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Heirloom Vegetables

submitted by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

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What do ‘Mortgage Lifter’, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Caspian Pink’ all have in common? They are all heirloom tomato varieties that are worth a try in your garden. ‘Mortgage Lifter’ is a very large beefsteak-type tomato that was developed in the 1930’s. M.C. Byles of Logan, West Virginia chose four tomato plants that produced the largest tomatoes, planted them in a group and pollinated the flowers of one plant with pollen from the other three. He repeated this procedure for six seasons and finally developed a plant that produced huge, flavorful tomatoes. He sold 1,000 plants each over the next six summers, at one dollar each, and paid off his mortgage. ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomatoes average 2 ½ pounds each, but can reach up to 4 pounds each. The fruits have a mild, sweet flavor. The tomatoes grow on large, vigorous vines, producing tomatoes in 80 days from seeding to harvest. Also known as ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’.

‘Brandywine’ is an Amish heirloom tomato, widely believed to be the world’s best-flavored tomato and dating back to 1885. ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes weight up to 1 ½ pounds each with firm, clear skin and a light rosy-pink color. The plants have an indeterminate (vining) growth habit with foliage resembling potato leaves and will produce tomatoes in 90-100 days from seeding to harvest. Variations of ‘Brandywine’ include ‘Yellow Brandywine’ with golden-yellow fruits, ‘Red Brandywine’ with scarlet-red fruits and ‘Black Brandywine’ with brownish-red fruits.

Challenging ‘Brandywine’ for the “Best Flavor” title is the heirloom tomato cultivar ‘Caspian Pink’. This tomato originates from Russia, in an area between the Caspian and Black Seas. In California trails, ‘Caspian Pink’ has beaten ‘Brandywine’ in flavor trials for several years! It has an indeterminate (vining) growth habit and produces tomatoes in 80 days from seeding to harvest. Other heirloom tomatoes to consider include:

  • ‘Cherokee Purple’- medium sized pink-purple fruits that don’t crack.
  • ‘Green Sausage’- a banana-shaped paste tomato that is lime green and yellow-striped when ripe. The fruits are four inches long and have a tangy, sweet flavor.
  • ‘Nebraska Wedding’- an old Great Plains variety. Large, globe-shaped fruits with deep orange flesh. Produces in 105 days from seed to harvest with a determinate (bush) growth habit.
  • ‘Pink Accordion’- large pink fruits pleated like an accordion. It has sweet, mild flavor and is semi-hollow so is great for stuffing.
  • ‘Ponderosa Red’, ‘Ponderosa Pink’, ‘Ponderosa Yellow’- large fruits, up to one pound each with mild flavor, low acidity and almost seedless.
  • ‘Roman Candle’- a beautiful, neon yellow banana-shaped tomato with intense sweetness and flavor.

Keep in mind that many heirloom tomatoes have a softer texture than modern cultivars. But with so much variation in size, shape, color and flavor within heirloom tomato varieties, it’s a fun experiment to try a new type each summer!


This resource was added March 2011 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office


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