I was pottering around Facebook Sunday morning and, as I follow Modern Farmermagazine, saw this salacious posting: “‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Brandywine’ will always be among the best heirloom tomato varieties, but what else is out there? Michael Pollan and other experts share their favorite heirloom tomatoes.”
Is that right? Cherokee Purple and Brandywine? Always among the best? I obviously had to pop over and read the actual article. (I prefer a little research with my righteous indignation). The list they provided was as follows:
- Green Envy
- Big Rainbow
- Aunt Ruby’s German Green
- Brad’s Atomic Grape
- Banana Legs
- German Yellow
- Black Beauty
- Rose De Berne
- Gardener’s Sweetheart
- German Pink*
- Kellog’s Breakfast
- San Marzano Redorta
Those two paltry asterisks are varieties that I’ve grown. The others? I’ve only seen on this list. Now, we all know that is in part because every seed catalog’s tomato section is approximately 72 pages long with, give or take, 4,000 varieties to choose from. Its easy to see how one might miss any (or all) of these.
I decided to do a bit of leg work for you (and me!) all and hunt down some descriptions (not from the article, but rather the seed catalogs) to see if any of these may sneak in at the last minute onto your (and mine!) seed lists.
- Green Envy (Burpee)- cherry type- “This spectacular introduction, a deep shade of emerald green, is one of the greatest tomatoes we have ever bred. The meaty tangy cherry tomatoes are wondrously sweet and juicy. Edible perfection: raw, baked, grilled or sauteed. Make a distinctly different salsa and pair it with its red and green counterparts. Indeterminate plants are loaded all summer with 1″ long, almost translucent oblong fruit.“
- Big Rainbow (Baker Creek)- beefsteak- “Huge fruit up to 2 lbs.; delicious and sweet tasting. These tomatoes are very striking sliced, as the yellow fruit has neon red streaking though the flesh. An heirloom preserved by members of Seed Savers Exchange.“
- Aunt Ruby’s German Green (Fedco)- slicer- “The biggest surprise I’ve ever experienced in tomatoes,” said the late Chuck Wyatt, vintage tomato collector. Until you try it, you won’t believe a green tomato could be this good. I rate it second only to Brandywine for flavor and it is on just about everyone’s top-ten list. Oblate 12–16 oz fruits blush lightly yellow and develop an amber-pink tinge on the blossom end when ripe. Don’t allow them to get too soft before picking. The green flesh of this beefsteak is faintly marbled with pink. Flavor sweet and tart, rich and spicy. The central large tomatoes are the best. Flavor deteriorates when cold weather sets in. Created a sensation at a staff taste test in September 1996, where it was rated “good” or “excellent” by all who tried it. “
- Brad’s Atomic Grape (Wild Boar Farms)- cherry type- “These elongated multi-colored large cherries grow in clusters. Lavender and purple striped when immature, turning to green, red / brown with anthocycnin blue stripes when fully ripe. The interior is green with a blushed red when extra ripe. This amazing variety is delicately sweet.The fruit holds well on the vine and post harvest. The wispy foliage but produces a lot of fruit.”
- Pineapple (Territorial)- beefsteak- “Pineapple will remind you of those visits to Grandpa’s garden when you were a kid. The beautiful, red-and-yellow streaked tomatoes can weigh up to 1 pound. One taste will transport you back in time with that great old-fashioned, full bodied tomato flavor. Indeterminate. Territorial Seed Company’s Great Northwest Tomato Taste-Off winner.“
- Banana Legs (Victory Seeds)- cherry type- “The compact plants of ‘Banana Legs’ are very productive with fruit that are similar in shape and color to a small banana. They have a low acid flavor, are meaty, and average 1½ inches in diameter by four inches in length. The novelty of ‘Banana Legs’ fruit makes them an interesting addition to any tossed green salad.“
- Carbon (Baker Creek)- slicer- “Winner of the 2005 “Heirloom Garden Show” best-tasting tomato award. These have won taste awards coast to coast in the last few years, so we were proud to locate a small supply of seed. The fruit is smooth, large, and beautiful, being one of the darkest and prettiest of the purple types we have seen. They seem to have an extra dose of the complex flavor that makes dark tomatoes famous.”
- German Yellow (Victory Seeds)- beefsteak- “This old family heirloom tomato is a large (weighing up to forty ounces), bi-colored (yellow marbled with red), beefsteak-type fruit. Along with being an attractive fruit, ‘German Yellow Stripe’ tomatoes are juicy, sweet, mild and offer nice, complex aftertastes.“
- Black Beauty (Baker Creek)- slicer- “World’s Darkest Tomato– the darkest tomato we know! A dark, meaty, very rich-fleshed tomato with extreme anthocyanin expression (same antioxidant in blueberries and blackberries). So dark that some tomatoes turn solid blue-black on the skin. Deep red flesh is among the best tasting of all tomatoes. Rich, smooth and savory with earthy tones. Hangs well on the vine and stores very well, and the flavor improves with room-temperature storage. Our own Dave Kaiser tasted it at the 2015 National Heirloom Exposition and proclaimed it as the BEST tomato he had ever eaten!“
- Rose De Berne (Fedco)- slicer- “This Swiss émigré could be considered the Brandywine of continental Europe. Like Brandywine, has many strains, and is widely considered in France, Germany and Switzerland to be the best-flavored tomato. Only medium-sized yet delivers the robust flavor of the bigger types. It bested some formidable competition in my trials—including June Pink, Gulf State Market and the celebrated Eva Purple Ball—with a rich sweetness the others couldn’t match. I enjoyed one juicy 5 oz translucent smooth pink fruit after another. No slouch in the appearance department either, the unblemished globes are perfectly round, the soft skins not excessively fragile and the color and size very attractive, making it another excellent field-to-market variety that does not require high tunnels.“
- Gardener’s Sweetheart (Adaptive Seeds)- cherry type- “This adorable little tomato has a lot to offer. Cute, heart-shaped fruit are large for a cherry with a really good firm texture and a lovely sweetness to match. Gardener’s Sweetheart quickly became a favorite field snack tomato. Vigorous plants produce long trusses of split-resistant fruit. Bred by Will Bonsall in Maine from a cross between a cherry and a paste, and released in 2014. Thanks to Fruition Seeds for turning us on to this one.“
- German Pink (Baker Creek)- beefsteak- “One of the tomatoes that originally ignited the heirloom movement in America, this variety originated in Bavaria. It made its U.S. debut in 1883, brought here by Michael Ott, a great-grandfather of Seed Savers Exchange co-founder Diane Ott Whealy. The luxuriant potato-leaf plants give high yields of 1- to 2-lb, nearly seedless meaty fruit. The prestigious Slow Foods USA Ark of Taste enthused: “a full sweet flavor, even floral, and…tender skinned.” This gorgeous pink fruit is extremely versatile, excellent for canning and freezing but also for slicing and juicing. This one is sure to become a favorite in your garden!“
- Kellog’s Breakfast (Victory Seeds)- beefsteak- “produces huge (up to twenty ounces), oblate shaped, beefsteak-type, orange fruit, with a wonderful flavor. This old family heirloom was preserved by gardener Darrell Kellogg of Redford, Michigan.
In her book entitled, “100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Gardener,” Carolyn Male has this to say, “There isn’t another large orange beefsteak variety that I’d rather grow that Kellogg’s Breakfast. The whopping taste of this mighty tomato is truly unequaled, and it’s juicy and meaty at the same time.“
- San Marzano Redorta (Seeds from Italy)- Roma type- “Franchi Special Selection. Named for a mountain in the Alps, this is a very large (10-12 ounce) San Marzano type plum tomato. Indeterminate. Large, vigorous plant. This has real tomato flavor and is good to eat fresh, make sauce, can or dry.“
- Blondkopfchen (Seed Savers)- cherry type- “East German variety obtained by Seed Savers Exchange from Gatersleben Seed Bank. Small golden yellow 1″ fruits borne in giant clusters, excellent sweet taste. Enormous yields and rarely a cracked fruit. Bears until frost.“
Phew! That’s a lot of copy to read. Are any of these ones you already grow or are interested in growing?
As you all know I’ve already put in my seed orders and had given myself strict instructions about the state of 2020’s tomato crops. But I’m a Magpie and can be quite fickle, so I’m thinking about adding Black Beauty and Aunt Ruby’s German Green to the list. I won’t grow Pineapple again next year as it was incredibly prone to splitting and rotting on the vine so maybe another year. I might be inclined to bring German Pink out from storage and try her again too.