12 All-Time Heirloom Tomato Favorites

These 12 heirloom tomato cultivars are some of the most popular in the world; they're sure to become a welcomed addition to your garden as well.

| Summer 2013

There are hundreds and hundreds of heirloom tomato cultivars out there ... big ones, small ones, and every size between. There are myriad colors, shapes and uses. Confronted by such stunning diversity, gardeners often feel overwhelmed — how do you choose? From conversations with fellow gardeners and tomato growers, I've assembled this list of all-time favorites to help point gardeners in the right direction. If you don't know where to start, you can hardly go wrong growing any of the cultivars described here.

I asked Mike Dunton, founder of Victory Seed Company in Molalla, Oregon, for his opinions on these cultivars. Mike has spent the last 15 years working to resurrect and re-introduce the tomatoes of the A.W. Livingston Seed company, which flourished in the final quarter of the 19th century. Mike offers seeds of a number of Livingston and other historic cultivars on his website, which makes worthwhile reading for its dedicated scholarship alone. I knew he'd have some strong opinions about many of these tomato cultivars.

1. ‘Aunt Ruby's German Green’

“Most gardeners do not seem to be familiar with true green-fruited tomatoes,” Mike laments, adding, “They hear about fried green tomatoes and think of the hard, unripe fruit that folks pick for that dish. ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ is very far from that!” The cultivar originated with Ruby Arnold of Greeneville, Tennessee, who passed away in 1997. It was introduced through the Seedsavers Exchange Yearbook in 1993 by Bill Minkey of Wisconsin, who had obtained seed from Nita Hofstrom, Ruby's niece.

The large, ribbed slicing-type fruits are green to yellow-green or amber when fully ripe, with a slight pink blush on the skin, which carries over into the buttery-textured flesh. The flavor is robust, sweet, spicy and delicious, and carries the endorsement of Slow Food's prestigious Ark of Taste. Mike agrees, “Excellent as a slicing tomato on their own, on top of a slice of artisan bread with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, or as a replacement for your typical red beefsteaks on your summer hamburgers.”

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