When I discovered the Seed Savers Exchange in 1985, my experimentation with non-hybrid varieties began, and it was those early varieties that convinced me to go the primarily heirloom route for all future gardens. I would not have made the switch if the results weren't persuasive. The diversity, colors, flavors, stories - and comparable or superior yield - of the non-hybrid varieties sealed the deal.
For my first book, I wanted to focus on some of those very persuasive early varieties that convinced me to take gardening in the direction that I did. Since I needed to grow them for book photography, it also allowed me to plant enough so that they are available as seedlings this year as well.
The tomatoes on my From The Vine list that provided the foundation for my journey into heirlooms are Giant Syrian, Mexico Midget, Nepal, Anna Russian, Brandywine, Polish, Stump of the World, Cherokee Purple, Lillian's Yellow Heirloom, Coyote, Yellow Brandywine, Tiger Tom, Yellow White, Hugh's, Lillian's Red, Bisignano #2, Yellow Oxheart, and both Halladay's and Mullen's Mortgage Lifter. All of these were acquired and grown between 1986 and 1990; Nepal may be the single tomato that provided all the convincing that was needed to make the switch.
In addition, some historically significant tomatoes - so-called "commercial heirlooms", because they are among the most important of the early tomato improvement efforts carried out by US seed companies - that I located in the USDA collection and helped revive - are also on my list this year. These include Red Brandywine, three Livingston introductions - Magnus, Golden Queen and Favorite - Burpee's Matchless, Salzer's Ferris Wheel and Peak of Perfection, and Buckbee's Abraham Lincoln. You can grow these varieties if you wish to see what breeders were aiming for in the late 1800's to early 1900s; you will also be surprised to see how different they are from the heirlooms that are so popular today.