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Heirloom tomato is an open-pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivar of tomato. It also refers to the age of the cultivar, although there is some debate over this definition. Some say heirloom tomato seeds must be at least 100 years old, others say 50 years and some like the date of 1945 (which marks the end of World War II and the beginning of widespread hybrid use by seed companies.) A “true” heirloom tomato is a cultivar that has been handed down from one family member to another for many generations, or a cultivar that was introduced many years ago and has been saved, maintained and handed down - even though the seed company may have gone out of business. Most definitely, it is agreed that an heirloom tomato is not grown in modern large-scale agriculture. The trend of growing heirloom tomatoes in home gardens has gained popularity over the last couple of decades. They come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes and are extremely flavorful. Some are prone to cracking and others are not disease resistant.

Brandywine - This is one of the favorites among heirloom-tomato aficionados . Brandywine tomatoes produce large, pink, beefsteak-style tomatoes on vigorous potato leaf foliage plants. They have an excellent, old-fashioned tomato flavor, but are prone to cracking. The Brandywine lineage goes back 100 years and has reputed Amish origins. One account is that the Brandywine was first passed on from the Sudduth family to an Ohio tomato enthusiast named Ben Quisenberry. Many people traded seeds with Ben, and Brandywines eventually became widely available. Though a variety named "Brandywine" was offered in the late 1800s by the Stokes and Johnson seed company, it was a red skinned variety and not the same as the Quisenberry Brandywine. Several other tomatoes (Red Brandywine, Yellow Brandywine, and Black Brandywine) carry the name of "Brandywine" in part, but any true relation between them is pure conjecture. In fact, Yellow Brandywine most closely resembles an old Henderson variety only fleetingly available in the 1890's named "Shah".

Big Rainbow and Hillbilly - These are two of the dozens of large yellow tomatoes with red swirls that have a mild, sweet flavor. Some sources state that tomatoes of this color were never sold by American seed companies. Their origin is unknown.

Blaby Special – A red fruited cultivar grown in the village of Blaby in Leicestershire until just after World War II. It was the main tomato cultivar supplied through England during the war. The cultivar ceased to be cultivated when the Shoult's Tomato Farm was closed after the war. The cultivar was brought back into cultivation in 2006 as a result of a campaign by Russell Sharp of Lancaster University. It may have resulted from either a mutation or cross-breed of an older cultivar known as Anwell.

Black Krim – This heirloom tomato has a dark red to brown skin. It is often cited online as being from the "island of Krim" in the Black Sea, better known as the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine .

Cherokee Purple – This is one of the very first known "black", or deep dusky rose colored cultivars that are becoming so popular. The Cherokee Purple was named in 1990 by Craig LeHoullier, who received seeds of an unnamed cultivar in the mail from J. D. Green of Tennessee. Mr. Green indicated that the "purple tomato was given by the Cherokee Indians to his neighbor 100 years ago.”

Jubilee – The Jubilee cultivar is a heavy yielding, golden tomato, released by Burpee Seed Company in 1943.

Lillian's Yellow Heirloom - This bright yellow fruited heirloom was collected some years ago by Lillian Bruce of Tennessee. Lillian passed the seed on to Robert Richardson, after which it found its way into the Seed Savers Exchange yearbook and became widely traded. It is now available in several seed catalogs. Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom is described as a “full flavored tomato that is very meaty, with few seeds.”

Mortgage Lifter – These giant pink tomatoes are sweet tasting and one of the more famous heirloom tomatoes. They are described in great detail in the catalog of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Company.

For those who live in cool, foggy regions, the Stupice, Green Grape and Green Zebra are tasty cultivars that are cold-tolerant hardy heirlooms. All three produce small fruit that ripen early.



 


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