Our Expert Gardener Tells Us 10 Delicious Heirloom Tomato Varieties To Harvest This Summer

Heirloom tomatoes are becoming more popular at farmers' markets, and you can try growing your own. These delicious tomatoes offer a rainbow of gorgeous colors, unique shapes, and delectable flavors, and are easy to grow. Try growing these excellent varieties, including the popular Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Pineapple, Oxheart, and others in your home garden for your summer table. 

Though it can be difficult to trace the origins of heirloom tomatoes, the saving and replanting of their seeds gives them an intriguing history and folklore. You may be able to find online gardening forums to get advice on specific varieties, or even resources for trading seeds, like over at Dave's Garden, where there are a few articles on heirloom tomatoes. A good resource for heirloom tomato plants is local farmers' markets, which have vendors that sell garden plants.

Organic growing methods are recommended for heirloom tomatoes; these hardy varieties are still prevailing after all these years because they're naturally robust enough to be resistant to pests and diseases like end rot and blight. Use organic gardening soil, plant them in plenty of sun, add a few marigolds to deter insects, and maybe some wire fencing or netting to keep nibbling critters away. Some heirloom varieties grow very large, and if they put on size too quickly, they may be subject to cracking, but this surface flaw doesn't affect their wonderful flavor. If you do notice cracks on ripe tomatoes, just harvest and eat them as soon as possible, and enjoy.

1. Brandywine

The Brandywine tomato is named for Brandywine Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania, but the origins of this pinkish-red, sweet, juicy, fragrant tomato are mysterious. It's said to have originated in Ohio, but also in Tennessee, and it's been known since around 1885. Brandywine is a vigorous grower, and the large fruits mean you should give these tomato plants good support. You will get fewer tomatoes per plant than smaller varieties, but their impressive size makes up for that. With deep and complex flavors and its enormous size, this tomato makes an excellent slicer for summer salads or sandwiches. 

2. Green Zebra

The Green Zebra tomato is visually striking: small, round, bright chartreuse with dark green stripes. It looks spectacular sliced or in salads. This colorful "hybrid heirloom" is a cross between four different heirloom varieties. It was bred by a grower in Washington State, who wanted to breed a tomato that could remain bright green even after it ripened (since green tomatoes are usually considered unripe). Its hybrid nature gives it great pest and disease resistance, while its heirloom parentage gives it a delectable flavor that is both sweet and tangy.

3. Cherokee Purple

Although more a plum-brown or dusty rose color than actual purple, the Cherokee Purple tomato is known for its unique coloring and large, juicy fruits. The interior flesh is firm and remains a uniform dark red color after ripening. The flavor of these attractive heirlooms is rich and complex, sometimes described as a slightly smoky flavor with a hint of acidity. This indeterminate tomato keeps producing all season long until frost on 4- to 6-foot tall plants, so stake them well and harvest the fruits continually to keep them productive.

4. Mortgage Lifter

The history of this tomato's odd name refers to its enormous size: each fruit weighs at least a pound, on average, meaning growers can charge a hefty price for it at markets. Its origins are traced to a Depression-era grower, a man whose "Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter" helped him pay off his $6,000 house mortgage by selling them from a roadside table. There are several cultivars referred to as Mortgage Lifter but the one available today is believed to come from the one introduced in 1932. It's a sturdy beefsteak tomato, with smooth skin and juicy, sweet flesh.

5. Black Krim

The Black Krim is named for its origin country, Crimea. It is one of a number of heirloom tomatoes classified as "black" tomatoes due to their coloring. It is deep brown red with blackish brown shoulders (the curved surface of the top of the tomato) and dark red flesh. The fruits are medium-sized and average around 8 ounces apiece, making them a versatile tomato for salads or slicing for sandwiches. The Black Krim is very juicy with a sweet, rich flavor. Its striking appearance and great taste make this a very desirable tomato to grow in your garden.

6. Yellow Pear

One of the most popular heirloom, cherry-style tomatoes is the Yellow Pear. With its sunshine yellow, pear-shaped fruits, these hardy indeterminate plants are prolific and will bear many fruits during the growing season. These tomatoes are sweet, low in acid, and delicious when eaten right from the plant. They also have a low seed count, making them great for making sauce, salsa, and preserves. The plants have vine-like stems and grow well in containers or raised beds with adequate support. Cherry tomato plants benefit from trimming the leaves lightly to expose fruits to the sun for ripening.

7. Oxheart/Bull's Heart

Known commonly as Oxheart or Bull's Heart, these beautifully shaped tomatoes are a rich, salmon-pink color and often look very much like a heart, wider at the top and narrowing to a point at the bottom. There are a few different Oxheart cultivars, and they're known to grow quite large, weighing up to 3 pounds or more. The fruits have a mild flavor and are nearly seedless, while the dense, firm, yet tender flesh makes them great for slicing. These tomatoes ripen somewhat late and prefer a rich, organic soil.

8. Pineapple

The Pineapple tomato is a large beefsteak heirloom. Juicy and flavorful, it has a good balance of acid and sugar, with a sweet, old-fashioned taste, making it perfect for sandwiches, burgers, or just slicing to eat with a bit of salt and pepper. It has beautiful colors that vary so that no two fruits look alike, deep orange on the outside with red marbling and green and golden streaks, with bright red-orange flesh. The fruits are early-ripening and, being indeterminate, produce fruit all season long. The plants are very heat tolerant and resistant to pests and diseases.

9. Amana Orange

With its vivid coloring, huge size (fruits often weigh up to 2 pounds), and dense, bright orange flesh with a sweet, tropical fruit flavor, the Amana Orange heirloom beefsteak tomato is an excellent one to grow. It was first grown in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, a network of villages founded by German immigrants in 1855. The plants can grow up to 7 feet tall, and given the heavy fruits, they need staking support to keep them stable. This colorful tomato looks fabulous growing in a sunny vegetable garden.

10. Cream Sausage

The Cream Sausage heirloom tomato is named very simply for its color (a pale creamy yellow) and its shape (slightly elongated like little sausages). Unlike some of the heirloom cherry tomatoes, the plants are compact, growing up to 3 feet tall, and can be grown easily in containers. The flavor of this small tomato is buttery and rich, delicious straight off the vine, and it works well for a variety of cooking uses, or to add vibrant color to salads. This determinate tomato sets its fruits all at once and delivers an abundant harvest.