Gardeners often argue about when tomatoes should be picked—when they’re ripe, almost ripe or green as the stalk that supports them. Tomatoes are considered to be vine ripe if they are at the “breaker stage” of maturity when they are picked, said Frank Watson, a Cooperative Extension agent in Wilkes County.
The breaker stage is when the pink color first becomes noticeable. These tomatoes are physiologically mature and will develop their tomato-red color naturally. These breaker-stage tomatoes can be handled and shipped with less damage than those that are more mature when picked.
However, most home gardeners don’t plan on transporting their tomatoes any farther than to their own kitchen table or maybe their neighbor’s front porch, so they don’t have to worry about shipping damage. In that case, it doesn’t hurt to wait to pick the tomato past the breaker stage. Waiting a few extra days also ensures that you can eat the tomato right off the vine.
You can harvest at the breaker stage if you need to take or ship tomatoes to an out-of-town friend, Watson said. Just remember to tell your friend to spread the tomatoes apart so they can continue ripening once they reach their destination.
Some folks believe that the only real tomato is one picked red off the vine. Others think that tomatoes picked green and ripened during shipping taste just as good. But both sides of this debate can agree that the green version is quite good when fried.