The Brandywine Beefsteak tomato is legendary for its delicious taste and the Sudduth’s Strain is considered by many to be the most delicious strain available. The fruit is considered superior in taste and smoothness, it is widely known as the original Pink Brandywine strain.
This old American heirloom was obtained by Ben Quisenberry from Dorris Sudduth Hill from Tennessee, whose family had been growing Brandywine tomatoes (and saving and reusing the seeds) since the 1800s.
Brandywine tomatoes can bear fruit up to 0.7 kg (1.5 lbs), requiring 80 to 100 days to reach maturity, making it among the slowest maturing varieties of common tomato cultivars. Its fruit has the beefsteak shape and pinkish flesh, as opposed to the deep red of more common store bought varieties. Even when fully ripe, the tomato can have green shoulders near the stem.
The Brandywine tomato plant also has potato leaves, an unusual variation on the tomato plant whose leaves are smooth and oval with a pointy tip, instead of jagged and fjord-like the way "normal" tomato plant leaves are.
There are many questions as to the origin of the Brandywine cultivar. Burpee reports carrying it in their catalogue as early as 1886, and references to it older than that. Despite some claims, there is no evidence that Brandywine has Amish origins. By 1902 Brandywine tomatoes were being sold in multiple seed catalogues around the world. However, they soon disappeared from commercial sales altogether and were replaced by perfectly uniform shiny red round tomatoes.
Then in 1982 the Seed Savers Exchange received some Brandywine tomato seeds from Ben Quisenberry, who is described in the folklore as an 'elderly Ohio gardener'. He got the seeds from Dorris Sudduth Hill of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, whose family had been growing Brandywine tomatoes (and saving and reusing the seeds) since the 1800s.
Mr. Ben T. Quisenberry lived in and operated a tiny mail-order seed company called Big Tomato Gardens out of a small building that had been an old post office in Syracuse, Ohio. He printed his own seed packets, complete with mottoes, on an old printing press.
His passion was saving heirloom tomato varieties from extinction. Through his efforts, several tomato varieties, including Brandywine (his personal favorite), Golden Sunray, Czech's Bush, Long Tom and Mortgage Lifter, survived the war on heirloom seeds waged by the large seed companies. He died in 1986 at age 99.
It is often said that Brandywine tomato is an old Amish heirloom, dating back to 1885 and named after Brandywine Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania. There is a Brandywine River in the state of Pennsylvania and the Amish did live there, however no documentation exists to absolutely confirm that the tomato is of Amish origin.
However what is interesting is that the name Sudduth means "South Dutch". It is probably a coincidence, but it could also suggest that Mrs Sudduth Hill was of Dutch decent and could possible have been Amish.
What is astounding is the fact that the Brandywine tomato could have easily become extinct and forgotten, but for the Sudduth Hill family, who loved its big pink bumpy tomatoes and was humbly growing them on the family farm for 80 years for no reason other than the love of the tomato taste.
After reintroduction in the 80s, there have been plenty of Brandywine spinoffs and substrains through selection and cross-breeding. Brandywine has become one of the most popular home garden cultivars in the United States. Due to the proliferation of many misidentified varieties, the pink-fruited, potato-leaved Brandywine is labelled Brandywine "Sudduth's Strain".
Of course Brandywine aren't the only historic heirloom tomatoes that taste amazing. But Brandywines are the tomatoes of mythology, and the seeds that dreams are made of.
As they cannot tolerate any degree of frost the timing for sowing and planting outside is key to successfully growing tomatoes. Where the seeds are sown under cover or indoors, aim to sow the seeds so that they reach the stage to be transplanted outside three weeks after the last frost date. Tomato plants take roughly seven weeks from sowing to reach the transplanting stage. For example, if your last frost date is early May, the seeds should be planted in early April to allow transplanting at the end of May.
Tomatoes require a full sun position. Two or three weeks before planting, dig the soil over and incorporate as much organic matter as possible.
The best soil used for containers is half potting compost and half a soil-based type loam: this gives some weight to the soil.
Plant about 3mm (1/8in) deep, in small pots using seed starting compost. Water lightly and keep consistently moist until germination occurs. Tomato seeds usually germinate within 5 to 10 days when kept in the optimum temperature range of 21 to 27°C (70 to 80°F). As soon as they emerge, place them in a location that receives a lot of light and a cooler temperature (60 to 70°F); a south-facing window should work.
When the plants develop their first true leaves, and before they become root bound, they should be transplanted into larger into 20cm (4in) pots. Young plants are very tender and susceptible to frost damage, as well as sunburn. I protect my young plants by placing a large plastic milk jug, with the bottom removed, to form a miniature greenhouse.
Depending on the components of your compost, you may need to begin fertilising. If you do fertilise, do it very, very sparingly with a weak dilution. Transplant into their final positions when they are about 15cm (6in) high. Two to three weeks prior to this, the plants should be hardened off.
Just before transplanting the tomato plants to their final position drive a strong stake into the ground 5cm (2in) from the planting position. The stake should be at least 30cm (1ft) deep in the ground and 1.2m (4ft) above ground level - the further into the ground the better the support. As the plant grows, tie in the main stem to the support stake - check previous ties to ensure that they do not cut into the stem as the plant grows. Dig a hole 45cm (18in) apart in the bed to the same depth as the pot and water if conditions are at all dry. Ease the plant out of the pot, keeping the root ball as undisturbed as far as possible. Place it in the hole and fill around the plant with soil. The soil should be a little higher than it was in the pot. Loosely tie the plant's stem to the support stake using soft garden twine –allow some slack for future growth.
A constant supply of moisture is essential, dry periods significantly increase the risk of the fruit splitting. Feed with a liquid tomato fertiliser (high in potash) starting when the first fruits start to form, and every two or three weeks up to the end of August. In September, feed with a general fertiliser (higher in nitrogen) in order to help the plant support it's foliage. Over watering may help to produce larger fruit, but flavour may be reduced. Additionally, splitting and cracking can result from uneven and excessive watering.
When the first fruits begin to form, pinch out the side shoots between the main stem. Also remove lower leaves which show any signs of yellowing to avoid infection.
Pick as soon as the fruits are ripe, this also encourages the production of more fruit. Harvest all the fruit as soon as frost threatens and ripen on a window sill.
Mr. Ben T. Quisenberry:
Mr. Ben T. Quisenberry (1887-1986) had a passion for saving heirloom tomato varieties from extinction. Described in the folklore as an 'elderly Ohio gardener' he was an expert tomato grower who maintained hundreds of varieties of tomatoes from 1910 until shortly before his death.
Mr. Quisenberry lived in and operated a tiny mail-order seed company called Big Tomato Gardens out of a small building that had been an old post office in Syracuse, Ohio. The regular seed lists featured names like Big Ben, Long Tom, Red Cup, Mortgage Lifter, Marglobe, Chech's Bush, and his favourite, the pink, thin-skinned Brandywine, which, he boasted had been grown for over 100 years by the same family.
He printed his own seed packets by hand on an old printing press, each came complete with a motto and his seed lists always encouraged customers to become ex-customers by saving their own seeds.
Here, for posterity, are the instructions he sent for saving tomato seeds:
Tomato should be dead ripe; cut in half between the stem and blossom ends. Push the seed out of the cavities, and wash on a piece of wire fly screen to remove the pulp and goo from the seeds. Spread them out on a smooth board; move them around occasionally so they won't stick together or to the board. When thoroughly dry, store in an air-tight container. Longevity of tomato seed is 5 years or longer.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 25 Seeds Common Name Quisenberry Tomato, Pink Brandywine.
Beefsteak Tomato, Heritage (USA 1886)
Vine / Cordon (Indeterminate)
Family Solanaceae Genus Lycopersicon Species esculentum Cultivar 'Brandywine' - "Sudduth's Strain" Synonym Pink Brandywine Hardiness Half Hardy Annual Fruit Pink-Red, around 0.7 kg (1.5 lbs) Height 150cm (60in) Spacing 60cm (24in) Season Mid-Season Time to Sow Sow early indoors from early April to the end of May Time to Harvest 80 to 100 Days