Thursday, August 6, 2015

Colorful names all that remain

Handful of Costoluto Genovese heirloom-variety tomatoes ripen on a table
Early Floridians weren't growing Costoluto Genovese
tomatoes like these, one of today's popular heirloom
tomato varieties. Many of the cultivars grown in pioneer
days are hard to find now.  (Photo by Gerri Bauer)
A year ago, I wrote about heirloom vegetables and fruits and promised to follow up with a post about heirloom tomato cultivars. Finally, here it is.

I'm both excited and perplexed by what I found about tomatoes in the pages of Florida newspapers dated 1901-1919. Excited because there were more named varieties in ads and articles than I expected to find. Perplexed because only two were familiar to me: Ponderosa and Spark's Earliana, and the latter is a variation of a name known to me.

I've grown a number of heirloom tomato varieties in my garden over the years. They've included a couple believed to have been grown in Florida until as late as the 1920s and 1930s: June Pink and Earliana -  probably shortened from Spark's Earliana. The June Pink didn't show up in my (admittedly unscientific and limited) research. Nor did Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Eva Purple Ball, Riesentraube, Costoloto Genovese, or Arkansas Traveler. All have produced tasty tomatoes in my Florida yard. As for Ponderosa - it was a fail in my garden the one time I tried to grow it.

So what did Florida pioneers grow when they set out their tomato seeds? My earliest find was also the most comprehensive. A December 1901 issue of the New Enterprise newspaper of Madison had a Farm and Garden article that addressed "newer introductions" of tomatoes. The names are great: Best of All, Dwarf Golden Champion, Early Nuby, Freedom, Fordhook Fancy, Improved Trophy, Lemon Yellow, Matchless, New Combination, State Fair, World's Fair.

A couple of other references made note of a tomato variously named Stone, Dwarf Stone, New Stone, and Livingston's Stone or Livingston's Globe. An October 1911 issue of the Pensacola Journal highlighted Stone as a "general favorite" for shipping purposes. Other tomatoes said to ship well were Beauty and Perfection.

The Ocala Seed Store in 1913 highlighted six types of tomato seeds for sale, according to a February 1913 issue of the Ocala Evening Star: Dwarf Champion, Early Detroit, Livingston's Globe, New Stone, Redfield Beauty, and Spark's Earliana. Seed cost $2 per pound.

Although the types of heirloom tomato varieties available to us has changed through the decades, one gardening caveat from the past remains true now. As the Pensacola Journal advised readers in 1911, "There are a great many seedsmen in this country, and very little attention should be paid to the many glowing descriptions given in catalogs."

Newspaper references in this blog post are from the Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers website of the Library of Congress.

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