What tomatoes taste the best?

Tomato CherokeePurple courtesy Burpee Home Gardens
Tomato ‘CherokeePurple’ may not look pretty, but people love its taste. Photo courtesy Burpee Home Gardens

by Connie Oswald Stofko

When I asked Jen Weber, retail manager at Mike Weber Greenhouses, for recommendations on the best-tasting tomatoes, I expected her to deliberate for awhile. I was surprised when she answered immediately.

“Oh, that’s easy,” Weber said. “‘Cherokee Purple’, and for a red tomato, ‘Glamour’.”

Those are both heirloom tomatoes.

When I asked her for the best-tasting hybrid tomato, that question proved more difficult.

“I don’t have a preference,” she said. “To me, they all taste the same.

“There is nothing wrong with the hybrids. I just prefer the flavor of heirloom varieties. They have that tart-sweet true tomato taste that we all love.”

Well, readers, I turn the question over to you. What hybrid tomato tastes the best? Or do you also prefer heirloom varieties? Please leave a comment below.

Heirloom vs hybrid tomatoes

To be dubbed an heirloom, the seeds for the plant must have been in circulation for at least 50 years and the plant must be open-pollinated, Weber explained.

Open-pollinated plants reproduce by cross-pollination between two plants via wind, insects or people. Or they reproduce by self-pollination between separate flowers on the same plant or between male and female flower parts contained within the same flower.

Because heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated, if you save the seeds and plant them, you can expect to get plants with the same characteristics of the parent plant.

With hybrid tomato plants, two different varieties were intentionally crossed to produce a plant with certain traits, such as a tomato with a nice red color. Some people say hybrid tomatoes look nice, but don’t have the flavor that heirloom varieties do.

But hybrids were also bred to resist disease, which makes them easier to grow than hybrids. When you look at the tag of a hybrid tomato plant, you might see abbreviations such as V1 and F1, which indicate what diseases the plant is resistant to, Weber said. See a list here of tomato disease resistance.

Another advantage of hybrids is they may produce more tomatoes.

But you can’t plant the seeds of a hybrid and expect to get plants with the same characteristics as the parent plant; hybrids don’t produce true seeds, Weber said. The new plants will have DNA from just one of the parent plants that were crossed to produce the hybrid. You’ll end up with the characteristics of one of the parent plants rather than the characteristics of the hybrid itself. In addition, some hybrids are sterile. If you plant the seeds, they won’t even germinate.   

Cherokee Purple

These tomatoes are a Cherokee Indian variety pre-1890 from the Tennessee Valley area, Weber said.

‘Cherokee Purple’ can be kidney shaped, round or knobby. It’s not red; it has what Weber calls a lovely deep, dusky purple-pink color with a greenish hue around the stem.

“But the flavor is sweet and juicy!” she said.

The other point gardeners should know is that while you might get only 10 tomatoes on a plant, the tomatoes are large– they can weigh about a pound.

And the plant can grow nine feet tall.

So how do you manage a plant that big?

In a previous article, Weber talked about growing tomatoes in containers, “but don’t grow these in a container!” Weber said.

You can’t use standard tomato cages, either. You need something that will support ten pounds of tomatoes plus the weight of a nine-foot plant.

Get some stakes that are 6 or 7 feet long and 1 inch by 1 inch or 2 inches by 2 inches wide. Place one stake about 1½  feet to the left and the other about 1½  feet to the right of the plant. Use a mallet to pound the stakes about a foot into the ground.

How do you reach the top of a 7-foot-long stake to pound it into the ground?

“I’m short; I’m only five feet tall,” Weber said. “My husband is 6’6″, but if he’s not home, I’ll get a stepladder.”

If you want to go for it, that’s the proper way to stake this huge plant. Or you could just use 4-foot stakes, though the plant might droop a little.

“Some years I go for it, some years I don’t,” said Weber, who like all of us, doesn’t have as much time as she would like to spend in her home garden. “Now that my kids are older, I might have them do it.”

Tie the plant to the stakes using cord that is heavier than twine but lighter than clothesline.

The tomatoes are heavy and they could fall off. Weber suggested tying an old T-shirt or pantyhose to the cord to cradle the fruit.

Cherokee Purple sets fruit mid-season, which is August. (Setting fruit is when the flower begins to turn into the fruit.)

With the weather we had last year, the fruit wasn’t as big as usual and there weren’t as many– maybe as few as two.

Is it worth it to put in so much work for just a couple of tomatoes?

“I really like them, so it’s always worth it,” Weber said. “I always think one is better than none. It’s not like you can buy those in a grocery store.”


Glamour heirloom tomato
The heirloom tomato ‘Glamour’ is tasty and has a beautiful red color. Image used with permission from ©Victory Seed Company

There is some local history with this tomato, Weber said. It was bred by the Birds Eye Horticultural Research Laboratory in Albion specifically for the Northeast and Midwest areas of the United States. Two varieties of tomatoes, ‘Burgess Crackproof’ and ‘Sioux’, were open-pollinated together to make this cross breed. Glamour was then released to the Rochester market in 1957.

Glamour meets the definition of an heirloom: it is open-pollinated and the seeds have been in circulation for more than 50 years.

Glamour’s fruit is a beautiful red color and is crack proof. It’s great for both canning and slicing. The tomatoes are the size of a tennis ball and weigh roughly 6 ounces. The plant produces a heavy yield.

The plant is indeterminate, which in tomato language means it needs staking, Weber said. The plant grows about four or five feet tall.

Glamour sets fruit early to midseason. (Early is around the Fourth of July and midseason is August.)

When can you plant tomatoes in Western New York?

You can buy heirloom and hybrid tomato plants now at Mike Weber Greenhouses, 42 French Rd., West Seneca, but can you plant them now?

After a long discussion that touched on our late spring but early full moon (which is one gauge farmers use in determining when to plant), Weber answered, “Yes, you can plant tomatoes now, but I would still wait.”

Weber always recommends waiting until at least May 21.

“You want warm nights (at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit). If you plant too soon, you could stunt the growth of your tomato plant and it won’t recover. It won’t reach its maximum size.”

Other tender vegetables such as peppers, melon and squash want nights that are even warmer– about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plant them too early, they’ll rot.

If you want to plant your tomatoes and the other vegetables all at the same time, just wait until the first week of June. They will catch up to– or even surpass– plants that were in the ground earlier.

“People are so antsy to plant,” Weber said, noting that people were looking for cucumber plants in April!

If you want to plant something now that you can be sure cold weather won’t damage, try lettuce, broccoli and onions. Those are available now at Mike Weber Greenhouses.

23 Comments on “What tomatoes taste the best?

  1. We grew only Glamor tomatoes for 25 years in Cato NY. it was the only tomatoes the neighbor would plant we were always surprised by the production from a dozen plant bushels and bushels. My wife would make sauce in a 40qt. aluminum pot boiled down to 11 qts, and canned we were hardly able to keep up with the production of the garden.

  2. Robert, thanks for those suggestions. It’s good to know what varieties will grow in a short season.

    Did you know that you can subscribe to Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com? When you do, the newest edition will be emailed to you every week so you don’t miss a thing! It’s free to subscribe!

  3. Landis Valley,Chapman,Magnum,Delicious,1884 and Goliath along with Wins-all are the main ones we grow.Living down in a valley we oft times receive a late frost and these have done very well for us with their large tomato’s and that old time flavor.!!!

  4. After 2 successful years with Cherokee Purples I’ll never grow any other variety. They tend to take more time to ripen but way way worth the wait. The king of tomatoes in my book!!

  5. Reif Red Heart, one of the ox heart varietys, delicious heirloom. I to like the deep purple variety, for me it’s the Prudence Purple. I have been turned off of the hybrids for a long time now, so I couldn’t make a judgement on them.

  6. Boxcar Willy, a most luscious heirloom with fabulous flavor, size (1-2# each) and productivity. Great for tomato and mayo sandwiches and sauce. Makes my mouth water to think of them. They sold out early this year. 😥

  7. So many good tomatoes, so little yard! My space fills up quickly. There is always 1 more to try. One of my favorites is Black Cherry.

  8. I love Jet Star, have for 30 years or more. I first bought it at a small roadside stand from a guy who sold plants in Waterport. The name sounded so exotic. But it became my favorite and it must be getting awfully popular because several years ago, after telling a local greenhouse about how I had to travel from Lyndonville all the way to Niagara Produce, where they started selling them a few years later, to get my plants, the local nursery started selling them too, and now it’s one of only about 10 varieties they sell. I also recently read that JetStar is now the most popular in the country, They are very good, rather small which is fine with me, and juicy and tomatoey. I also love Morton Hybrid and have been planting them since I started with the Jet Star. Found them both at that little roadside stand.

  9. I’ve grown Hillbilly tomatoes for a couple of years and I really LOVE them. They are huge, heirloom, yellow tomatoes w/red, orange stripes, and very sweet. Some people are turned off by their appearance, not traditional reds, but the taste wins them over. Love to bake them w/parm. cheese, and serve with crusty bread of any type.
    I also wait until Memorial Day to plant tomatoes in my raised beds, which warm up a little earlier than the ground does. I’ve found these toms to be disease resistant to blight, but they are so big that sometimes their own stems bend/break. So if you choose to grown them use proper supports.
    I’ve grown these and other tomatoes from seed under plant lights & yes I am VERY anxious to plant- everything. Have been moving annual fruit & flowers in and out of the house and 2 small plastic greenhouses/cold frames for a couple of weeks now. Will wait on peppers for a while longer.

  10. I enjoyed the comments from Jen Weber and I’ll likely try her recommendations. However, I could make the argument that the best tomato is the one you just picked to slice and put on a roll with Hellman’s Mayonnaise, heavy on the salt and pepper!

  11. Oh and I forgot the best hybrid hands down is Sungold, a cherry tomato. The plants are huge and pump out wonderful tasting fruit, a favorite of many a gardener.

  12. People often buy hybrids thinking they will have more resistance to the fungal diseases that are common in WNY like Early Blight and Septoria. This is an OLD hybrid MYTH that won’t die. Hybrids will get the fungal diseases just the same as the heirlooms. Many of the diseases that hybrids are resistant to are not that common in home gardens.
    Another myth is that hybrids will produce more. Some heirlooms and newer open pollinated cultivars produce the same or more than hybrids. It is a dependent on the particular variety. Brandywine which is a very popular wonderful tasting heirloom has given heirlooms a bad name. It is particularly prone to be being a low producer. I liken it to a picky hybrid tea rose. You get a few big beautiful roses on the plant and Brandywine is the same with a few big wonderful tasting tomatoes. But other heirlooms some produce lots of tomatoes.
    My favorite tomato of all time is Stump of the World. It is similar to Brandywine in taste but so so much more productive here in WNY. Another favorite which make round flavorful tomatoes and gobs of them is Goose Creek.

  13. Thanks Jen for all the helpful growing info. I always do 4 huge container veggies: Roma, Better Boy, Yellow Bell, & Green Bell. However I’m captivated by heirlooms. I ordered one last yr – don’t remember the name but maybe got 2 – seemed like a bad yr for tomatoes in general maybe.
    Now your hints were very helpful! Next yr I was going to get a Cherokee from what I’ve read – seemed like a good choice. Bad hip this yr? so no gardening this yr. nice to see I’ve made a good choice. Thanks shain❗️?????

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