Growing Heirloom Tomatoes
This is my site Written by Wayne on August 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

In Past Yard Talks we talked about the red slicing tomato such as Burpee’s Big Boy and Big Girl, Rutgers, and mammoth Beefsteak. These were the big round tomatoes of our youth, the pride and joy of our parents and grandparents garden.

We have also talked about my personal favorite, the cherry tomato. I eat more of these darn things then I care to admit. These are the tomatoes of salads. snacks, and preserves. Easy to grow and with a taste that cannot be beat by any modern plant.

Today we are going to talk about the tomato of our grandparents parents, the Heirloom Tomato. This variety of tomato is enjoying a well deserved comeback in the home garden. Maybe not as easy to grow as today’s hybrids but well worth the effort.

Heirloom tomatoes were bred for flavor, not resistance to disease, pests, heat, cold, or transport. Granted, some years, a heirloom variety was so unproductive it was not worth the space it took up in the garden. You can put months of tender care into a plant and do everything right, but a scorching hot day can cause all the blossoms to fall off. Last season’s cool wet weather completely wiped out our Brandywine crop.

This is why you do not find heirlooms in supermarkets. All tomatoes sold today are hybrids that have been bred to possess traits that favor growers rather than consumers, for example, tomatoes that ripen all at once so they can be harvested at one time or tomatoes with thick skins that are less likely to bruise.
Unfortunately, in developing all these traits, flavor has been overlooked.

An heirloom is generally a plant that’s survived the test of time and produced an abundance of tomatoes with great flavor. Most people consider a plant to be a heirloom if it is over 100 years old, although this is not a hard and fast rule.

The most popular heirloom variety is Brandywine, dating to 1885. Everyone who tastes it loves it’s superb flavor. The fruits have a very large beefsteak shape and grow on unusually upright, potato-leaved plants. We have grown this plant for years in our garden for it’s fine flavor. Make sure to plant several as it is not a big producer.

Some other varieties which we have grown and recommend are:

  1. Big Rainbow

    Big Rainbow

    Big Rainbow which has flesh that is marbled with red in the bottom half of the fruit. It has a big, beefsteak shape with a very mild and sweet flavor.

  2. Cherokee Purple

    Cherokee Purple

    Cherokee Purple has a flavor that is rich and full, and often compared to Brandywine. The flesh is brick-red and very attractive sliced on a plate.

  3. Black Krim

    Black Krim

    Black Krim is a medium-sized, very dark maroon beefsteak, with wonderfully rich flavor. This medium-sized, very dark maroon beefsteak, with wonderfully rich flavor is extremely tasty.

  4. Yellow Pear

    Yellow Pear

    Yellow Pear has an enormous number of yellow bite-sized fruits in 75 days, indeterminate. This extremely old variety makes a vigourous plant, which bears enormous numbers of bright yellow, bite-sized fruit. The flavor is deliciously tangy. Perfect for summer party hors d’oeuvres.

These are but a few of the many heirloom varieties that have been passed down through generations of gardeners. We highly recommend you add a few heirlooms to your garden, they are well worth the effort.


Tomato Tips of the Month

My grandmother use to make the best tomato preserves that I just loved. Unfortunately, the recipe was lost when she passed over to the otherside. I had almost completely forgotten about it until I came across this recipe when researching for this Yard Talk. It sounds very close to what my grandmother made and I would like to pass it on to you.

Vine-Ripe Golden Tomato Marmalade

This delicious golden marmalade is an excellent accompaniment to any main course, from lamb chops to chicken to roast pork. Or if you wish, serve it alongside home-made corn bread for a great addition to any dinner menu. You may vary the type of yellow or orange tomato, as your garden dictates, and the results will be equally delicious, but I suggest using medium to large sized tomatoes rather than cherry tomatoes if you want to avoid considerable labor. This is not a heavily sugared marmalade and should be refrigerated to maintain its freshness.
• 6 pounds ripe yellow tomatoes
• 1 pound sugar
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 1 star anise
• 3 cloves

With a sharp knife, score the skin of the tomatoes in an X on the blossom end. Place in boiling water for 15 to 20 seconds. (This may be done in batches) Plunge the tomatoes into a large bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. Slip the peel off and remove any hard cores. Cut in half and squeeze out the seeds.

In a deep pot, combine the peeled tomatoes with the sugar, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. Bring to a rolling boil then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the tomatoes are falling apart and beginning to thicken. (This may take more time, depending upon the water content of the tomatoes.) Watch carefully to avoid scorching and stir often. Remove from heat when consistency is similar to a thick jam. Discard the cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. Store in airtight jars, refrigerated, for 2 to 3 weeks.

from James Waller, Executive Chef, Duck Club Restaurant, Monterey, California


Flower of the Month

000341sSweet Basil is a classic herb, used in tomato sauce, pesto and salads. Basil tastes great in tomato and pasta dishes but it also gives a sweet scented, minty aroma when crumbled over baked chicken, lamb, or fish. It blends well with garlic, thyme, and oregano. Crush dried leaves with your hand or in a mortar and pestle to release the herb’s flavor. Start early indoors or outdoors after danger of frost.


Web Site

The Burpee Company ( was started in 1876 and quickly became the leading seed producer to the home gardener. The site offers a broad range of information on gardening as well as a wide range of seeds and plants.

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Modified: March 10, 2009 at 7:10 pm GMT-0800

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