If you’ve been reading LGB for an amount of time, you will have heard me mention some gardeners I highly respect. One of these fine folks is Silence DoGood and in a recent blog post at Poor Richard’s Almanac, she had some words of wisdom concerning Late Blight and canning tomatoes. Now, I’m not sure if this is something we’re facing along the Gulf Coast, but I certainly wanted to get the information out to those of you who may not have read her original article.
Silence Dogood here. It’s bad enough to be living in Pennsylvania in the midst of a late blight epidemic, which is wreaking havoc with tomato crops across the Northeast this year thanks to a cool, wet spring and summer that’s encouraged the spread of this destructive fungal disease. But today’s local paper carried a front-page warning that was so serious I felt I needed to share it with you all right away. Food specialists are telling people not to can tomatoes from plants infected with late blight. Some say you shouldn’t even eat them fresh. Yikes!!!
It’s apparently fine to eat a tomato from a blight-infected plant as long as the tomato shows no signs of blight (typically first manifested on fruit as brown spots near the stem end, which subsequently spread over the fruit). According to one expert, Margaret McGrath, a plant pathologist at Cornell University, you can choose to cut away blighted parts of infected tomatoes and eat the unmarked flesh fresh, but, she points out, even that part will have an off-flavor. Luke LaBorde, a Penn State professor of food science, doesn’t think you should eat blight-infected tomatoes at all.
Both LaBorde and McGrath are adamant that you shouldn’t can or freeze tomatoes from blighted plants. That’s because fighting the infection lowers the fruits’ pH and increases the risk of botulism developing after processing.
It’s not worth risking death or paralysis to can these tomatoes, folks. I’d advise simply cutting your losses: Don’t eat them, don’t compost them (which could spread the disease in your garden next year), just put a plastic garbage bag over each infected plant, cut the plant off at the base, seal the bag, and toss it in the trash. That’s apparently the best way to contain the fungal spores that spread late blight.
In case you’re not sure if your plants have late blight, here’s what to look for. I quote: “large, circular to irregular greasy grayish areas [on the tomato leaves]. Humidity may cause a whitish mold on the undersurface of the leaves. Late blight on fruit results in extensive superficial brownish areas.”
After reading this, I think I’ll skip my typical summer tomato canning this year just to be safe. Thank goodness I still have home-canned tomato sauce and salsas from last year!
‘Til next time,