Posted on 28 March 2008 by

Tomatoes Bought My House: The unbelievable story of Radiator Charlie\’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato

Tomato HouseBy Michael Nolan

The beauty of heirloom tomatoes reaches far beyond the dinner table and into history itself.

They are a breath of fresh air in today’s world of genetically mutated plants that foster family and friendship.

Heirloom seeds are truly by the people, for the people. They are not mass manufactured and sold in every store, instead being handed down by generations of real people who value taste and purity over appearance.

In the early 1940s, a man without any formal education who went by the name of “Radiator Charlie” decided that he wanted to create a better tomato. He started with the largest seeds he could find and planted them in circles with a plant in the center.

With the careful precision of a scientist, he would collect pollen from the plants (in a baby’s ear syringe, no less) and deposit it on the center plant — the plump, pink German Johnson.

Seven years later, Charlie was happy with the result and never worked with any other plant variety, tomato or otherwise. As it turned out, he wouldn’t need to. The new variety that he created would garner coverage in the local news media when they caught wind of the plants that could regularly produce delicious tomatoes that weighed over a pound each, often as much as two or three pounds.

Radiator Charlie would go on to grown and sell his seedlings for $1.00 each — big money at the time. The money he made turned out to be enough to pay off the mortgage on his modest $6,000 home, and thus the tomato got its moniker and Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter was born.

10 Responses to “Tomatoes Bought My House: The unbelievable story of Radiator Charlie\’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato”

  1. our friend Ben Says:

    Great post, Michael! (And great photo!!!) Thanks for sharing the story of this beloved heirloom. Hope you share other fun and fantastic heirloom stories in future posts!

  2. Nancy Bond Says:

    Yes, more stories like this. You write beautifully and from the heart.

  3. Michael Nolan Says:

    Ben – While the post is mine, I have to give credit for the photo to Mr. TC himself, Reggie. I do plan on sharing the stories of as many heirlooms as I can; it is a particular passion of mine.

    Nancy – you are too kind. I do write from the heart but I have to admit that it isn’t always a beautiful place to be!

    Love to you both!

  4. deb Says:

    Great post. That is a fantastic story. I grow several heirlooms and would love to know their story.

  5. Michael Nolan Says:

    deb: if you’d like to let me know what varieties you are growing I would be more than happy to cover them in future entries!

  6. Urban Garden Casual »  Look at My Garden! See How it Grows! Says:

    […] Black (“Svetlana”), both in 5-gallon buckets. Not pictured are my remaining seedlings from one Radiator Charlie\’s Mortgage Lifter and one Abraham Lincoln […]

  7. Frugal Mania » Blog Archive » Just Another Frugal Day for Michael Says:

    […] I jumped for joy when I saw two tired-looking heirloom tomato plants called “Mortgage Lifters”.  Early in the season I wrote an article on the history of this beautiful heirloom tomato plant at another site I write for.  You can read that article here. […]

  8. Sunday Morning Musings | My Earth Garden Says:

    […] will produce anything at all, but that is a chance I am more than willing to take.  After I wrote about the Mortgage Lifter earlier in the year over at Tomato Casual I fell in love with the plant and longed to taste […]

  9. Tomato World - WebProWorld Says:

    […] to save seeds in case I’m not able to find the plants next year. Here’s the story behind them… Tomato Casual*»* Tomatoes Bought My House: The unbelievable story of Radiator Charlie\’s Mortgage L… Dave __________________ Religious-Jewelry Blog – Deep Link Directory – Religious […]

  10. » Heirloom Tomato Tasting Bites + Bowls Says:

    […] It’s a Mortgage Lifter [there is a fun story behind it that can be read HERE] […]

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