The Brandywine Tomato

I like telling the story of how the Long Island Seed Company became the biggest seller of "Brandywine" tomato seed in the years between 1984 and 1987. So here it is again, thanks for asking.   In the late 1970's I sold seeds at the local flower show out of the jars and developed quite a following.  This was the Town of Islip show held at Hidden Pond Park.  "How many teaspoons of pole beans do you want", I would ask.  It was fun to talk to gardeners from all over Long Island who were surprised that I raised most of my own seed here on Long Island.  I mixed up seeds of the few Tomato cultivars I was saving and sold them in a small kraft envelope for a quarter.  People liked the tomato blend a lot.

1983 Kodachrome of Brandywine (scan)   

1983 Kodachrome of Brandywine (scan)   

I don't think that I ever realized that there was as much diversity in vegetables until my Latino and Italian customers started to send me seed that they raised in their gardens. About this time, Kent Whealy had started the Seed Savers Exchange and I became an early member. Suddenly it was clear to me that there were many seed collectors across the country doing the same thing that I was. I was introduced to the concept of "heirloom" seeds, those passed down from generation to generation. Handcrafted and treasured, those seeds would provide the basis for my passion for genetic diversity in the home garden.

I looked for interesting new varieties especially of tomatoes and began to trade with other collectors. Ben Quisenberry had a small but amazing collection of tomato varieties. When I began to trade with him, he was probably in his late 80's and the work of maintaining his "Big Tomato Garden" was becoming too much for him. He had sold tomato seed through a small advertisement in the classified section of "Organic Gardening and Farming".   The ad never brought much business but that didn't really seem to be his objective; now, he was happy to pass on the varieties to other collectors. 

Brandywine Tomato in the above glysine envelope (see front and back) that Ben printed on a small hand press with his address and then in his own handwriting, wrote "gift" and a description of the varieties that he included. I called to thank him and ask, "How will I tell the varieties apart"? He responded, "You'll know Brandywine by the leaves, they're unusual".

The Seed Savers Exchange was already listing Brandywine Tomato (Ben Quisenberry was the original source of record) among it's members while I was still selecting the plants and fruit from Ben Quisenberry's seed for desirable characteristics.   Ben noted that the Brandywine seed came from woman named, Dorris who said it was in her family, the Sudduth family for many years.

After three years of selection, I offered the Brandywine Tomato in the 1984 Long Island Seed Catalog.  Like the rest of my tomatoes, a packet of seed was a quarter (no, I didn't make much money). I named my selection (a less cracking and more productive variation of the original), "Brandywine -Quisenberry Strain" after Ben. This was later changed by others to the Sudduth Strain to reflect the Quisenberry source (see seedsaver, Craig LeHoullier's website for a the history of this tomato: http://nctomatoman.topcities.com/Articles/Brandywine_History.htm

Graciously, Kent Whealy always referred seed inquiries to the seed companies who were producing or retailing seed for sale to the public and I began to receive inquiries about Brandywine.  By that time Ben was no longer selling seed.

There are a number of wonderful, sought after heirlooms known as the Quisenberry Tomatoes because they were on the one page tomato list that was his catalog.  I was fortunate to have received several tomatoes from him as well as Brandywine including "Ruby Gold" and "Persimmon", both outstanding tomatoes in beauty and flavor.  I'm often asked about the mixture I received, a gift of "3 Large Pink".   The other two pink tomatoes were Big Ben and Mortgage Lifter, both normal leaved tomatoes.  Big Ben is sometimes called Stump of the World.   I can't help but wonder though, whether Brandywine which showed some diversity in its initial planting had crossed with other tomatoes in Ben's "Big Tomato Gardens", perhaps even the tomatoes contained in my gift packet.  At the time, most of us accepted the then current idea, that tomatoes were inbreeders.  Many aren't.  In fact, the older large fruited tomatoes produce flowers where the huge multilobed stigmas stick out beyond the flower's cone of anthers.  It's ready and available for pollination from others tomatoes and there are bumblebees ready to do the work.

It's not unusual to save seeds of normal leaved tomatoes grown near potato leaf tomatoes and find potato leaved plants appearing from seed of the normal leafed kind and potato leaved kinds can pick up genetic traits from other tomatoes too and remain potato leafed.   Tomatoes change, especially as they pass from one gardener to another, interact with different environmental conditions and are selected according to the preferences of the seed saver.  I see the Quisenberry tomato "Persimmon" for sale today and many times it doesn't have the persimmon color and persimmon shape of what I saw when I grew it in 1981.  Tomatoes cross.   There are now Red and Yellow Brandywines and potato leaved Ruby Golds.  The plant characteristics of my original seed is often not the same as what I grow today because I don't grow my tomatoes in isolation.  

It's my hunch that Ben selected his three big pink tomatoes as a gene pool perhaps somewhat removed from the other plants he grew.  He probably wanted his pinks to stay pink.  He might have selected from the chance hybrids that showed up in his patch.  Sometimes that heterosis or hybrid vigor is noteworthy.  My guess is that he was selecting for size and I bet, mostly for the flavor he preferred in all three of these tomatoes. I don't know much about the origin of Brandywine before Ben but certainly Brandywine developed some of it's character in the "Big Tomato Gardens" of Syracuse, Ohio.