While most eyes were on who was taking gold, silver, and bronze in Rio this summer, tomato fans eagerly awaited the outcome of a different kind of competition: the Seed Savers Exchange Tomato Tasting.
Over 300 people attended the annual event and sampled 40+ varieties of tomatoes, as well as salsas.
The ballots were tallied and Brandywine, Joyce’s Strain was declared the winner. Coming in at a close second was Cherry Roma, and rounding out the winning trio was Stump of the World.
Brandywine and Stump of the World are grown, saved, and stored at Heritage Farm, as part of our collection of over 20,000 heirloom and heritage crops. Cherry Roma seeds are offered in our catalog.
1st Place: Brandywine, Joyce's Strain
The Brandywine was selected by member Chuck Wyatt of Maryland from regular Brandywine, and named after his wife, Joyce.
He selected the best looking fruit from the earliest plant for six years straight to create an inbred, uniform strain that matures somewhat earlier than other Brandywines. Many Yearbook listers comment on its 'beautiful, smooth skin' and that Chuck retained the original good flavor of Brandywine.
It was introduced by Chuck in the 1995 Yearbook, and offered every year since by at least 15 different members. The tomatoes at the tasting were grown out from seed directly from Chuck's May 1995 donation, representing the variety as he first offered it.
2nd Place: Cherry Roma
Meilie Moy-Hodnett of Maryland introduced this variety to Seed Savers Exchange in 1999. She listed it in the Yearbook as "indet. [indeterminate], petite plum shaped cherry tomatoes, firm & meaty, low acid, suspect wild/antique variety, if anyone is familiar with this please let me know more so I can update my records, Unknown/catering source".
Jeff Nekola picked up the variety from Meilie. He offered it in the 2000 Yearbook, with a strong endorsement: "enormous set of .75 x 1" plum shaped fruit, thick flesh, addictive sweet-spicy flavor, great dried or fresh, may be the best red cherry I've grown".
Jeff's endorsement generated interest and the variety quickly took off. Several other people received the variety from Jeff, and the variety was listed several times in the 2001 Yearbook, continuing to grow in popularity. The Cherry Roma also swiftly entered the seed trade. We offered the variety in our catalog by 2002, and offered by four seed companies by the 2004 CV census (GSI 6) and as of 2015, it was offered by six seed companies. Other seed companies appear to be renaming the variety. According to Seed Savers Exchange member Tatiana Kouchnareva's online TomatoBASE, it is also sold by the names Baby Roma and Mini Roma.
3rd Place: Stump of the World
The Stump of World is as mysterious as its name. The Preservation department is evaluating our 'Stump of the World' accession to compare it to a variety named 'Big Ben.'
Legendary tomato breeder/vendor Ben Quisenberry (an early Seed Savers Exchange supporter) received a large pink beefsteak from someone in Kentucky, named 'Stump of the World.' However, Quisenberry didn't like the name, so when he sold it in his catalog, he dubbed it 'Big Ben.'
However, Big Ben is a regular-leaved pink beefsteak. The 'Stump of the World' in our Collection is a potato-leaf pink beefsteak. So our Collection's 'Stump of the World' is not exactly the same 'Stump of the World' that Quisenberry named Big Ben.
Field evaluation in 2016 has confirmed that they are not the same and fruit harvested from the 2016 comparison plantings were included in this year’s tasting.
Our 'Stump of the World' (potato leaf) comes from SSE member Craig LeHoullier, author of Epic Tomatoes. He obtained it from SSE member James Donovan of California in 1989.
The full history of the potato leaf version is yet to be uncovered. We don't yet know where Mr. Donovan obtained it. The potato leaf 'Stump of the World' variety first appeared in the Yearbook in 1988, offered by Lee Cavano of Ohio, who in turn obtained it from....Ben Quisenberry. So it's a mystery that loops back on itself.
Mr. Quisenberry may have had more than one strain of Stump of the World, or perhaps forgot where Big Ben came from originally. Mr. Quisenberry lived to be nearly 100 and was renowned for his sharp mind, so forgetfulness seems unlikely. He was born in 1887 and passed away in 1986.
Regardless of its origin, the potato-leaf 'Stump of the World' has been popular and shared often in SSE's Yearbook Exchange, offered nearly every year from 1988-2016, shared by more than 30 different SSE members.
While these three took the top spot, we like to think that all heirloom tomatoes are winners.
Be ready for next year's tomato season, shop heirloom tomato seeds now!