Heirloom Tomatoes: Which Varieties to Grow and How to Use Them Up

Bring back lively flavor with heirloom tomatoes. Learn which varieties to grow in your garden and use them in three delicious recipes.

| October 8, 2013

Heirloom Flavor

Learn varieties and special recipes for favorite heirloom vegetables in “Heirloom Flavor.”

Cover Courtesy Cool Springs Press

When ability to withstand the rigors of shipping and longer shelf life became the goal of vegetables, flavor took a back seat. Heirloom Flavor (Cool Springs Press, 2013) brings heirloom vegetables back to the table with endless varieties to grow and mouth-watering recipes to try. Author Doreen G. Howard has been growing and cooking heirlooms for over twenty years and shares her favorite tasty heirlooms with you. In this excerpt from “Vegetables,” learn all about the different varieties of heirloom tomatoes and how to use them in the kitchen.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Heirloom Flavor.

Heirloom Tomatoes

There’s no other way to say this: Tomato flowers are promiscuous. They spread their pollen everywhere, mating with any tomato in the area. It’s no surprise that new varieties arise from these causal affairs, including a completely American original, Mortgage Lifter. The first Mortgage Lifter came from William Estler of Barboursville, West Virginia. He found the tomato growing in his garden in the 1920s and thought enough of it to stabilize its genetic traits. He had a lawyer register the name Mortgage Lifter in 1932. Estler sold thousands of plants from what he believed was an accidental cross between Pritchard and Ponderosa Pink tomatoes, the only two he grew on his farm.  One of his employees dubbed the fast-selling plants as “mortgage lifters,” and Estler adopted the name. The original Mortgage Lifter tomato variety weighs from one to three pounds, and is low acid, sweet, and meaty with small seed cavities. And yes, it’s pink.

About the same time Estler was stabilizing his variety Mortgage Lifter, M.C. Byles started his quest for the perfect tomato two counties away in Logan, West Virginia. Not a gardener, he complained to his wife Elizabeth that he disliked store-bought tomatoes. She fired back, “If the tomatoes don’t suit you, then go and invent you one that does.” So, he went to the library and read about breeding tomatoes. He settled on four varieties he liked and cross-pollinated them; German Johnson and Belgium Giant were probably two of the varieties used. Once he had the tomato he wanted, Byles sold plants for $1 each during the Great Depression. After he sold his first six thousand, Byles paid off his home’s mortgage — hence another Mortgage Lifter.

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