16 August 2009

Charlie's Hearty Tomatoes!

This summer's vegetable garden has an overachieving variety which stands head and shoulders above its neighbors -- literally and figuratively. In addition to our usual Red Brandywine beefsteak tomatoes, we tried the Mortgage Lifter, a well-known name in heirloom tomatoes. This fruit has an interesting history: Mr. Marshall Byles of Logan, WV who was known as "Radiator Charlie" because he was an automobile mechanic, cross-bred the biggest and best-tasting tomatoes he could find. Gradually, after hand pollinating generations of plants and selecting the characteristics most desirable to him, Radiator Charlie ended up with a large red beefsteak tomato that grows in groups of three on a vigorous plant. In the 1940's these sought-after seedlings were sold for $1 a plant. Over several summers, Radiator Charlie sold enough plants to pay off his mortgage, hence the moniker of this summer delight. In 1985, Mr. Byles sold his seeds to the Southern Seed Saver's Exchange, from whom they can be purchased today. To hear an explanation of this plant's history as well as clips from an audio interview between Radiator Charlie and his grandson, Ed Martin click here.

Unlike some heirloom varieties, the Mortgage Lifter shows no signs of catfacing or blossom end rot, and it appears to be very disease resistant. Our monastery might just have found a new favorite tomato!

No comments: