Of the 87 varieties of heirloom tomatoes that I planted this year, these were my favorites. Now keep in mind, I am on the Central Coast of California, and I raised these all to my own varying standards of benign neglect, erratic watering and occasional obsessiveness in pruning. Most of them turned out well, and at least half I would consider planting again. But here are my absolutely favorites, and where to order seeds if you are so inclined.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green (Giant)
Ruby Arnold of Greeneville, Tennessee grew these tomatoes from heirloom seeds that her grandfather brought from Germany. Fortunately, her niece passed on the seeds. The flavor is an outstanding balance of sweet, tart and refreshing.
Where to buy seeds: http://www.territorialseed.com/product/Aunt_Rubys_German_Green_Organic_Tomato_Seed/organic_tomato_seed
German Red Strawberry
This was the first gigantonormous tomato of the season, and it was spectacular. Sadly, it was an early variety, and I didn’t manage to get any photos of the lush, red, strawberry shaped, 1 pound plus beauties. Which is why I have to grow it again next year.
Where to buy seeds: https://store.tomatofest.com/German_Red_Strawberry_Tomato_Seeds_p/tf-0189.htm
This is Cynthia Sandberg’s (of Love Apple Farms) favorite tomato, and that woman knows more about tomatoes than I could ever hope to learn. Huge fruits are streaked with green, rose, orange and yellow colors inside and out. Nice sugar to acid balance produces excellent fresh flavor as well. According to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, “This unusual variety was developed by Pascal Moreau, a horticulturist from Belgium.”
Where to buy seeds: http://www.territorialseed.com/product/Ananas_Noire_Organic_Tomato_Seed/organic_tomato_seed
Another huge fruiting variety with yellow orange skin and flesh. The taste lives up to the name.
Where to buy seeds: http://www.restorationseeds.com/products/hawaiian-pineapple-tomato
Ok, you got me, I am a sucker for a well named tomato. In defense of the Mark Twain, this variety is a huge and lovely red tomato with gently fluted lobes. This is a late season Big Red Tomato that takes over when German Red Strawberry starts petering out.
Where to buy seeds: http://www.redwoodseeds.net/products/mark-twain-tomato
Grandma Viney Yellow and Pink
Really productive producer of huge yellow to red fruit, that taste like fruit, so sweet. Great for slicing and salads. According to Tatiana’s TomatoBase, This is a family heirloom from Grayson County, Kentucky, grown for many years by Melvina Puckett. Maria Stenger of Sonora, Kentucky got the seeds from Melvina Puckett’s granddaughter at Joe’s Nursery in Clarkson, Kentucky. First introduced in Seed Savers 2009 Yearbook by Neil Lockhart of Oblong, Illinois (IL LO N) and Maria Stenger of Sonora, Kentucky.
“This Russian heirloom was named in honor of Paul Robeson (1898-1976) who befriended the Soviet Union. Athlete (15 varsity letters at Rutgers!), actor (played Othello in the longest-running Shakespearean production in Broadway history!), singer (world famous for his vibrant baritone renditions of Negro spirituals), orator, cultural scholar and linguist (fluent in at least 15 languages!), Robeson was an outspoken crusader for racial equality and social justice. Revered by the left, reviled by the right, he was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era and beyond, harassed by the FBI, his passport revoked for eight years, his career stifled. He died broken and almost forgotten, his life a testament to lost opportunities in 20th-century American history.” – Fedco Seeds
The tomato itself is a gorgeous deep red brick color with a fantastic sweet and smokey flavor.
Where to buy seeds: http://www.fedcoseeds.com/seeds/search.php?item=4060&search=paul%20robeson
The showstopper, the freaky beauty, the one vine everyone stops at when they walk through my tomato field to gawk. This tomato was bred by Oregon State University to have extremely high anti-oxidant levels. The fruits start out a deep plum color with green bottoms than ripen to rose. Mid-sized fruits grow in long clusters that look a bit like giant concord grapes.
Where to buy seeds: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-8711-indigo-rose-og.aspx
I did not stuff the writer in a hole and squeeze him to cough up fresh tomato juice and pundritry, promise. This is a gorgeous variety, obviously related to green zebra, but with a point little torpedo shape.
Where to buy seeds: http:/y /www.rareseeds.com/michael-pollan-tomato/
(Not organic seeds. If you have a desperate need for organic seeds, send me email. I saved a bunch of this one too)
Yup, they look like hot pepper devils, guaranteed to make people laugh on site. A generous plant with prolific fruit, I think this variety is a better substitute for Romas or San Marzanos as a paste tomato.
Where to buy seeds: http://www.territorialseed.com/product/Jersey_Devil_Organic_Tomato_Seed/organic_tomato_seed
This is the most elegant, the most refined, the most stylish tomato of the collection. OF COURSE, it’s Italian, and therefore demands pronunciation in a cheesy Italian accent.
Where to buy seeds: http://www.localharvest.org/tomato-seeds-costoluto-fiorentino-organic-C27452
But Wait, There’s Always More
I have heard rumors of perhaps 5000 heirloom tomato varieties. I am only familiar with a mere 100 or so.
I found another favorites list, with only a few cross-overs above. I am planning on ordering a few from this list for next year myself: http://www.heirloomtomatoplants.com/Heirloom_tomatoes-ah.htm
And then there are a few sites where you can go deep down the rabbit hole and look at 100s of other tomato options. Here’s a few, but don’t blame me if you end up trying to grow 500 tomato varieties next year on your balcony.
Tatiana’s Tomato Base – 717 varieties, very well organized.
TomatoFest – 600 varieties, great collections, instructional videos and growing information.
I kept extensive notes in a spreadsheet of the 87 varieties I trialed this year. If you are interested in reading the full spreadsheet, send me email and I will send you back a copy.