Heirloom tomatoes hearken to an earlier time, when soft, juicy fruits didn't have to survive long-distance shipping, as became prevalent after World War II. Growers switched to hybrids then, which have their place, but heirlooms "definitely surpass them in one general characteristic: their taste," according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Extension agents, heirloom hobbyists and seed collectors love these old-school tomatoes that will never appear in a supermarket, and some varieties make most of the "best of" lists.
Bill Best of Heirlooms.org ranks this oxheart pink variety, with a good balance of acids and sugars and pleasant textures, as his very favorite. Chuck Wyatt of Heirloom Tomatoes.net agrees: "3-inch, heart shaped, superbly flavored fruit." A Russian immigrant smuggled the seeds into the United States long ago. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds notes the fruits are packed with flavor and plants produce a good yield.
This large beefsteak variety tomato, an Amish heirloom ripening in 80 days, is legendary for its "exceptionally rich, succulent flavor" and "old-fashioned tomato taste," according to the Seed Savers forum. It comes in pink-red, pink and yellow versions. Baker Creek Seed Co. reports this 1885 variety sells the most of any heirloom vegetable. While the Brandywine is not a heavy producer, "the delicious unique taste makes it worth it," notes Los Angeles-based editor Linda Grasso.
This tall Czechoslavakian tomato plant grows well in northern climates, ripens early (58 days) with 2 to 4 oz. globes and produces well. Reviewers describe it as a smooth red tomato with great flavor that can be eaten right in the garden.
This Russian beefsteak variety, a deep maroon red when it ripens in 80 days, offers rich flavor and makes the top 12 seller list for HeirloomSeeds.com. Black Krim, much sought after by chefs according to Baker Creek, wins tomato taste tests and sells well in West Coast markets.
Slice this on a plate of mixed heirlooms and "it will definitely be the star as it is just gorgeous," writes Grasso. The chartreuse and lime striped flesh is sweet with a sharp bite, according to Baker Creek.
This New Jersey heirloom once produced 70 percent of U.S. tomatoes, according to "Souper Tomatoes: The Story of America's Favorite Food." This determinate produces in 60-100 days. Rutgers fruits are good for canning, with good yields and flavor and large vines, according to Baker Creek.