Radiator Charlie and the Mortgage Lifter Story

Pay your mortgage with heirloom tomatoes? It sounds pretty unbelievable today, but in the early 1930s, Marshall Cletis Byles did just that in his home town of Logan, West Virginia. His story is an unusual one: Byles owned a small repair shop at the bottom of a mountain which was well known for making trucks overheat. The location of his shop generated a steady business as trucks overheated on the mountain and had to roll back down for some much necessary radiator work. This is where he earned his nickname…

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Cherokee Purple: The Story Behind One Of Our Favorite Tomatoes

If you go to the farmers market this time of year, tomatoes are strutting their stuff in all sorts of glorious and quirky hues: green striped, white, pink, indigo, even purplish-brown. They boast intriguing names, like Mortgage Lifter, Arkansas Traveler and Pink Berkeley Tie Dye. Some are true heirlooms, passed down over decades or centuries. Others are brand new to the world, the progeny of the latest cross-breeding experiments. We got to wondering just who, besides farmers, is to thank for this expanding panoply. And we learned that while there…

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Ivan Tomato

There are many words one could use to describe the Ivan tomato: heirloom, meaty, juicy, prolific, hardy… but perhaps the most important and unexpected are “healer” and “inspiration”. This tomato, which originated in Missouri, has come back twice from the brink of extinction to serve an important purpose: healing veterans with PTSD. It has also inspired two small community businesses, one of which is working to revive growth of the tomato in 2016. This tomato was grown for generations in Missouri but its cultivation slowed until only one family, the…

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Turner’s Hybrid or Mikado: The Best of the Victorian Tomatoes

Treasures from our agricultural past, Turner’s Hybrid, aka Mikado, tomatoes have a unique history and impact on the rest of their family. In 1886, a small tomato war erupted between two of the most aggressive seed companies in the United States: W. Atlee Burpee of Philadelphia and Peter Henderson of New York. The “war,” if we want to call it that, consisted of two vigorous and competing advertising campaigns to market a new tomato called Turner’s Hybrid or Mikado. Burpee favored the name Turner’s Hybrid (although Mikado clearly appears in…

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Abraham Lincoln Tomatoes

Every year I am asked to name my favorite tomato. My honest response — I don’t have one; I enjoy variety. Yet I think it’s fair to say that of all the “big reds” (as I call them), ‘Abraham Lincoln’ tomatoes consistently rank at the top. It is one of those heirloom tomatoes that faithfully produces huge crops of extra large, meaty fruit, and resists foliage diseases, making it ideal for organic growers like me. On top of that, it has a real summery tomato flavor that is largely missing in…

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Inciardi Paste Tomato

This tomato is remarkable for its wonderful, full tomato flavor, for its full body when it is cooked down into a puree for sauce, for its size on the vine, and for the number of fruits per vine. It is understandable that John Inciardi said “This is the only tomato our family has ever grown.” The varietal name is “Inciardi” which is not its ethnic name but was assigned by the seed saver Vicki Nowicki. She was given the tomato decades ago by the son of the Henry Inciardi who…

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