If you have never tried an heirloom tomato – you need to put it on your bucket list!

Most all commercial varieties of tomatoes, and for that matter, vegetable plants in general – are selected and grown for their ability to look good at the local supermarket, and travel well getting there.

A Cherokee Purple Tomato on the vine.
A Cherokee Purple Tomato on the vine.

They are certainly not selected for their taste!

Sadly, many of the best tasting varieties of tomatoes have been weaned out of the mainstream in the last 50 years – simply because they were not pretty enough to display at the market – or they didn’t have a long shelf life.  However, thanks in part to a few dedicated individuals and seed companies and their efforts to save these heritage varieties – flavor is coming back in bunches!

If you have ever savored a thick juicy slice of a Brandywine tomato – or tasted the full-bodied flesh of a Purple Cherokee –  you know exactly what I am talking about.  Heirlooms ooze with flavor!  In fact – its not fair to even attempt to compare them to a regular “supermarket” tomato.

The beautiful meaty flesh of a Brandywine tomato
The beautiful and tasty flesh of a sweet Brandywine tomato

The best part of all – you can save the seeds from year to year.  Heirloom tomatoes are old-time open-pollinated and stabilized varieties that can be saved and planted to give great tasting tomatoes every year.

Seed companies such as Baker Creek Seeds, Johnnies, Patriot Seed Supply, and the Sustainable Seed Company, along with many others now specialize in all types of heirloom vegetable seeds – making it easy to try your hand at growing an almost infinite variety of tasty tomatoes.

When purchasing, keep in mind that there are basically two types of tomatoes – determinate and indeterminate.

The Amish Paste Tomato is an excellent choice for those wanting to make sauce, salsa or ketchup.
The Amish Paste Tomato is an excellent choice for those wanting to make sauce, salsa or ketchup.

Determinate varieties are more of a bush style plant – and have most all of their fruit ripen over a two to three week period. They are great for small gardens and containers – and for those who want to can or process a lot of tomatoes at once.

Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, will grow and keep on producing tomatoes until killed by frost. They need to have good staking support in the garden – as some can grow upwards of 10 feet – although 5 to 6′ is more the norm (See: making your own tomato supports). I like them because they continue giving all season long.

Heirloom tomatoes make a great base for home made pasta sauce!
Heirloom tomatoes make a great base for home made pasta or pizza sauce!

So with that said – here are six of our favorites (all indeterminate). Rest assured – there are hundreds more out  – and that is why every year we try a few more to add to our favorite list!

So make sure to plant a few heirlooms in your garden this year and provide an explosion of taste to everyone in your family!

Our Favorite Heirloom Varieties:

Black cherry tomatoes are the perfect salad tomato and full of flavor
Black cherry tomatoes are the perfect salad tomato and full of flavor

Amish Paste :  This is the heirloom variety of what most know as a “Roma” style of tomato.  Thick walled and great for making sauces and ketchup – this is a perfect tomato for canners!  They are also great for salads because they stay nice and firm when sliced.

Black Cherry :  If you like cherry tomatoes – you will love this black cherry heirloom variety.  They produce tons of small round black and reddish fruit that are perfect for salads, salsa – or just eating one after another!  They have a super-sweet rich flavor that can’t even be compared to those bright red cherry tomatoes you find in plastic boxes at the grocery store. They keep on growing and producing til frost – so be prepared to have plenty on hand!

The Copia Tomato is one of our favorites. It has beautiful striping to go with great flavor. We found these at Baker Creek Seed Co.
The Copia Tomato is one of our favorites. It has beautiful striping to go with great flavor. We found these at Baker Creek Seed Co.

Copia Tomato:  This one is so unique and so good!  Large plants grow to produce yellow and red striped tomatoes that are almost neon in color. They are perfect for slicing and eating or to add tons of flavor and color to salads.  They are also a great conversation starter!  I have only found this one at Baker Creek Seeds.

Cherokee Purple:  This is my personal favorite. It produces large, beefy tomatoes that have a dark deep red to purplish hue. When sliced open – they are meaty and really make the perfect tomato sandwich!

It is said to have been grown and handed down from the Cherokee tribe – hence the name. This one can easily grow 6 to 8 feet tall.

Brandywine: This is a favorite among so many gardeners – and for great reason – the flavor is amazing! It is probably the most widely known and grown variety of heirloom tomatoes. These grow very large and dense, and we are always surprised by the weight of the tomatoes.

Our raised row garden.
You will definitely need to stake up heirloom tomatoes like Brandywine and Cherokee Purple – they can easily take over a garden if left to roam.

Black Krim :  Another “Out of this World” tasting tomato.  Just like the name implies – it becomes a dark blackish-purple when ripe.  It originates from Russia, and has really become a favorite among heirloom tomato lovers. A word of caution – be prepared to support this one – it grows large and will take up some space!

There you have it – our favorites! If you would like to receive our DIY & Gardening  Tips every Tuesday – be sure to sign up to follow the blog via email in the right hand column, “like” us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Happy Gardening!  Jim and Mary

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