Orange You Glad I Asked?

comments (4) October 14th, 2011

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WesternGardener Jodi Torpey, contributor
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The Amana Orange is an heirloom Beefsteak tomato with beautiful color and a bright taste that’s equal parts sweet and tart.
The Amana Orange heirloom tomato is a standout among other red, black, and green tomatoes.
The Amana Orange is an heirloom Beefsteak tomato with beautiful color and a bright taste that’s equal parts sweet and tart.Click To Enlarge

The Amana Orange is an heirloom Beefsteak tomato with beautiful color and a bright taste that’s equal parts sweet and tart.

Photo: John Pendleton

Black, green, purple, red, pink, yellow, white, and striped. I’d grown heirloom tomatoes in just about every color, but this summer was my first time to grow an orange one. I was so happy with Amana Orange, I wanted to find out more about it.

An Internet search led me to two stories for how this brilliant orange tomato got its name. One version stated the tomato was named by someone who worked for the Amana appliance company; another story said it was named for the settlement known as the Amana Colonies in Amana, Iowa.

To uncover this tomato’s real history, I talked with the man who named it. As it turns out, the story isn’t as much about how the tomato got its name. It’s how an ordinary gardener made an extraordinary discovery.

Trading Heirloom Seeds

As an avid gardener and member of the Seed Savers Exchange, Gary Haley enjoyed thumbing through the yearbook and selecting heirloom seeds to trade with other members.

“I’d look for a variety of seeds I wanted to grow and then get a sample of about 25 of those seeds,” he says. “Then I’d grow them out, save the seeds and have that variety forever.”

During one trade with another member, he received a sample of tomato seeds, planted them, and was surprised at the results. One plant grew orange tomatoes.

“It was so perfect, I thought it had to be a variety that had been around a long time,” Gary says. “I searched and searched, but I couldn’t find it.”

Gary says he grew the orange tomato for three more seasons to make sure it grew true to type. “It was so perfect, I couldn’t get over it,” he says.

He released the seeds to Seed Savers Exchange in 1984.

“It went wild after that,” he says.

Homage to Amana

Gary named his new tomato ‘Amana Orange’ because he was working as a customer service representative for Amana Refrigeration in the 1980s. In those days, customer service reps traveled around their multi-state territories solving problems for distributors, which could include repairing equipment. Gary lived in Cincinnati at the time, but several times a year he traveled to the Amana facility in Amana, Iowa, where the refrigerators and microwaves were made.

During his visits he had the chance to get acquainted with the folks who lived in the group of settlements called the Amana Colonies. The colonies were founded in 1855 as a self-sufficient religious community.

“I loved my job and I loved the Amana Colonies so much that I named the tomato ‘Amana Orange’,” Gary explained. 

Now gardeners everywhere can find the same tomato on the pages of many seed catalogs and websites. I received my Amana Orange seeds as a free sample to trial in my garden from Lake Valley Seed in Boulder, Colo.

These heirloom Beefsteak-type tomatoes grow on tall indeterminate plants and take about 90 days to mature. The beautiful bright orange fruit is nicely fluted and has a sweet, yet tart taste.

Still Growing Heirlooms

Gary is in his early 70s now and doesn’t grow Amana Orange in his garden anymore. His current favorite tomato is a pink heirloom called ‘Caspian.’ As a lifetime member of the Seed Savers Exchange, he continues to trade seeds and try new varieties every year in his Florida garden.

Without any formal training in horticulture, Gary introduced a wonderful heirloom tomato to the gardening world. Even though Amana Orange will connect him to gardeners for generations to come, he shrugs off his contribution.

“It was just something that happened,” he says.

posted in: Heirloom Tomatoes, orange tomatoes, Amana Orange

Comments (4)

Alvinbass21 writes: Looks delicious
Posted: 5:10 am on July 15th
kctomato writes: I apologize for iPhone auto changes to words in my other comment I didn't catch. I am actually on a break in a field harvesting 'apricot' gene lines I am developing.
Posted: 2:39 pm on October 18th
kctomato writes: The vast Majority of orange tomatoes are due to a single recessive gene called 'tangerine'. Once an orange is found it will be stable for at least that trait. The other genes producing orange flesh have only been released in a few varieties which never got broad acceptance. Most notably was the 'Beta' gene which produces more beta-carotene.This is a dominant gene and only a few commercial lines where developed and released. The other genes sit in edu or gov seed banks unused accept for study. Apricot is one such gene. There is an orangish tomato named 'apricot' but it is not the apricot gene. The apricot gene came from a chance discovery of a single fruit in a Meso-American market during a collection trip about 1950.
The other orange gene is called Delta. It came from another species (as did Beta) and has been introgressed into the normal tomato species via conventional breeding. To my knowledge no 'Delta' varieties have ever beef released.
I have been working on getting all these genes crossed with heirloom parents (accept Beta).
Posted: 2:34 pm on October 18th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: Jodi ~ Great read! 'Caspian Pink' is currently one of my favorite tomatoes, too! This caught my eye as I'm an avid pusher of heirlooms and other open-pollinated vegetables.
Posted: 9:34 pm on October 15th
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