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 had brought it to the States from Sicily in 1900.
Since 1900, it has only been grown in the Chicago, Illinois area. It is not bothered by the heat and droughts common there and so should be considered a perfect regional tomato.
The Inciardi Tomato was brought through Ellis Island with the Inciardi family when Henry was a very young man. The family carried with them from Sicily their entire food supply in the form of seeds. Fearing that the seeds would be confiscated by the authorities at Ellis Island, they sewed them into the clothing of the family members.
The Inciardi family went from New York directly to Chicago and began growing this tomato every year, eventually passing it down to their son who also grew it every year. Henry Inciardi found a job with Western Electric. In 1915, Western Electric decided to treat their employees to an outing on the Eastland, a huge ship that would take them on a cruise on the Chicago River for a sumptuous picnic and a festive day. Thousands of employees, in their excitement, rushed the ship and crammed themselves to one side to let everyone on, not realizing that their actions would upset the equilibrium of the huge ship. It capsized in the port, drowning hundreds of people, including Henry’s wife. Henry, who was a powerful swimmer due to a seaside job he had had in Sicily in his youth. He survived the catastrophe, remarried, raised a son, and continued to grow this tomato for his family and his community.
Embodied in this tomato is the story of an entire community of historic import to Chicago, who came originally from Sicily and became a part of the factory life of that city, of which the Eastland Disaster is one of the most famous and well remembered events.
As of 2014, only about a dozen people were growing the Inciardi Tomato and saving its seed.