In her classic book "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden," New York biologist Carolyn J. Male boiled down the top choices among the 600 or more retail varieties of pre-hybrid tomatoes dating from before World War II. Any kind of tomato you want to grow--large slicers for sandwiches, cherry tomatoes, fruits for sauces and canning--exists in heirloom form, as well as tomatoes in unusual colors packed with flavor.
M.C. Byles of Logan, West Virginia, developed the Mortgage Lifter, according to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. He spent six years crossing tomato varieties and introduced the resulting Mortgage Lifter as seedling plants in the 1940s. He sold plants for $1 each to pay off the $6,000 mortgage on his house. His variety provides smooth 1 lb. pink fruit and matures in 85 days.
This 80-day tomato provides old-time tomato flavor, according to Baker Creek, and dates to before 1890, when Cherokee Indians cultivated it. It produces a large, dusky pink-purple fruit.
This Russian heirloom also matures in 80 days, bearing dark red-purple fruit. Its rich sweet flavor places it high in tomato taste trials.
Black from Tula
Another Russian heirloom acclaimed for its taste, Black from Tula matures in 70 to 80 days, bearing an 8- to 12-oz. tomato of a purplish-brown color.
This solid canning tomato matures in 73 to 77 days, with fruits of a deep scarlet color. Marglobe performs well in humid climates and provides uniform globe-shaped fruit, notes Burpee.
Tomato breeder Tom Wagner came up with Green Grape, which sells well to home gardeners and specialty markets. Baker Creek describes the flavor as rich, sweet and zingy, and the flesh as lime-green with chartreuse-yellow skins. As the name suggests, these are about the size of a large grape, suitable for salads and snacking.
One of the most acclaimed early heirlooms, this potato leaf variety from Czechoslovakia matures in 55 to 65 days. Heirloom seed companies recommend Stupice for northern climate gardeners and praise the flavor of its small- to medium-sized fruit.
As its name suggests, Anna Russian, which matures in 69 to 80 days, was sent to a Russian immigrant many years ago from a gardener in Russia, notes Baker Creek. The productive plants produce large, pink heart-shaped fruit.
This deep red heirloom produces 8 oz. acorn-shaped fruit useful for fresh tomatoes or cooking. Fruits mature after 82 days.