Brandywine Tomatoes

A Beloved American Heirloom

History

Brandywine tomatoes have such a romantic-sounding name that even if you didn’t know how awesomely delicious they are, you would still want to grow them. The Brandywine is named after the Brandywine Creek in Chester County, PA. This now-famous heirloom made its way from an Ohio farm family into an 1889 Johnson and Stokes Seed Company ad in “The Ohio Farmer” newspaper. Burpee also claims that the “Turner’s Hybrid” in its 1882 catalog was really a Brandywine tomato.

Brandywine Tomato

Stories abound that it came from the Amish, and different farm families have grown it continuously for over 100 years. This is the wonderful nature of heirloom tomatoes: they are loved and propagated by ordinary people.

Characteristics

At any rate, the Brandywine is one of the most enduring and popular heirloom tomatoes for good reason. It is a classic, tall, winding indeterminate variety which needs plenty of support and probably yields more if pinched back to keep in “in bounds”. It has what is known as “potato leaves” (which sounds like something one tomato might say to another as an insult!), but really just means that the leaves look more like smooth-edged potato leaves than the more usual serrated-edge tomato leaf. The leaves also tend to be large: a single lower leaf on one of my Brandywines is about 8" long!

The Brandywine is considered a beefsteak variety, meaning that a single slice will cover a hamburger, and its flavor is both wonderfully sweet and tangy, like a good old-fashioned tomato should be. If you are used to round, nearly symmetrical, smooth-topped tomatoes from the store, the Brandywine's looks might shock you: they are big, uneven, gnarly and sort of dark pink rather than vivid red. I find them quite beautiful in their own way.

Cultivation

Growing Brandywine tomatoes is not much different than growing tomatoes of any other variety – they need full, all-day sun, proper staking or caging, and to be watered at ground level if possible to prevent the leaves and fruit from getting too wet. Tomatoes like consistent, deep watering without being allowed to get too dry between waterings. Inconsistent water levels can contribute to tomato leaf curl, cracking, and blossom-end rot. For more details on tomato problems caused by watering tomato plants inconsistently, check out the article on watering tomato plants.


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