It’s a lot better from a market grower’s standpoint to pick those gorgeous heirlooms when they first start turning ripe.
This is not the same as the commercial growers picking green and gassing with ethylene to make them red–it’s picking when the tomato is already ripening and letting it finish in a safe, bug-free, storm-free, disease and hail-free place.
The box on the left was picked today; the box on the right was picked two days ago.
I pick my ripening tomatoes every other day, I take all their stems off so they don’t poke holes in each other, and when I get them home, I pack them into a box like these peach boxes. The new box of fruit gets closed up, so some of the natural ethylene gas given off by the fruit stays in the box, helping the fruit to ripen.
In two days, the fruit is pretty much ripe and ready for market or for processing into sauce, salsa, or what-have-you.
I have not noticed any appreciable loss of flavor from this early picking, but it definitely lessens the amount of fruit that gets lost to slug or bug damage in the field or to squishing during packing and transport.
This is a pretty typical market grower trick–most market growers don’t go out and pick every single tomato on their place the night before or morning of their market–they’re picking steadily through the week. Some growers chill their tomatoes to hold them, but I don’t–that practice does affect the flavor.
Instead, when I have a box of tomatoes that won’t hold until market, I simply process them for my own home use. Looks like I may need to do that tomorrow!