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Historical background information for varieties handed down from bygone days.

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Old January 21, 2008   #1
nctomatoman
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Default Tomatoes reported as "lost" in 1886

I found this quite interesting - more info from the Ag bulletins from MI State on yearly tomato trials.

This bulletin , from 1886, already lists the following varieties as being no longer available - given that the stated date for cultivation of the tomato in the US began in 1830, that only 3 varieties were widely grown in 1847. So, these varieties came and went in a mere 40 or so years (they do make the point that it was very likely that some of these probably did exist, but were renamed along the way).

Bermuda
Large Red
Giant Apple
Improved Apple
Large Red Oval
Mexican
Round Yellow
Seedless
White's Extra Early
Funchal
Arlington
Keyes' Early Prolific
Early York
Maupay's Superior
Mammoth Chihuahua
Cedar Hill
Foard
Eureka
Chorlton's Prolific
Early Dwarf Red
Sims' Early Cluster
Grape Shot
Turk's Cap
Blount's Champion Cluster
Howard
Lyman's Mammoth Cluster
New Japanese
Painted
Powell's
Red Chief
Triumph
Early Richmond
Jones' Early Hybrid
Wonder of Italy
Standard Market and Shipping

They go on to test and describe the 42 varieties that they did acquire...this also includes nearly 40 synonyms in total)..

A few more tidbits - Cook's Favorite is described as a scarlet red variety, about 3 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep and lobed (so quite flat).

Trophy is described as being a flat tomato that is 4-5 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep with a potential to grow larger and misshapen and catface. It is likely that the Trophy that we got out of the USDA has been crossed over the years (as one would expect from a tomato released prior to 1870!).

This one is fascinating - Bronze Foliaged Trophy, stating that the darker, bronzy color of the foliage was very distinct. I wonder if this could have been the origin of Abraham Lincoln, described as having the bronze foliage coloration when released in 1923???

Fejee, or Feejee Island, or Fejee Improved, is listed as very similar to Lester's Perfected - a large, regular leaf, irregular tomato, contorted and catfaced, that they list as the first of the pink tomatoes, from 1848 or so...and probably looked very much like what we know as Ponderosa, I suspect. (This conflicts with the Baker Creek catalog story of their "find" of "True Black Brandywine" having originating with Feejee, which is claimed at that site to be a brown tomato.)
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Old January 21, 2008   #2
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hhmmm, ..... It really makes you wish that you could make those ancestors from years-gone-by understand the importance of preserving and passing down their heritage for the generations to come. But, of course, they probably had no interest or foresight in that. I doubt that it would have any importance. Tomato seeds were tomato seeds, and they probably didn't think that what they did back then would actually affect people 100+ years hence. And why worry about it? I imagine it was hard enough to worry about day-to-day life, let alone an unimaginable number of years in the future...
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Old January 27, 2008   #3
Granny
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hhmmm, ..... It really makes you wish that you could make those ancestors from years-gone-by understand the importance of preserving and passing down their heritage for the generations to come. But, of course, they probably had no interest or foresight in that. I doubt that it would have any importance. Tomato seeds were tomato seeds, and they probably didn't think that what they did back then would actually affect people 100+ years hence. And why worry about it? I imagine it was hard enough to worry about day-to-day life, let alone an unimaginable number of years in the future...
I'm not so sure I would agree with you. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both known as almost fanatical plant "collectors" - Jefferson in particular. And quite some little bit of what we think of as "modern" plant science was in full swing by the time these tomatoes were listed as having disappeared. Gregor Mendel, father of genetics, had already begun his experiments (the first were with mice) by 1854. And Luther Burbank had already bred the famous Burbank Potato (you eat them every time you eat a McDonald's fry) and moved to California by 1875. Perhaps, like Burbank - who deliberately destroyed plants that did not come up to his standards - these were not preserved as unique plants because of some inherent flaw of taste, color or form that made them "not worth preserving."
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Old January 27, 2008   #4
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Craig....... you mentioned the year 1886. That year my grandmother was born in Johnson County, KY. She was a great gardener when I knew her ( 1940s--1950s), in OK , but I NEVER thought of asking her THE important questions back then. As a result, I have NO idea what varieties they grew in KY at that time. I DO know they grew Beefheart & Earliana in OK when I was a little boy and later they included Porter which survived our harsh summer temperatures.
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Old February 2, 2008   #5
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Default Kentucky Tomato Growers

I did a lot of growing up in Kentucky, way back in the mountains, near Middlesboro, from 1959 to 1969. We had a 2 room "slab" cabin with no electricity and no running water, unless you count the spring or creek.
I was raised by my Grandparents. Grandfather made $66 a month as a night watchman for the mines, so we didn't spend a lot on garden seeds. We grew most of what we ate and saved our own seeds from one year to the next. Most all the folks I knew did that.
Those seeds had been passed down through the generations. Everybody grew the same stuff, near as I can remember. They didn't have time to experiment with fancy, unknown seeds. The success of their gardens meant survival.
If you were to ask my Grandfather what variety of tomatoes he grew, he'd tell you, "Big red ones, big yellow ones and little red tommytoes." If you'd ask if they were Beefsteaks or Brandywines or some such, he'd just shake his head and laugh. He really didn't know and didn't care to know. He knew they grew well, year after year, and that's what counted to him.
So, Larry D., don't feel too bad about not asking your Grandmother what variety of tomatoes she grew in Kentucky. Chances are, she didn't know.
-Jesse in Ohio
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Old February 2, 2008   #6
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jesse... enjoyed reading your reply. My grandmother grew up on Short Branch, near Meally, Johnson Co., KY.
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Old February 3, 2008   #7
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I wonder just how accurately the folks at Michigan State could determine, back in 1886, which tomato varieties were no longer available. It's not like they could Google it.

By "available" did they mean in available in commercial trade? One could imagine many, many people continuing to grow a variety. Now whether or not they kept the name attached to it???

I think a lot of people were like Jesse's grandparents--they didn't know what the name was and they didn't care, as long as they got enough tomatoes for their needs.
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Old February 3, 2008   #8
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Originally Posted by Ruth_10 View Post
I wonder just how accurately the folks at Michigan State could determine, back in 1886, which tomato varieties were no longer available. It's not like they could Google it.

By "available" did they mean in available in commercial trade? One could imagine many, many people continuing to grow a variety. Now whether or not they kept the name attached to it???

I think a lot of people were like Jesse's grandparents--they didn't know what the name was and they didn't care, as long as they got enough tomatoes for their needs.
I'm sure that by "available" they meant as in available to purchase the seeds from some supplier somewhere. There are huge collections of seed catalogs & old advertisements around, many in the libraries of various universities that would make that kind of determination pretty easy. For that matter, most of the various state universities were established at about that time as "land grant" universities whose first aim was agricultural education. The university might very well have an extensive collection of information from that time period just on that basis alone.
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Old June 20, 2008   #9
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Here is some information I've found in my research:
In 1847, Thomas Bridgeman listed four varieties in his seed catalogue: Cherry, Pear, Large Yellow and Large Squash. In 1858 Buist listed eight cultivars in his catalogue. In 1863, a popular seed catalogue listed 23 cultivars, among which was Trophy. A study done at Michigan Agricultural College in the late 1880's showed that 171 named cultivars represented only 61 truly different lines.

I too wish I acquired a lot more information from my grandparents about growing tomatoes (as well as other vegetables).

I've given a good deal of thought wondering what happened through the ages. Here are some things that I've thought about or found interesting:

It seems like there were a good many seed companies after the turn of the century and it was a good sized industry. Until Burpee came along with their hybrids in the 30s everything was OP, yet these companies were able to stay in business. It seems reasonable that they had return customers. So, what I'm getting at is that is seems like a lot of people didn't save seeds even back then.

When my mother was a kid they grew almost everything they ate. She had to work in the garden and hated it. As an adult she bought vegetables because of her childhood experience. She didn't care about gardening so a lot of information and seeds were lost when my grandmother died.

My friend "Spud" who is 82 remembers when the hybrids were introduced. He said within a few years every one in the valley was growing hybrids. A lot of seeds fell by the wayside as a result. Spud remembers his dad growing Stone, Beefsteak, Bonny Best, and Break O'Day. He said there were other varieties, but can't remember what they were. His dad switched to hybrids too and Spud couldn't find any of the old seeds after his father died.

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Old June 22, 2008   #10
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In the old days, I think it wasn't so much a matter of "saving seeds" unless you were moving to another location or giving seeds to someone else.

My grandpa (born 1890) supplemented his retirement by planting about three acres in mixed vegetables and berries and selling them to grocery stores. I know how he planted his tomatoes, because I helped him do it in the early 1950's.

In October the old vines would be done but many poor-quality ripe tomatoes would still be hanging on. We'd pull out the plants, set the spoiled, cracked, tomatoes aside, and put the plants on the burn pile. Then grandpa would spread lime, chicken manure, and fertilizer on the tomato patch and plow it in.

Then he'd drive stakes and stretch strings, laying out his tomato rows for the next year. We'd lay the spoiled tomatoes on the ground in those rows pretty thick, then walk on them with work boots - mashing them into the ground.

Next spring, tomato plants would come up thick in those rows and he'd thin them out and tie them up on wires he strung between posts. He'd transplant some of the seedlings to fill any gaps in the rows.

There was a big drawback to this method as there'd nearly always be a late freeze or two in the spring after the tomato seedlings were up. Grandpa would be scrambling around on those cold nights covering the plants with buckets and gunny sacks - but it seemed he always ended up with a good supply of tomatoes for the stores. He said those were Abe Lincoln tomatoes - they'd lived in that house since the 1930's, and I assume he bought seeds the first year he grew a garden there.

My grandpa taught me a lot about his ways of growing veggies, and he said he learned much of it from his grandpa who was a Civil War veteran and who raised 13 kids on the food they grew on their farm. I BET this is the method that was often used to plant tomatoes in the 19th century.

And, just imagine how unlikely you'd be to switch tomato varieties if you were growing on a large scale to feed your family, had little money, and were planting by mashing the previous year's free, waste tomatoes into the ground.
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Old June 28, 2008   #11
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Hi Ozark,my sister-in-law still does that,I don't think she has bought tomato seeds or plants in the last twenty years.Just goes out every fall and starts mashing them into the ground.I asked her once where did she get that idea and she said that was the way her gramma did it.I don't even think after all those years that she even remembers what kind of tomato they are,but they sure are beautiful,nice and red,and very flavorful.
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