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ASK MARTHA

Green tomatoes can be easily ripened, or enjoyed as is

I'm getting ready to pick the last of the tomatoes from the garden, and many are still green. Do you have any suggestions about how to use them?
Plucked from the vine before fall frosts can damage them, green tomatoes can be ripened indoors or eaten right away. Both options yield delicious results. To ripen indoors, however, your green tomatoes must be mature. Look at the blossom end of the plant -- if it has a pink or reddish tinge, the tomatoes are mature. Or simply pick a tomato and cut it. Immature green fruits are easy to cut. Mature tomatoes are not and have jellylike yellow insides.

If your tomatoes are immature, buy a little extra time in the garden by insulating the plants. Cover them in the evening with burlap, cardboard boxes, or an old sheet. With this protection, the tomatoes will continue to grow safely and should withstand one or two light frosts.

To ripen mature green tomatoes after picking, wash, dry, and then wrap them lightly in a sheet of newspaper. Place them in a shallow box or tray, no more than two layers deep, and store in a dark, dry place such as a basement, closet, or garage. Keep the room temperature between 55 and 65 degrees, and check the ripening process once a week. After about a month they will be red and nearly as tasty as the vine-ripened kind.

You can also eat green fruits as they are. Their tangy flavor lends itself to pickling. Plenty of good recipes are available -- but be sure to take safety precautions if you decide to can the pickles for long-term storage.

You can also offset the sharp taste of green tomatoes by sauteing them in butter, broiling them with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, or stewing them with garlic. Or try the favorite cooking method of the South: Dredge in yellow cornmeal, season with salt and pepper, and fry them in a bit of oil. The result is tangy, crunchy, and delicious.

Can I clean store-bought pillows in the washing machine?
Whether made of natural fibers (such as down) or synthetic materials (often polyester), most pillows can be machine-washed . They should be cleaned every three to six months to remove mold, bacteria, and odors. Read instructions on the tag to make sure the pillow is not dry-clean only.

It's best to use a front-loading washer, since pillows tend to float and stay dry in spots in a top-loading machine. If you don't have such an appliance, consider going to a self-service laundry. Set the machine on its gentlest cycle, using warm water. Add a small amount of liquid soap (powder detergent may leave a residue), then fill the tub loosely with your pillows. Repeat the rinse cycle a second time to remove soap completely.

If the tags say the pillows can be dried, place them in the dryer along with a couple of clean canvas tennis shoes or tennis balls to break up any clumps of filling. Use a low heat setting, and allow a few hours for the pillows to dry. Between cycles, take them out to fluff. For pillows that shouldn't go in the dryer (usually the foam kind, which can melt), dry them on a rack or a clothesline.

How can I get tree sap out of clothing?
The sticky, gummy residue of tree sap or resin can create a particularly nasty stain, but it is removable, especially if dealt with promptly. Always check the care label on your garment first. If the label says dry-clean only, take the garment to a professional cleaner as soon as possible, and explain the source of the stain.

If your clothing is washable, you can use a solvent to dissolve the sap. Some examples are dry-cleaning fluids (commercial brands include K2r and AFTA), or stain removers that contain dry-cleaning fluid. If you don't have either of these, try one part turpentine (or paint thinner), diluted with four parts liquid dishwashing detergent.

Before you attack any stain, test a hidden area for color fastness. Apply the product and let it penetrate for about five minutes, then rinse. If the color stays the same, the product is safe to use. Dab the solvent into the stain, let it sit for at least 20 minutes and rinse well. Then work liquid laundry detergent into the spot, and wash as usual.

Let the fabric air dry, since any stain that remains might be set permanently if dried with hot air. If the stain is still visible, repeat the process. As a last resort, try applying a few drops of household ammonia directly to the stain. Let the fabric air dry, then launder again.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. Questions may also be sent by electronic mail to: mslletters@marthastewart.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com.

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