The Brandywine tomato might be the most famous tomato in the US, at least among gardeners. It is what is known as an “heirloom” variety: an old-time variety (usually from the 19th or early 20th century) genetically unchanged over time. As the long distance shipping of produce has developed in the past 100 years, breeders were forced to favor a new characteristic in produce: shelf life. Suddenly flavor was no longer the principal virtue of a vegetable. As a result, vegetables have become prettier in the past hundred years and they have certainly been bred to last longer, but they haven’t always become tastier. Something has to give, and often flavor is what suffers. This is an over-generalization, of course, but it is a significant trend.

And then there’s the Brandywine, one of the ugliest tomatoes I’ve ever grown. Its color isn’t uniform, it splits easily, not to mention that it’s hard to grow and has low yields. So why is it so famous? Its flavor is remarkable: rich, complex, and distinctive. It can also weigh in at over a pound. Many consider it the best tasting tomato they’ve ever had. 

Like so many heirloom vegetables, the Brandywine was saved and popularized by Seed Savers Exchange, an organization dedicated to preserving old-time varieties. For the past 30 years, interest in Brandywine has exploded and it has entered gardening legend, gaining cult status.

I wouldn’t recommend it as one’s primary tomato variety in the garden, but a plant or two of Brandywine and/or one of other countless heirloom varieties will enhance your garden with increased flavor and history.

— Justin