This is a great day: my Brandywine Tomato plants have arrived!
I plant my vegetable garden each year directly from seeds, usually saved from my own garden in previous years. When everyone else lost their tomato plants to disease a few years ago, mine were perfectly healthy because they hadn't come from commercial tomato growers. I don't like to buy plants that have already been started in greenhouses, it's like adopting a child at age 7: You're still getting a child, but he could have lots of problems cultivated during the time before he was adopted. Is that a mean thing to say?
Anyway, this year I made an exception and I purchased a Brandywine tomato plant! After reading about it's history, I had to experience the legendary plant (and it's fruit) for myself. The heirloom Brandywine tomato is gigantic and pink, with cracked skin and bumpy green shoulders. The taste is sublime and the yield is high.
This is all great and wonderful, but the real reason I'm obsessed with these tomatoes is that the seeds can be perfectly traced back to 1889, when they first appeared in Philadelphia's Johnson&Stokes seed catalog (see image above).
Where they came from before that is a mystery: they could have either been cultivated by selection from a different variety, or brought to America by immigrants (which, by the way, we all descend from, so screw you Arizona).
By 1902 they were being sold in multiple seed catalogs around the country. However, they soon disappeared from commercial sales altogether and were replaced by perfectly uniform shiny red round tomatoes. Boo!
Then... in 1982, possibly on the very day I was born, the Seed Savers Exchange received some Brandywine tomato seeds from Ben Quisenberry, who is always described in the folklore as an "elderly Ohio gardener". He got the seeds from his buddy Dorris Sudduth Hill, whose family had been growing Brandywine tomatoes (and saving and reusing the seeds) since the 1800s.
This amazes me. The Brandywine tomato could've become extinct and forgotten, but the Sudduth Hill family loved it's big pink bumpy tomatoes and was humbly growing them on the family farm for 80 years for no reason other than THE LOVE OF THE TOMATO.
Now of course Brandywine aren't the only historic heirloom tomatoes that are bumpy and amazing. Check out this basket of heirlooms from Slow Food Nation! But Brandywines are the tomatoes of mythology, the seeds that dreams are made of. By being able to trace my tomato from my plate to my garden to a seed descended from the days before The Food Wars, I feel like what I eat is securing my place in the history of humanity. I'm serious.
After reintroduction in the 80s, there have been plenty of Brandywine spinoffs and substrains through selection and cross-breeding. As far as I know, the Brandywine plant I purchased is a true original. It's chilling out on the kitchen table to get over the stress of being shipped, and tomorrow morning I'm going to plant it in the garden. I'll let you know how it goes!
To read more about historically documented seeds, check out Victory Seeds.tomato photo by mercedesfromtheeighties / CC BY-SA 2.0