Heirloom Tomato History

comments (6) June 3rd, 2009

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KarenBudnick KarenBudnick, member
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Radiator Charlie TomatoClick To Enlarge

Radiator Charlie Tomato

Photo: Karen Budnick

Our kitchen garden is about complete for now, including one 'Beefsteak' and three heirloom tomatoes.  Using a totally unscientific method of plant selection, I purchased 'Granny Cantrell's German', 'Williams Striped', and 'Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter'.  I chose them simply because I liked their names.  Since it was important enough to carefully plant their I.D. sticks next to each one, I thought it would be a nice idea to do some research on the plants I'd be tending so carefully.

It seems that 'Granny Cantrell' was grown by and named for Lettie Cantrell of West Liberty, Kentucky.  Lettie had obtained the seeds to this particular tomato variety from a soldier upon his return home from Germany after World War II.  She began to grow this "very large and tasty" tomato in the 1940s and it was the only type she ever grew.  Granny died in 2005 a the 'ripe' old age of 96.

'Williams Striped' tomato is a red and yellow variety with the distinction of being striped both inside and out.  Seeds to this variety had been saved in a pill bottle by an elderly neighbor of Georgia and Rene Edmonds.  The neighbor couldn't recollect why or when the seeds had been saved.  However, the Emonds started some seedlings, grew and plants and passed along some seeds to Merlyn Niedens.  Niedens entered 'William Striped' into the 2005 Heirloom Garden show, where it was named favorite of tomatoes that year.  My motto - "Save Everything" ...you never know.

Last, but not least, 'Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter' was developed in the early 1930s in Logan, West Virginia, by an auto radiator repairman, M.C. 'Radiator Charlie' Byles.  Charlie had no experience breeding tomatoes, yet he made a successful cross of the four largest tomato varieties he could find.  Byles sold his seedlings for $1 each to eager gardeners who would drive up to 200 miles to buy his famous plants.  No wonder.  This variety is reputed to bear tasty fruit that averages 2 1/2 lbs. each.  Charlie was able to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in 6 years.




posted in: tomatoes, Heirloom Tomatoes

Comments (6)

DianaBoyce writes: impressive work
Posted: 5:57 am on June 13th
CharlottBrown writes: greatttttttttt
Posted: 6:06 am on May 22nd
CherylMays writes: niceeeeeee
Posted: 3:09 am on May 21st
Barbarajhon writes: nice info
Posted: 3:35 am on May 19th
Kate_Frank writes: Ripe old age! *snort*
Posted: 2:26 pm on June 4th
Ruth writes: I'm drawn to plants with odd names, too, such as Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress and Wapsipinicon tomatoes.
Posted: 9:02 am on June 4th
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