I’ve been growing heirloom tomatoes since 2012, trying a few new ones each year, keeping my favorites, and letting go of the ones that didn’t do well the year before. Here’s a list of my favorites for 2020, lumping them into categories according to their use, their color and their growth habits.

A variety of my favorite heirloom tomatoes - 2020
A variety of my favorite heirloom tomatoes – 2020

There are hundreds of heirloom tomatoes and they each serve a particular purpose or a particular taste. The following list groups the tomatoes by color or use, with a brief summary highlighting the unique characteristic of the individual tomato:

Heirloom Tomato Varieties that are Red, Slicing Types

  • Box Car Willie (New Jersey): consistent, large, meaty, balanced and good yields
  • Carmello (French): perfect acid-sugar balance; no cracking; med. size
  • Druzba (Czechoslovakia): high acid so good for canning
  • Thessaloniki (Greek): earthy taste with no cracking or green shoulders; baseball size
  • Costoluto (Italian): heavily ribbed and not very juicy; beautiful for plating
  • Mortgage Lifter (American); very large, light red/dark pink; similar to Brandywine but earlier
  • Brandywine (Amish); Most well known Heirloom for taste, but late and low yields
  • Aussie (Australia): lightly fluted, very large, great balanced flavor, good yields for large tomato
  • Big Beef (hybrid): beefsteak type that is easy to grow, balanced flavor; not an heirloom but good for main season consistent tomatoes

Meaty Tomatoes for Sauces

  • Opalka (Poland): hands down my favorite tomato for sauces; meaty, high-acid, large Roma type shape
  • San Marzano (Italy): Roma type that can vary dramatically in taste depending on original seed; Familiar name for a Roma, but inconsistent taste
  • Speckled Roma (hybrid): large red and orange striped elongated Roma type; dense and meaty; beautiful
  • Amish Paste (Amish): large red plum tomato commonly used for cooking but sweet enough to eat fresh
  • Principe Borghese (Italian): very meaty with little juice and few seeds; red, plum shaped; definitive tomato for drying; great for sauces also; determinate so good for pots; classic tomato taste

Yellow and Orange Heirlooms

  • Kelloggs (Michigan): large, juicy, pumpkin-colored; sweet flavor; meaty with few seeds so good for sauces
  • Persimmon Orange (From Thomas Jefferson) : very large (1-2 lbs), egg-yolk color; sweet, fruity & low-acid; solid dense flesh; resistant to cracking
  • Golden Queen (Midwest – Ohio): medium size, golden yellow, smooth (rarely cracks); low-acid
  • Dixie Golden (Amish): Beefsteak type, lemon yellow, fairly early and prolific for a large tomato; sweet fruity flavor
  • Hughs (Indiana): pale yellow on outside and white on inside; large, juicy fruits with mild flavor
  • Juane Flamme (French): vibrant apricot-colored; small (3 oz), citrusy-fruity sweet taste; prolific;

Black (Dark Purple) Rich Tomatoes

  • Carbon (Midwest ): my favorite of the blacks; medium size; dark, smoky and sweet; crack free; deep green and red inside
  • Cherokee Carbon (Cherokee Indian and Tennessee) : marries 2 heirlooms (Cherokee Purple and Carbon); dusky rose color, rich, complex flavor; more prolific than parents
  • Paul Robeson (Siberia): sets fruit at lower temperatures; dusky, brick-red with green shoulders; sweet, smoky and well balanced taste
  • Purple Calabash (Pre-Columbian Mexico): ribbed and scalloped, dark purple color; rich, acidic concentrated flavor

Striped, Bi-Colored Tomatoes

  • Green Zebra (Everett, Washington): striped green tomato resistant to cracking; quite tangy when young and sweeter as it matures
  • Beauty King (California): beefsteak type; yellow with red stripes; stunning & beautiful!; meaty with sweet flavor
  • Chocolate Stripes (Ohio): mahogany colored with dark, olive green-striping; large; rich, sweet, earthy flavor;
  • Mint Julep (mutation of green zebra): small pear-shaped; yellow with minty-green specks; sweeter than other green tomatoes; prolific
  • Indigo Rose (Bulgaria & US): small round tomato with unique colors (deep purple, burgandy and deep red); complex flavor of acid, sweetness, smoke and paprika

Cherry and Plum Tomatoes

  • Matts Wild Cherry (Hildago, Mexico): very small currant-sized; deep red, high sugar content; soft fruits
  • Gardeners’ Delight (German): rich, sweet & deep red; larger that most cherries; parent of sweet 100
  • Snowberry (Britain): bursts with sweet flavor and enough acid not to be bland; creamy pale yellow; prolific
  • Yellow Pear (Europe): heavy yields of bright yellow pear-shaped tomatoes; sweet, mild flavor; kids love it
  • Sungold (Japan): exceptionally sweet, golden-orange cherry tomato about 1 inch in size; low acid
  • Sweet 100 (hybrid developed in MN): extremely tasty and sweet; very prolific and easy to grow
  • Juliet (Hybrid) : super sweet salad tomato; considered a grape tomato; juicy and heavy producer; crack resistant

Tomatoes for Pots or Containers

  • Patio (Hybrid): 3-4 oz tomatoes on 2-foot tall plants; small but larger than a cherry tomato; yields 50 or more tomatoes over period of 8 weeks; Determinate
  • Totem (Hybrid): especially bred for patios and window boxes; early, heavy yields of bright red cherry tomatoes; very sweet, dwarf plants;
  • Principe Borghese (Italian): very meaty with little juice and few seeds; plum shaped; definitive tomato for drying; great for sauces also; determinate so good for pots; classic tomato taste

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