“heir-loom [air-loom] -noun 1. A valued possession passed down in a family through succeeding generations. […] 3. A cultivar of a vegetable or fruit that is open-pollinated and is not grown widely for commercial purposes. An heirloom often exhibits a distinctive characteristic such as superior flavor or unusual coloration.” —American Heritage Dictionary
Heirloom vegetables are plant varieties that have a history of being passed down within a family or community, similar to the generational sharing of heirloom jewelry or furniture. They have been maintained through open-pollination for at least five decades and sometimes centuries, usually by small farmers or in small ethnic regions. An heirloom variety must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms.
The “heirloom” in heirloom tomatoes signifies an old variety that was passed down from generation to generation. Heirlooms predate the intensive commercial farming that started in this country after World War II.
Some tomatoes now marketed as “heirloom” are actually a cross between two different heirlooms (crossed on purpose or by nature), or are a cross between an heirloom and a hybrid tomato. The cross is then stabilized over several generations so they become open-pollinated.
Note: The terms heirloom and open pollinated are sometimes used interchangeably.
If you save seed, always keep only that seed from your best plants. Good seed savers always select from seed from their open-pollinated plants that are displaying characteristics they want to encourage color, taste, cold-hardiness, etc. This also means you might buy an heirloom seed from one source that grows out differently from the same variety from another source!
The heirloom varieties we sell for you to plant in your garden are:
This family heirloom from Germany is beautiful. The winner of the 2003 Heirloom Garden Show’s taste test. Until you try it, you won’t believe a green tomato could be this good. Aunt Ruby’s is not just the best green eating tomato, it also makes a delicious basis for salsa verde. Originally from Ruby Arnold’s German immigrant grandfather, introduced in the 1993 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook by Bill Minkey of Darien, WI. Large beefsteak fruits weigh one pound or more. Ready to harvest when soft to the touch and yellow-green in color. Indeterminate, 80-95 days from transplant.
This one convinces you to grow heirlooms. Russian, black beefsteak. Such a wonderful taste for an unsuspecting green topped brown and purple tomato! Unusual juiciness, meaty taste and texture. This heirloom originated in Crimea in the Black Sea.
Harvest these while they are half green and still a bit firm. They will be dead ripe and if you wait until they are all the way purple, they will be overripe. Fruits average 12 to 18 ounces. (Indeterminate) Maturity from transplant: 80 days.
An heirloom from Irkutsk, Siberia. Compact at only two inches across, these tomatoes are round and very uniform; the color is a wonderful deep blackish-chocolate brown. The flavor is as deep, sweet and rich as the color. A unique salad tomato; the plants produce a large crop and early. Perfect for patio gardens. Perfect for eating fresh, and in cooking in tomato sauce, or other culinary wonders.
These iridescent fruits average 5–7 oz. (Indeterminate) Maturity from transplant: 70 days.
Now, they say it is hard to grow heirlooms and it is… But Cherokee Purple is a success story for many. And purple it is NOT, but rather a dusky rose color with that rich, complex sweet flavor you find in only your sophisticated heirlooms! Fruit averages about 3/4 lb. Although an indeterminate, it has relatively short vines and is more manageable. You can even grow this one in a container.
Maturity from transplant: 77 days
Heavy yields of round 4-6 ounce red fruits with good flavor early in the season. Great for container growing. This is one stocky little plant. The foliage is referred to as rugose. Sometimes classified as a “dwarf,” you can grow this plant in the ground, but it is excellent for container growing. It produces so much fruit you may need a small stake for support. (Determinate)
Maturity from transplant: 75 days
First introduced in 1943 as an All-America Selection, Jubilee bears large tomatoes with very meaty, thick-walled interiors. Mild flavor and low acidity with high Vitamin C content. Indeterminate yellow-orange fruits. More of a beefsteak than Valencia. Sweet, mild and smooth. You may prune this one to achieve the largest fruits.
This wonderful tomato rivals Brandywine. Grow them both and you can decide. The outside of the fruit is actually pink, not purple and it has potato leaf foliage — very pretty. One pound fruit has a silken texture and rich tomato taste, nicely tart with a balanced undertone of sweetness. Productive, crack resistant and more disease resistant than many heirlooms. Very early for its size.
Maturity from transplant: 72 days
This is the original 1920s open-pollinated strain of Rutgers developed by Campbell’s Soup. The refined hybrid determinate is not as tasty as this one. Outstanding slicing, cooking and canning tomato at 4 to 6 ounces. Unblemished deep oblate fruits with rich red interior and pleasing texture have that great old-time flavor, delicious and juicy. Rutgers also has more disease resistance than your typical heirloom. (Indeterminate)
Maturity from transplant: 75 days
Indeterminate bi-color red and yellow fruit, often over a pound. The gorgeous, delectable Striped German, with its sunset of yellow and red flesh is one of our absolute favorites to grow and eat. Beautiful marbled interior and complex, fruity flavor with smooth texture. Complex fruity flavor. Looks beautiful when sliced!
Indeterminate heirloom from Maine. Sunny orange fruits average 8-10 ounces and are round and smooth. Meaty, with excellent flavor and texture and few seeds. Wonderful sandwich-sized tomato, especially for those who prefer an orange tomato. Some say it is called “Valencia” because it looks like a Valencia orange, while others suspect it came from Valencia, Spain. The tomato has an excellent and complex tomato taste, with a great balance of acid and sweet. It is meaty and rich with very few seeds. It has been described as bursting with flavor, rich and buttery as well as pineapple-like, sweet and refreshing.