Cherokee Purple Tomato: Hanna’s Tomato Tastings 2009

Part of Hanna’s Tomato Tastings 2009

cherokee purple tomatoThis is the tomato that took my heirloom virginity. Many years ago, when I was but a sparkling, wet new home owner, I planted a vegetable garden. Sure, I had kept container gardens before. Grew an odd tomato here or there, had watched my own mother grow tomatoes in her garden, but now I had a vegetable plot and I was going to plant tomatoes.

I did as many generations did before me, I went to my local nursery and bought a few tomato plants. In my basket were the normal hybrids, Better Boy, Early Girl, Beef, Big Boy; all cute and clustered in the 4 count cell packs. And that was when I noticed the lone Cherokee standing across the way. He was in his own pot, tall and sturdy. A loner if I ever saw one. And I was filled with a desperate need to find out more about him. So I grasped his ½ gallon container and home he came with me.

To say my first taste of this Cherokee was life changing was an understatement. Never had it occurred to that a tomato could taste like anything other than a tomato. I fell in love and it was a love that has brought me to this place.

It was a fleeting summer love, as summer loves tend to be. And oddly, I never grew Cherokee Purple in my garden again… Until this year. I decided that I would re-visit my first heirloom love and see if my inexperience led me to believe it was so great or if the memory was as true then as it seems now.

The description from the company I got it from reads:

This old heirloom variety from Tennessee, rumored to have come from the Cherokees, has a very rich tomato flavor and unique coloring. The medium-sized 10-12 ounce fruits have a rose/purple skin with a brick red interior. With intense tomato taste and just the right level of sweetness, you will be shocked at how special this variety is. Cherokee Purple tomatoes have a thin skin and soft flesh.

The Beauty Pageant:

Size: Baseball size.

Shape: A nice round tomato. It does seem just a smidge prone to cracking.

Color: Dark, dark red on the bottom with dark, dark green shoulders. The interior is the same dark red and the exterior.

The inside: Largish seeds and loose gel. The core is rather thick and the walls, while not thick, are not thin either

Texture: Smooth and soft. Nearly melt in your mouth. The texture stops just shy of being silky, but is not bad at all.


Off the Vine Tasting: Nice, smoky flavor. You can taste the tomato, but there is just more to this. The meat is defiantly weaker in flavor than the gel and sweeter too, but the meat is not bad on its own. The gel is very concentrated and tangy. It bursts in your mouth.

Sliced and Salted Tasting: Salt is no friend to this tomato. It really mutes all the nice flavors in it.

Cooking Thoughts: Again, not a tomato you can sauce with. You lose half the fun if you de-seed it. This is a suburb BLT tomato. There will be no tug of war to contend with than might pull the slice of the tomato out of the sandwich. It will just melt when you bite into it.

Growing Notes:
Healthy plant that is producing nicely. I can see why this tomato ends up in so many newbie heirloom tomato grower’s gardens. Easy to grow with good taste. You can’t beat that for a beginner or a sure fire standard in the garden.

Will Hanna grow this one again:
Most likely. Memory did not betray me on this one. It is a good tomato. Have I had better? Yes (experience does that) – but this is certainly a solid performer.

15 thoughts on “Cherokee Purple Tomato: Hanna’s Tomato Tastings 2009
  1. Howdy. I love your approach overall. Sometimes I wonder about comments on a contender like “salt is no friend to this tomato”, followed closely by “this is a superb BLT tomato”, but hey, who am I to question a woman’s complex wisdom?

    One thing that bothers me about the commentaries I read on the losers and winners in the best-tasting tomatoes department, with all of the associated variables, is…you guessed it–how to account for the variables. I noticed, for example, that one year you experienced an abnormal amount of rain, and I kept wondering if that affected how the tomato texture and flavor in your chosen specimens came out.

    One thing I have noticed is how much sunshine makes a difference. I, who hail from New Jersey, the land of THE ABSOLUTE BEST TOMATOES, according to anyone from New Jersey, experienced many frustrating years after I came to live in the Bay Area, California, of trying to grow passable tomatoes here. Then I found something approaching the answer to the living hell of growing passable tomatoes in the Bay Area.

    Said answer, to the degree my poor plants have been able to survive long enough to bear fruit, turns out to be…my roof. Why? Because that is the only place they can get more than 8 hours of sun.

    In my experience, sunlight makes all the difference. Sure, we get all of that dastardly fog, we get the chilling cold that moved Mark Twain to accuse summer in San Francisco of being the coldest winter he ever spent, and we try to hold up under generally weird weather overall, etc., but in my later tomato-growing experience, getting the exposure to el sol, filtered by clouds or not, is the key to the perfect tomato.

    So I ask you to keep in mind, in your adventure in providing the best, most perceptive commentary I have ever seen on the difficult topic of tomato palatability, to keep the essential concept of sunlight and other essentials of what the weather deals us in mind, especially as you decide whether a particular strain has failed to pass your trap-door, maybe-I’ll-grow-it-again-maybe-I-won’t test.

    Cheers, and thanks for the most interesting tomato commentary I can find.



  2. Hanna on

    LOL! You know, when I wrote about the tomato being good on a BLT, I wondered if anyone would call me on it. Because it is such a soft tomato but still holds together well, I figure the loss in flavor to the bacon’s salt would be secondary. In a BLT, the tomato does not play center stage, but is more of a supporting role, so a tomato whose flavor and slice that can stand up to bacon’s flavor is more important than if the salt mutes it a bit. Even with the salt, this is still a pretty flavorful tomato. It is just not as good with salt.

    In terms of the conditions, yes, I fully realize that and I always encourage people to do their own trials at home. Even with ideal conditions here (which never ever happens), it may not be the ideal conditions for then tomato. I always think of the Rouge d’Irak Tomato on that. I tried it here and it was bland and not all that good, but I am willing to bet in a very hot climate, it is a stellar tomato.

    I never go back to re-test to see if I will get a better tomato next year from a certain variety. The weather here is what it is. It is never stable, it is always too hot or too cool or too wet or too dry, sometimes all within the same season. I personally need tomatoes that perform where I live. If they don’t cut it one year, I have 100s more varieties to try that may do just fine without praying that the weather is “just right” for that particular tomato.

    That is something else I HIGHLY encourage people to follow. Just because someone raves about a tomato does not mean that tomato will do well where you live.

    The reason that there are 100s of heirloom varieties is because people have developed them to grow all over the world in many diff conditions. If you live somewhere hot, try growing tomatoes developed in regions that are hot. If you live somewhere cold, grow tomatoes that where developed somewhere cold. There is a tomato for every type of growing condition. It is just a matter of finding the right ones for you.


  3. This year has been terribly slow for us in Northern CA too. Our tomatoes will be ripe in the next week or so 🙁

    I appreciate the review too! And even more the source of where you got your seeds! It’s ever so frustrating to find a great review and then no mention of the source or it’s kept a “secret”.

    Thanks Hanna!


  4. Jan Curry on

    Thanks so much for your observations! As a garden junkie, I am starting my list for next season and Cherokee Purple will move from possabilaty to fact.I found your site while trying to figure out how to tell if my Big Rainbows were ripe and what was taking so dang long for em to get there! I am reassurred and will quit blaming my self. Thanks!….. Jan in Kansas zone 5


  5. Thanks for the detailed reviews; just wondering, which do you like better; Black Krim or Purple Cherokee? I’ve never had both the same year to compare.
    Also; not an heirloom, but you must grow Sungold; best cherry on earth


  6. I’ve gone for another tribe this year – Sioux. For this climate – Central Scotland – it has done really well and has turned out sweet and soft, under glass. I might give this one a run next year.


  7. Lizzie on

    The Green Zebra took my heirloom virginity (Dane County Farmer’s Market, Madison, WI~ 10 years ago). This morning, I had 2 slices of a Cherokee Purple on mya bologna sandwich for breakfast. It is the time of year that you eat tomatoes 3 meals/day and spend all day saturday canning whatever is ripe at the time (sometimes single variety and sometimes blends). We do can our Cherokee Purples along with the 20+ other varierties we planted this year (100+ plants).

    We are in upper east TN and got our first “batch” of ripe tomoatoes last week; a full month later than usual due to the lack of sunshine (many many days of rain this year). I second Hanna’s recommendation to choose your varieties based on your growing conditions. Not just what WILL grow, but what THRIVES. Thanks for the tomato talk.


  8. Kristin on

    We are enjoying the Cherokee’s as well! I totally agree with the BLT statement and the reasoning behind it. How could bacon not make anything better?
    Thanks so much for sharing the seedlings! It is a very happy plant!


  9. I don’t like fresh tomatoes (!?!?!?!) but I grow them for my husband, who does. I always grow Brandywines, because he loves them, but this year in addition to those, I grew Cherokee Purples. He liked those, too! I love them for growing because they’re a beautiful tomato. I used the Brandywines and the Cherokees to make a tomato soup and it turned out to be the best tomato soup I’ve ever eaten. And I’m no gourmet cook – it’s just that the tomatoes were so good. Yes, I do like them cooked, just like my carrots, which I also shredded and added to the tomato soup. Yum!

    Great review!


  10. Kathryn on

    You should not mock the Cherokee Purple on a BLT. After a trip to Baltimore’s best Italian deli, today’s lunch was fresh Italian baked rolls with olive spread, capicola, salami, proscuittini then thick slices of Cherokee Purple smeared with fresh pesto topped with home made mozzarella and broiled open faced until the cheese bubbled. Usually, I’d eat any heirloom straight, maybe a little olive oil and balsalmic vinegar (I lost my virginity on a Brandywine and have been growing them ever since). But today I shared my favorite sandwich with three teenaged boys who moved furniture for me. They think I’m a garden goddess and are coming back tomorrow to finish rearranging my living room. Never underestimate the power of a tomato ripe off the vine.


  11. Boy am I ever so pleased to have grown these this year, and from seed saved from last year! Hannah, you are the tomato goddess. Thank you for all that you do here!


  12. Spencer Thompson on

    I discovered a Cherokee Purple here in an organic foods open air maket in OAXACA Mexico. They had a few the next week but never again. I saved seed and grew some. I have had two crops,one in the summer and another which tonight, New Years eve, has hundreds of flowers and new green fruit the size of a U S quarter. It rained every day this summer from early June to the end of Sept. The leaves turned black and most of the tomatoes fell off before they were sufficently ripe. Still, the few I had and shared with friends and family were a big hit. Tast, texture, etc everything mentioned above. This seed I planted in late Sept is doing well enough, but the temps range from 83 in the day to as low as 37 some nights.It is usually in the high fifties at night this time of year. So far so good however. I am happy to confirm and promote the worthy reputation of the Cherokee Purple Tomato


  13. michiganyumm on

    Tried 26 varieties of black tomatoes last year and this one was the best slicer of them all, beat the pants off brandywine. Have to grow mine by seed since not readily available in stores, but Cherokee Purple will be on my must grow list always. Don’t overwater and put eggshells around them, the calcium prevents blossom end rot. Behaves much better than most heirlooms, does not rot much.
    gives a good crop. The look on my kid’s face when they saw this cut up with others on a plate was hilarious! But guess you know which tomato disappeared first with begging for more, yup, the Cherokee purple!


  14. Joan on

    Last summer was my first time growing brandy wine it was great i loved and my kids loved it just bought 6 plants today.I only had one last year to try.Just bought my first cherokee purple can’t wait to try it!!!!!


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