Five (Make That 10) Heirloom Tomatoes We Can’t Live Without

LaMandaPeter copyEach year when the garden season ends my husband, Peter, and I have a conversation about cutting back on our gardening activities. We have a resolve. An agreement. A decision has been made.

Around mid-February, as the seed catalogues arrive, we remind each other “this is the year we’re cutting back… not as many tomatoes. Not so many varieties of eggplant, etc.”

By April when we’re actually able to get outside our first task is to “set the infrastructure” – that means deciding where the trellises, potato buckets and other garden structures will go. Including the tomato ladders. We have ninety of them (yes, you read that right and you’re probably saying “Damn, you SHOULD cut back. Freaks.”) And, somehow, the resolve is gone and all the ladders make it into the garden.

THIS YEAR we only put out 25 tomato ladders. It required remarkable restraint. But we’re going to be out of the country during the peak tomato season so we figured fate was really making us cut back for once. And it hurt.

And then the game of lifeboat began… there are so many heirloom tomatoes we’ve grown and loved. How to pick? I was at a class for Peterson Garden Project in March and someone had brought a Seed Saver’s Exchange catalog and asked me which tomatoes I’d grown and which I’d liked. I’d actually grown all the varieties they carried and wondered why they didn’t have a few I expected.

Anyway, you get the point – love those tomatoes. Love gardening. Now that we’ve put out so few tomato ladders, how will we decide?


The jury is still out on a few but here’s the ones we cannot live without and why:

Aunt Ruby’s German Green. This is one of those green-when-ripe tomatoes. It actually gets kind of golden on the bottom. The plants are not prolific producers – you might get 8-10 fat 1-ish pound tomatoes per plant. But the flavor. I can safely describe them as my favorite tasting tomato of all time. Kind of citrusy and all tomato.

Jeanne Flamme. This is Peter’s favorite. They’re orange “salad” tomatoes originally from France. A salad tomato is something that is on the smaller side and can be cut nicely in wedges for a salad. I guess. These orange beauties almost glow on the vine and the taste is spectacular. Almost spicy. Some years we get so many we don’t know what to do with them. Some years we don’t. Doesn’t matter, we wouldn’t have a garden without them.

Paul Robeson. This “black” tomato (they’re actually more magenta/purple) is one of the varieties that came from the Soviet Union in the late 80’s after the wall came down and seed swapping/trade relations had improved. In addition to it being almost smoky and so beautiful it takes your breath away, it is named after the famous African-American singer and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson, who was greatly admired by the Russians.

Copia. This is a “new” heirloom which sounds like an oxymoron but it means two heirloom varieties were bred into a new open pollinated variety. I’m ok with that. It is a beautiful bi-color tomato that’s mostly golden with red stripes. Named after the now defunct Copia Center of Food & Wine in Napa, California it makes me think of Julia Child, one of the founding members. The tomato is sweet and beautiful and, literally, quite a handful.

White Currant. Also known as “the gift that keeps on giving” or “garden candy” because we planted this one time nine years ago and it keeps volunteering every year. White tomatoes are low acid in general and this marble sized sweetie is no exception.

Striped Roman. This is also called Speckled Roman but I like calling it striped so I do. A paste tomato with attitude, this red tomato with orange/yellow stripes is great for sauce but also delicious for fresh uses too. The stripes almost look like lightening bolts. As I said, attitude.

Constoluto Genovese and/or Purple Calabash. These tomatoes are fluted. That means they’re kind of folded in on themselves. They’re a bit freaky and that’s why I like them. They have a lot of personality. Fluted tomatoes are nothing new and there are a lot of varieties, I like alternating between these two. They make me smile and the taste is the best of the fluted types I’ve tried (which is every variety I could get my mitts on.)

Green Zebra. I had to put this in because if Peter ever read this post and I left this one out I’d never hear the end of it. But we grow it every year. It is a very late season tomato in our neck of the woods (Chicago, Zone 6b) but it does have its merits. Citrusy is a good word to describe it. And the stripes are lovely.

Black Cherry and White Cherry. These are two different types of cherry tomatoes. I can’t live without either. The black ones are on the spicy, deeply flavored side. The white ones sweet and acid free. It is easy to realize you’ve been standing by either of these snacking for a long, long time in a sort of cherry tomato nirvana.

When we bought our “yard with a house attached to it” in 2006 it was because of tomatoes. I’m not kidding. We’d been buying from the farmer’s market to make this “stacked salad“. We decided we needed to grow our own. And our own special tiny basil (Pistou) to use with it. And our own shallots. That salad now has a cult following at The Yarden each summer. What can I say, we’re freaks. But we sure eat well!

And now I’ll continue to try to pare down my ¬†list… or squeeze in a few more tomato ladders.

LaManda JoyFive (Make That 10) Heirloom Tomatoes We Can’t Live Without

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