The term heirloom or heritage tomatoes just means an old variety Whilst breeders are always looking to improve existing cultivars and develop new ones, the rush of progress sometimes leaves a real gem behind.
Recently some of these old varieties have been re-discovered and are again popular with home growers who have different priorities to the commercial tomato grower.
Why Heritage Tomatoes?
You may wonder why people bother – surely the modern varieties are best? Certainly they are more disease resistant and stronger growing than the heirloom varieties but there is one over riding reason – flavour.
The flavour of heritage tomato varieties is different to modern tomatoes. Some are much stronger flavoured, some more tart and some milder. They are different. Give them a try and see what you think.
If you don’t like one type, then try another next year. You may well discover what is, for you, the ideal tomato. A flavour without compare.
Like the modern tomatoes, the red heritage varieties contain lycopene, an antioxidant, cancer protecting compound. Incidentally, lycopene is more readily available to us and easily absorbed from cooked tomatoes rather than raw.
Growing Heirloom (Heritage) Tomatoes
Growing heirloom tomatoes is just like growing ordinary tomatoes except that they may not be quite so tolerant of poor cultivation and require that bit more attention and skill to give of their best.
Best Heirloom (Heritage) Tomatoes
It’s impossible to say what are the best heirloom tomatoes, it all depends on your personal taste and what appeals to you and your family. Try them and see.
My personal favourites are the black Russian varieties and Ailsa Craig which is, perhaps, not quite old enough to be heritage. But there are lots more to try yet.
There are quite a few heritage tomatoes listed in the allotment shop – otherwise you’ll need to search around. Many of the American varieties are not available in Britain unless you can find someone to send them across the water to you.
Black Russian Tomato
Cordon (Indeterminate). These medium sized black tomatoes grow on compact plants bearing plenty of dark mahogany-brown fruits, with a delicious blend of sugar and acid, making a distinctive, complex flavour that has to be tasted to be believed.
Black opal is very similar in looks and flavour but with smaller fruits.
Cordon (Indeterminate). This variety dates back to 1885 and is regarded as one of the world’s finest flavoured ‘beefsteak’ tomatoes ever offered.
Yields a heavy crop of firm, clear skinned, light rosy pink fruits on plants with potato like leaves.
A selection of Ailsa Craig, with a similarly renowned flavour. Fruits are non-greenback (free of darker green shoulders) mid-sized 5cm (2in) diameter, round and of deep red skin colour.
Grow as a cordon outdoors or indeterminate under glass (needs support and side-shooting).
Tomato : The Amateur (Heritage)
Medium sized, early ripening fruits about 85g (3oz) in weight of good flavour. Well cropped on a compact bush plant outdoors. No support required.
Recommend to grow under a cloche to promote earlier ripening. A variety that will do well in a polytunnel / greenhouse in cooler areas or outdoors in warmer areas of the country
Tomato : Yellow Stuffer (Heritage)
This cordon variety produces blocky, firm, thick walled, shiny yellow fruits, each weighing up to 200g (7oz). The central core is easily removed making this one of the best beefsteak tomato varieties for stuffing and baking.
Fruits of Tomato ‘Yellow Stuffer’ will keep up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator. An outstanding variety that is well suited to both indoor and outdoor cultivation. There is also a Red Stuffer tomato available.
Sub Arctic Plenty Heirloom Tomato
Bush (Determinate). T&M first sold this variety in 1976. However it was first developed in the 1940’s to provide the US Air Force stationed in Greenland with fresh tomatoes.
It has a unique ability to set fruit under cool conditions, producing small red fruit ripening very early with plenty of flavour. Much hardier than normal, makes this particularly advantageous when spring weather after planting out can turn cold.
There is a modern cold resistant version – Glacier – Available
Green Sausage Heritage Tomato
Bush (Determinate). Elongated, green, sausage-like fruits with conspicuous yellow stripes and delicious green flesh. Bushy plants bearing 4in. long tomatoes of 1½in. diameter, with an average of 6-7 fruits per truss.
Tomato Green Sausage is best grown under glass for early crops; grows outdoors in warm summers.
An indeterminate (cordon or pole) variety. The fruits of this heritage variety grow to approximately 2-3in/5-7cm in size, on large productive plants.
The strikingly pale, green striped skin turns towards yellow on ripening but maintains its stripes
Recommended for its distinctive flavour. Very tangy and sharp
Purple Russian Tomato
An indeterminate (cordon or pole) heirloom variety that originated in the Ukraine.
Plum shaped 7-10cm (3-4in) long purplish-black fruits weigh up to 170gms (6oz) with a great sweet and meaty taste and skins that rarely crack. A heavy cropper, with good cold tolerance.
Some people find it quite tricky to grow and the fruits reportedly variable in shape.
Black Sea Man Tomato
A determinate (bush) Russian heirloom potato-leaf variety producing large (4 to 8 oz), deep brown fruits, rich in flavour. Incredible inner colour when sliced adding interest to salads.
The fruit size is variable – some growers reporting fruits of 10 to 14 oz and others less. Requires regular and copious watering to avoid splitting.
Speckled Roman AKA Striped Roman Tomato
An indeterminate (cordon or pole) variety that originated in the USA?
A heavy crop of attractive 13cm (5in) long fruits with jagged orange and yellow stripes. A very fleshy variety with few seeds and that traditional tomato taste.
Nebraska Wedding Heirloom Tomatoes
A small indeterminate (cordon or pole) variety that originated in the Great Plains of the USA.
A reliable cropper, producing clusters of beautiful 7-10cm (3-4in) round shiny orange fruits with attractive bright orange inner flesh. Only grows 90cm (36in) making it perfect for containers.
Cherokee Purple Heritage Tomatoes
A large indeterminate (cordon or pole) heirloom variety that originated in the USA.
Unique dusky rose-red coloured fruits with an intriguing inner flesh pattern. Plants produce a heavy crop of extremely sweet beefsteak 340gms (12oz) fruits, with superior flavour rivalling ‘Brandywine’.
I found this easy to grow and the flavour was excellent
A large indeterminate (cordon or pole) potato-leaf heritage variety that originated in Poland in the late 1800s.
Pinkish-red flat, globe shaped fruits weighing up to 450gms (1lb) with an incredibly sweet flavour and meaty inner flesh.
Hungarian Heart Tomato
A large indeterminate (cordon or pole) variety that originated in Hungary. The seeds were taken to the USA from Budapest in 1901
A huge pink oxheart, with very few seeds and almost no cracking of the skin. One of the best for eating fresh, canning (bottling) or for making fresh roasted tomato sauce.
Hillbilly Potato Leaf Tomato
A large indeterminate (cordon or pole) variety that originated in the USA
A heavy cropping, gorgeous slicing tomato from Ohio, with beautiful yellow fruits streaked with red on the blossom end. Each flattened 10- 15cm (4-6in) fruit is incredibly juicy and capable of reaching 450gms (1lb) in weight.
Further Information: Tomato Growing Guides
- Types of Tomatoes – An Introduction to Tomato Growing Part 1
- Sowing and Starting off Tomatoes – Introduction to Tomato Growing Part 2
- Growing Tomatoes in a Tomato Grow-house (Mini-Greenhouse)
- Growing Tomatoes in a Greenhouse
- Growing Tomatoes in the Greenhouse Border
- Growing Tomatoes in Pots or Grow Bags in the Greenhouse
- Growing Tomatoes by Ring Culture
- Growing Tomatoes in Straw Bales
- Growing Tomatoes Outdoors
- Planting & Growing Tomatoes Outdoors
- Growing Patio Tomatoes – Dwarf Bush Variety Patio Tomatoes
- Water Requirements for Tomatoes
- Ideal Temperatures for Growing Tomatoes
- Removing Tomato Side Shoots (Suckers) & Stopping Tomatoes
- Best Tomato Varieties – My Top Tasty Tomato Picks
- Heirloom Tomatoes (Heritage Tomatoes)
- Best Tomatoes for Greenhouse Growing
- Tomato Troubles & Diseases | Causes & Cures of Tomato Problems
- Raising Tomato Plants from Seed