeds — and by encouraging people to grow them. "We hope our trials help breeders develop varieties that have the flavor that make people want to buy and eat more," she says.

"There's a gene that makes the tomato ripen all at once, a uniform ripening gene, and having that also impacts sugar accumulation in the tomato," she says, as an example of how flavor gets bred out. But Dawson also points out that not only has flavor been bred out of modern grocery store tomatoes, handling is another part of the equation. "The bigger part of why they don't taste good is due to how people manage them, such as picking them green. A lot of the ripening on the plant creates sugars and volatile compounds that make the tomatoes taste good. They're easier to ship when they're underripe, but they will never develop all of those flavors." Ripening tomatoes commercially with ethylene gas is no substitute for the work nature does on the vine. "It just turns them red you don't get all the volatiles and secondary compounds that make it smell like a tomato and taste good."

What's Being Done to Make Delicious Market Tomatoes

So now, Klee and numerous horticultural scientists are working to bring flavor back. But, growers — and supermarkets — still need the qualities of a modern tomato. "Breeding is now a balancing act because growers still want a good yield and disease resistance," Klee says. "We have to keep key pieces in." At the University of Florida, the horticultural science department is growing over 100 varieties of tomatoes and uses a tasting panel of over 100 people to help identify what makes a tomato taste good. They've come up with a list of compounds that impact flavor, and the tasting panel help identify what people like, and then determine how much of each compound is in the tomatoes that get approval from the panel. The process produces a scientific recipe for a great tomato.

"DNA sequencing has become cheap, so we've sequenced the genomes of 500 different varieties of tomatoes," Klee says. They can identify genes that make good-tasting modern tomatoes, trace where those genes came from, and bring them back. It creates a breeding roadmap."

Right now, Klee and his team are working on nine different genes to put into modern tomatoes, creating fruit with the yield, disease resistance and shelf life that growers and markets want, but with the flavor that tomato lovers crave.

Better Tomatoes Are a Few Years Away

The challenge with creating better fruit and vegetables is that it takes time. In Florida, Klee and his team can only grow two generations of tomatoes a year. But, better tomatoes are on the horizon. Klee says tasting panels in summer 2019 will help them finalize a tomato that's got it all. Once that's done, the challenge is getting growers to take a chance on planting and selling them. "Realistically, it will be several years because growers want to adopt new plants conservatively," Klee says. The university is working with several commercial seed companies that want to be first in the market with good tomatoes.

Consumers have a role to play in getting better tomatoes to market, too: buy them. "Some people are willing to pay more for great flavor, but most people are price sensitive. If you pay little, you get what you pay for," Klee said. "People need to step up and pay for better tomatoes."

If you've got a garden plot and you can't wait for some of the tomatoes developed at the University of Florida, you can get seeds that aren't on the market yet. Donate $10 toward Klee's genetic tomato research to packets of three varieties: Visit the Klee Garden Gem page online. If you grow them, they would love to hear how they perform in your garden.

How to Store Underripe Tomatoes

You saw that your favorite tomatoes were on sale at the grocery store and decided to seize the moment and stock up. Good idea&mdashexcept they&rsquore not quite ripe yet. No problem. Simply leave those juicy fruits out on the countertop for a few days to let them do their thing, ideally keeping them in a single layer and out of direct sunlight. But whatever you do, don&rsquot put unripe tomatoes in the refrigerator (which will basically guarantee that they stay hard and tasteless forever).

Test 3: In Search of More Data

My tomato tests were challenging the long-held idea that a tomato should never see the inside of a refrigerator, but I still needed more data.

After all, more data is always a good thing, and reproducibility is the foundation of any reliable experimental result. I decided to run more tests, and asked Kenji to run some over on the West Coast, just to see if he would get similar results as mine. Either my initial observations would hold, or I'd have to revise them.

Kenji and I split up the tasks. Here on the East Coast, I went to the farmers market and bought a large load of both regular red tomatoes and a variety of heirlooms.** My plan was to do one giant blind tasting in the office, with as many people as I could wrangle, and more quantitative measures (as opposed to the strictly qualitative assessments I had done earlier in the summer). Then I'd follow that with some triangle tests to see just how well tasters could really differentiate between refrigerated and room-temp samples.

** For those wondering if I had bought crappy tomatoes from a wholesaler at the market, it's worth pointing out that NYC Greenmarket allows vendors to sell only produce they've grown themselves, and that I had talked to the farmers to confirm the tomatoes had not been previously refrigerated.

Meanwhile, over yonder in the Bay Area, Kenji went and picked his own tomatoes straight from the vine, just to remove any lingering question about the handling practices of the middlemen. He then did his own blind tastings with those tomatoes. He also examined the refrigerated tomatoes for signs of mealiness.

So, what were our results? Shocker! The refrigerator still isn’t as evil as the never-refrigerate rule makes it seem.

My East Coast Tests

When I ran my initial series of tests, it was at the height of summer in New York City, with temperatures well above 80°F (27°C). Without air conditioning in my apartment, I found that more often than not, refrigerated ripe tomatoes tasted better than ones that continued to sit out on the counter, suggesting that in instances in which room temperature was above roughly 80°F, refrigeration was often preferable.***

*** Remember, I had found several scientific studies that compared refrigeration to "room-temperature" conditions, in which the room-temp conditions were all below 70°F (21°C), colder than many summertime rooms in real life I hadn't found a single study that compared refrigeration to warmer storage conditions. I also found no studies that examined truly ripe tomatoes—they seemed to have all been designed with the concerns of large-scale tomato growers, who pick their tomatoes while still green, in mind, and not the concerns of those of us at home.

But when I went out to run this latest round of tests, temperatures in New York had fallen considerably, down to the 60s and 70s. My whole argument revolved around very hot summertime conditions, and I had made no claim that the refrigerator was equal to or better than temps in the 70s and below. With conditions shifting, I wasn’t sure what I’d see this time.

The Blind Tasting

As I mentioned above, I bought a variety of tomatoes at the farmers market. Most of them were regular red slicing tomatoes the rest were an assortment of heirlooms. Their quality was variable. I put half of each type of tomato in the refrigerator and the other half out on the counter. The next day, I took the refrigerated ones out and let them come back up to room temperature.

I then cut up each tomato and assigned it a number. I had 10 tasters work their way through the samples, each in a different order, to ensure that no single tomato was disadvantaged due to tasters' palate fatigue. Tasters evaluated the tomatoes on a scale of one to 10 on four criteria: overall preference, flavor, aroma, and texture. The overall-preference score aligned almost exactly with the other scores, so the below chart shows the overall-preference score, since the others look pretty much the same:

Before going into the specifics, I want to reiterate that this test compared tomatoes stored at temperatures in the low 70s to refrigerated ones, essentially pitting refrigerated tomatoes against much more ideal conditions than in my previous tests.

Instead of seeing a clear and decisive difference between refrigerated tomatoes and counter tomatoes, the differences were very small. On average, the counter tomatoes just barely edged out the refrigerated ones, except with the small yellow heirloom tomatoes, in which case the refrigerated ones received the highest average score. That was also the highest average score of all the tomatoes, which means that even when compared with much more ideal conditions, refrigerated tomatoes are capable of coming out on top: absolutely not what we'd expect if refrigeration were really as bad as the common wisdom claims.

Of all the tomatoes in the tasting, all of us (the 10 tasters plus me) agreed, unanimously, that the small yellow tomatoes—the ones that scored highest in the fridge and out—were the best.

Meanwhile, the basic red tomatoes were the worst in terms of overall quality, and they also were the set in which the refrigerated tomatoes scored the lowest. This lends further support to my theory that the higher-quality and riper the tomato, the less harm the refrigerator will do to it.

Simply put, really good, ripe tomatoes tend to do well in the refrigerator, while lower-quality tomatoes remain bad or get worse in the fridge: Underripe tomatoes continue to be underripe, and mealy tomatoes become mealier.

One more very important detail: What the chart above shows are average scores. But within each group, there was a notable variance. For the red tomatoes, for instance, I had individual refrigerated samples that scored as high as 5.5, and countertop tomatoes that scored as low as 3.6. So while the countertop tomatoes slightly edged out the refrigerated ones when averaged together, the distribution of individual tomato scores was much less consistent, regardless of storage method. This, too, suggests that the fruit itself is the bigger factor in how it will handle storage conditions, not some blanket rule about the storage conditions themselves.

The Triangle Tests

Next up, the triangle test, which determines whether blind-tasters can pick the odd sample out through many rounds of tasting. I wasn't totally convinced there was an advantage to this test: I had never claimed that refrigerated tomatoes were going to always be indistinguishable from room-temp ones. In my earlier tests, we were unable to differentiate between refrigerated and unrefrigerated about half the time. But in the other instances, the differences were apparent it's just that in those cases, we tended to like the refrigerated ones more.

Still, I figured there was no harm in trying a triangle test out. I did a test run on Max one night, using more of those not-so-great red tomatoes that I had set aside. Max has a very good palate, so I was curious to see how he would do. In each tasting round, I presented Max with three slices of tomato in random order (either two refrigerated and one countertop, or two countertop and one refrigerated), and his task was to see if he could figure out which of the three was the odd one out. After 12 rounds, Max had correctly identified the odd tomato six times, which is slightly better than chance. (In a triangle test, random guessing should yield correct answers one-third of the time, which in this case would be four out of the 12 rounds.) When he was able to correctly identify the tomato samples, he also picked the counter sample(s) as his preference.

But when he got it wrong, he sometimes picked refrigerated slices as his preference. This is consistent with the blind-tasting results above: Even though the red counter tomatoes edged out the refrigerated ones overall, there were individual refrigerated samples within the mix that scored higher than some of the counter samples.

But 12 rounds isn't enough, so the next day I bought even more tomatoes, refrigerated half overnight, and then lined up five different tasters for a new session of triangle testing, with 24 rounds total. Out of 24 rounds, we'd expect random guessing to be correct eight times (one-third of the total number of rounds). By the end of my session, my tasters had been correct nine out of 24 times, performing just a hair above the random-guessing rate.

I'll be honest: As I was slicing the tomatoes for these tests, I felt that the differences were more apparent, but then again, I knew which was which. (In some cases, I thought the counter tomatoes were better in others, I thought the refrigerated ones were.) What this test shows is that once that knowledge is removed, the differences can be subtle enough that tasters have a very hard time telling refrigerated and countertop tomatoes apart. So, while I don't believe that room-temp and refrigerated tomatoes are totally indistinguishable, these tests indicate that the claims of horrible effects of refrigeration on ripe tomatoes are exaggerated.

Kenji's Tests

Out in the Bay Area, Kenji also ran his tests, with tomatoes he picked directly off the vine himself. Just as with my most recent tests, Kenji's house is in the low 70s and mid-to-high 60s—theoretically ideal tomato-storage conditions. I'm going to let Kenji tell you in his own words:

"The tomatoes that I picked were fully ripe. I held them for two days, half in the fridge, half on the counter. I let the refrigerated tomatoes come back to room temp before tasting, then I did a blind taste test with six people. Of those six, two did simple side-by-side preference tests: They both picked the fridge tomatoes as superior. The other four did triangle tests: Of those, three correctly picked the odd tomato out, and all picked the refrigerated tomatoes as superior. The fourth person who did the triangle test selected the odd one out incorrectly, but she still picked the refrigerated tomato as her favorite.

"I also did a test slicing tomatoes open and checking them (subjectively) for mealiness as they warmed up. I didn't notice any mealiness from a fully ripe tomato that had been put in the refrigerator."

Kenji's results support what I suggested above: Refrigerated and countertop tomatoes won't always be indistinguishable, but even when they are, the refrigerator isn't by any means guaranteed to be worse.

Our results from these latest tests are, frankly, as surprising to me as I imagine they are to many of you reading this: Before these tests, I never, ever would have argued that tomatoes kept at a mild 70°F could be beaten by or mistaken for refrigerated tomatoes.

Yet here we have multiple tests, performed on two different coasts by two different people, with many different varieties of tomato, and that's exactly what we're seeing.

Jarred Tomatoes

Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen

Yield: 3 quarts

Prep Time: 40 minutes, plus cooling time

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus cooling time


9 pounds of tomatoes, preferably a variety of plum tomatoes such as San Marzano or Roma

3 tablespoons bottled lemon juice (see note)

3 sterilized quart jars with lids and rims


1. Make an ice bath. Score the bottom of the tomatoes using a paring knife. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Working in batches, blanch the tomatoes for 15 to 30 seconds, or until their skin becomes loose. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the ice bath. Core and remove the skins from the tomatoes, being careful to keep the tomatoes intact and whole.

2. Place 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the salt in each Mason jar. Divide the tomatoes between each Mason jar, pressing the tomatoes down until there is only about ½" of space left at the top of each jar. Wipe the rim. Place the lid and top on each jar and tighten.

3. Bring a stockpot filled with water to a boil. Make sure there is enough water for the jars to be completely submerged. Arrange the jars on a wire rack and lower into water. Process the jars in boiling water for about 45 minutes.

4. Carefully remove the jars and let them cool at room temperature on a folded towel, making sure not to disturb the lids or tops of the jar. Check the seals after 24 hours they should not flex up and down when pressed in the center. The tomatoes will keep for up to a year.

Note: Bottled lemon juice is uniformly acidified which allows for a more consistent acid level. This is essential when canning acidic foods such as tomatoes in order for them to get into the safe PH zone.

We Have Enough Cherry Tomato Recipes to Last You All Summer

Tomatoes just might take the crown as king of fresh summer produce (sorry, okra!). Though big, juicy heirloom tomatoes get all the attention when it comes to your favorite tomato pie recipe, this summer we’re picking up new recipes using cherry tomatoes as well. Since they’re delicious raw, roasted, or sautéed, these tiny, colorful tomatoes are the ideal complement to any dish. Toss them on a salad, make a pasta sauce with them, stack them on a skewer with other veggies and grill them, you can even pickle them! These cherry tomato recipes prove how versatile these little guys are in the kitchen. If you don’t want to spend precious summer minutes sweating by the stovetop, try some of our favorite no-cook recipes with cherry tomatoes. Snack on Marinated Feta With Cherry Tomatoes with a glass of your favorite summer wine or throw together our Heirloom Tomato Salad with Herbs to go with any main dish you’ve got on the grill. Fresh cherry tomato sides like our Best-Ever Succotash and Street Corn Salad showcase the best the summer farmers’ market has to offer. Cherry tomatoes might be small, but they bring major flavor in hearty suppers like our Fusilli Pasta with Spinach, Tomato, and Bacon, Pork Chops with Tomato-Bacon Gravy, and Whole-Grain Panzanella. Bookmark this list of cherry tomato recipes for each time you arrive home from the farmers’ market this summer.

How to Store Tomatoes (Long Term)

This article was co-authored by our trained team of editors and researchers who validated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness. wikiHow's Content Management Team carefully monitors the work from our editorial staff to ensure that each article is backed by trusted research and meets our high quality standards.

There are 34 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

The wikiHow Video Team also followed the article's instructions and verified that they work.

This article has been viewed 159,176 times.

A bountiful harvest from your garden or from the farmer's market can leave you with a glut of wonderful fresh tomatoes. Rather than eat nothing but tomato sauce and salads for the next week, pick a long-term storage method. Store green tomatoes at room temperature in a cellar to have fresh tomatoes later. If you're going to use your tomatoes in cooking, you can dry them, freeze them, or pressure can them to store them for even longer.