By 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.