Heirloom tomatoes are old-fashioned varieties that might have fallen out of favor in the large commercial vegetable marketplace because of their unusual looks or their inability to be shipped and stored as successfully as more recently-developed hybrid varieties. However, the flavor or heirlooms is far superior to hybrids. The Carmel, California, Tomato Fest rated the best of the heirlooms, as did Tomatomania in Los Angeles.
The bicolored indeterminate chocolate stripes tomato placed among the top three heirloom varieties in the 2007 Tomato Fest competition. Tomatoes grow to 3 or 4 inches in diameter and are a mahogany color with stripes of olive green. Said to be a good tomato for both salads and sandwiches, the chocolate stripes tomato produces plentiful quantities until your first frost.
This heirloom was one of the winners at the Carmel Tomato Fest. Italian heirloom tomatoes are a midseason tomato that grows on indeterminate vines. The red fruit will reach up to 1 lb. in weight and has a meaty flavor. It is shaped like a pear. This one is favored for eating fresh and for all cooking and canning.
Chosen as the best of the best at the 2002 Tomatomania event in Los Angeles, the black plum heirloom is a heavy producer of plum tomatoes that are 2 inches long. It is colored mahogany with dark green shoulders. The Tomato Fest website reports that this small tomato has a tangy, sweet flavor and like other plum tomatoes, it is favored for sauces.
Carbon is a so-called black tomato. It placed second at the Tomatomania competition and second at the Cornell Research Farm in Ithaca, New York. Carbon is a large, very dark-colored purple-black tomato with fruits weighing in at 10 to 14 oz. This tomato is an indeterminate type and ripens in mid summer. The flavor is said to be complex and rich, according to Tomato Fest.
Andrew Rahart’s Jumbo Red
The Andrew Rahart’s jumbo red tomato is jumbo with fruit reaching more than 1 lb. in weight later in the growing season. It is considered one of the Beefsteak types of tomato and has “intensely red skin” and dense flesh. It requires patience if you decide to grow this one. Harvest your first jumbo red about three months after you plant starter plants.
Number three in the Tomatomania contest was the sweet olive heirloom variety. It’s a grape-type of cherry tomato with an oval shape and grows on productive, compact plants. Because it’s a determinate tomato, suppliers of its seeds, such as Trade Winds Fruit, say it’s a good choice for growing in a container. Expect to begin harvesting this tomato within two months of planting.
San Marzano Redorta
This paste-style tomato ranked high in the Tomato Fest competition. The Pizzo Redorta Mountain in Bergamo, Italy, is the namesake of the San Marzano Redorta heirloom tomato. It’s considered a paste tomato, but unlike many others of this type, it is large, up to 8 oz. in weight and 4 inches long. It grows on indeterminate vines and is ready to start harvesting 78 days after planting. It’s also good for eating. Because paste tomatoes have less juice than other types, it will not cause lettuce to wilt if you must make your salad in advance.
Coming in fourth at Tomatomania, the sungold heirloom tomato is a cherry tomato with a high sugar content, making it a winner for many people’s palates. Its golden yellow to bright orange in color and combines well with grape-style cherry tomatoes in salads. Harvest begins less than two months after planting.
Homer Fike’s Yellow Oxheart
Homer Fike’s yellow oxheart was judged one of the Top 10 at Tomato Fest. It is thought to come from West Virginia. It produces large, yellow-gold, heart-shaped tomatoes on its indeterminate vines. A late-season producer, this heirloom has meaty flesh, a minimum of seeds and a sweet flavor.
The Paul Robeson heirloom tomato is one of the so-called “black” tomatoes. It was the top winner at Tomato Fest and came in at number eight at Tomatomania. It originated in Russia and is classified as a beefsteak type, producing large, slightly flattened fruits that can reach up to 6 inches in diameter. This tomato has “luscious, earthy, exotic flavors and good acid/sweet balance,” according to the Tomato Fest website. It’s a good choice if you live in a climate that is slightly cooler than that preferred by many other kinds of tomatoes.