Ever since I can remember, I have been obsessed with tomatoes. I’m not exactly sure why… however, my Mom often times tells me about how when I was a kid that I would eat so many tomatoes, I would break out all over my face.
My parents always had a garden. I remember helping plant it…every year around Memorial Day, Dad would till the garden plot and we would plant tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, zuchinni, and some other veggies. There was one time Mom asked me to go pick a few tomatoes to have with dinner and I trudged back up to the house with a whole Radio Flyer wagon full of tomatoes. Needless to say, Mom spent the next day canning them up.
I long all winter for the smell of tomato plants to be in my nose. There is something about the aroma of the tomato plant that just transports me right into the middle of summer, but nothing beats the taste of the very first tomato from the garden.
I have many favorites, and this post will profile them and I’ll explain why I must grow them every year.
If you want a large beef steak type of tomato for slicing….this is it. The name “Mortgage Lifter” was registered in 1932 by a man named William Estler, who developed the cultivar in 1922 in Barboursville, West Virginia. However, according to a few sources online, the Mortgage Lifter was actually developed by a man named “Radiator Charlie” Byles in Logan, West Virginia. Sources claim that Byles developed his cultivar in the early 1930’s…. however, let it be known that the two Mortgage Lifters are two different cultivars…one is Mortgage Lifter and the other is Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter”.
Despite the confusion above, Mortgage Lifters are some of the most well-known Depression Era cultivar. They were developed for the nursery plant market and received their name due to how well they sold–they allowed small scale nurseries and farmers to sell enough to recover from debt.
Mortgage Lifters are known for their semi-sweet flavor and their ability to produce fruit weighing up to two pounds. They are very robust plants, and an indeterminate variety. I like to use Mortgage Lifters for eating on burgers, sandwiches, slicing for snacks, canning stewed tomatoes, and also using in salsa. I have had single Mortgage Lifter tomatoes fill a whole quart mason jar.
Another favorite of mine is the Cherokee Purple. A good friend’s Mom grew vegetable starts as a business for a few years (I also had the pleasure of working for her for a few summers!) and she introduced me to my very first different color of tomato.
We can thank a retired chemist named Craig LeHoullier, for the Cherokee Purple. LeHoullier is an avid gardener and a well known tomato expert, he also has one of the country’s largest collections of tomato cultivars. One day in 1990 he opened his mail and found a packet with tomato seeds in it. There was a note from the sender that said she had received them from her neighbor. The neighbor had said that the tomato variety had been in her family for over 100 years and that they were passed down from a Cherokee Indian Tribe.
I love the Cherokee Purple and its hues of dark red, browns, purple and greens. It has a smoky but bright and acidic flavor…one that is absolutely divine (to me, anyway!). It is an indeterminate variety and produces tomatoes that can weigh up to a pound or so.
Brandywine Tomatoes are another one of my heirloom go-tos. They honestly never fail, and they produce some monster fruits, often over a pound. I also love canning with them whether it be salsa, sauce, or just plain canned tomatoes. The origins of the Brandywine are a mystery, although it shows up in Burpee catalogs as far back as 1886. There is also a strain of the cultivar labeled “Brandywine Sudduths’s Strain” which was developed by a farmer named Dorris Sudith, in Ohio, who was able to trace her strain back 80 years. The Sudduth Strain was given to Seed Savers Exchange in 1982. They offer the Sudduth Strain in their catalog, which is the strain we will be planting this year.
Brandywine Tomatoes are known for their superior taste and their giant potato leaves. They are indeterminate.
If you are a lover of BLTs in the summer…this is your tomato. This heirloom variety productes large, crack resistant fruit that make excellent slices! Back when we ate tons of bread, we lived on BLT’s and we often had to cut the slice in half in order to get the tomato to fit on the bread! Now THAT is a tomato! They have a slightly acidic but rich and creamy tomato flavor. Again, I use these guys for all sorts of canning recipes.
Amish Paste tomatoes are honestly my personal go-to for canning sauces. They have a perfect blocky, dense, great tasting, and almost seedless fruit. They are a Roma type of tomato, originating in an Amish community in Wisconsin. History dates the Amish Paste back to the 1870’s! They are also a quick one to grow, taking about 80 days from transplant to fruiting. They are an indeterminate variety and the fruit is usually anywhere from 6 to 12 ounces when ripe.
I love using Amish Paste tomatoes for sauces. I love making our own pizza sauce because store-bought usually contains loads of sugars or some kind of soy based vegetable oil. It doesn’t take long for these guys to cook down and make some nice, thick and tasty sauce! They can also be used for salsa!
The San Marzano tomato was introduced to me by the same lovely lady that brought the Cherokee Purple into my life. These guys are also a paste type of tomato on an indeterminate vine. Compared to a Roma or Amish Paste tomato, the fruit is more elongated and not as round. There is almost NO juice or seeds! The flesh of the fruit is almost sweet and not as acidic tasting as some tomatoes. A plus in my opinion if you want to cook down tomatoes quickly for sauces!
These guys tolerate heat quite well and are often grown in warmer climates and they set fruit in the heat, unlike some heirlooms that will drop their blossoms if they get too hot. They are also longer growing, meaning they produce fruit for quite a while, right up until the very first hard frost.
San Marzano tomatoes originate from the small town of San Marzano sul Sarno, which is near Naples, Italy and were first grown in the volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius. It is rumored that the very first San Marzano seed arrived in Campania in 1770 as a gift from the Viceroyalty of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples and that it was planted in the soil near San Marzano sul Sarno.
Did you know that San Marzano tomatoes have been designated as the ONLY tomato that can be used for Vera Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza). I love using these with a combination of other paste varieties to make sauce, whether it’s pizza sauce or pasta sauce (not that we eat pasta!).