Heirloom Tomato Varieties Before 1900

Heirloom tomatoes are generally defined as those varieties that were available before 1945, when hybrid varieties became more readily available. Many tomatoes that were available pre-1900 are still available today and are considered more flavorful than new varieties. Tomatoes may be grown in almost any climate, though they will only produce fruit when temperatures range between 50 degrees F overnight to 85 degrees F during the day.


The most well-known heirloom variety, Brandywine tomatoes are known for good flavor and have rich, red flesh with pink skin that ages to nearly purple. The first Brandywine tomato seeds were available through a Midwestern seed trader in the 1800s and it is believed that they were mixed with other seeds before becoming commercially available. Also known as Pink and Sudduth Strain tomatoes, the original plants had potato-leaf foliage, but Brandywines now grow on more standard-leaf plants. The large fruit (1 lb.. or more) is sweet and is good for eating fresh or cooking.

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple is believed to have been introduced to the U.S. market by Cherokee Indians in Tennessee in the 1800s, when a Cherokee gave a plant to a neighbor. These tomatoes are a member of the "black" tomato family and have deep purple skin and flesh with green shoulders. Fruit weighs in at about 12 oz. and the flesh is sweet and rich and has the consistency of a Beefsteak tomato. These plants are fairly disease-resistant.


Hillbilly's orange fruit with red streaks originated in West Virginia in the 1880s and is particularly acidic. Despite that, the fruit tastes sweet and fruity, due to high sugar content. Fruit may reach 24 oz., has the consistency of of a peach and may be used for eating fresh or cooking. Plants have potato-leaf foliage.

Keywords: heirloom tomatoes, pre-1900 tomatoes, old tomatoes, sweet tomatoes

About this Author

J.D. Chi is a professional journalist who has covered sports for more than 20 years at newspapers all over the United States. She has covered major golf tournaments and the NFL as well as travel and health topics. Chi received her Bachelor of Arts in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University and is working toward a master's degree in journalism.