The Long Island Seed Project

  Currant Tomatoes and Small Cherry Tomatoes

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Currant Tomato
Currant Tomato Crosses
Cherry and Grape Tomatoes

Currant Tomato

Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium (Currant tomato)

The world's tiniest tomato has got to be Alberto's Shattering Currant!  It's the size of a garden pea.  The species is often considered different than the conventional garden tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum which means "savory wolf peach", but they easily cross with one another and are functionally, variations of the same species.

Alberto Vasquez whose name I gave to the shattering currant, was an early member of the Seed Savers Exchange formed by Kent Whealy in the 1970's.  In the annual yearbook, Alberto wrote that he was looking for seeds of Rat-Tail Radish. Well, I was just back from the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmering Association) Summer Conference where there was a guy selling seed of the Rat-Tail Radish out of a sack.  I think he got the seeds from India. I bought a couple of tablespoons of seed. This must have been around 1980. I grew the seeds in the greenhouse at the college where I worked. The seed pods were truly like a rat's tail (unlike some rat-tails sold today), over a foot long, pencil thin and mostly deep purple in color. Very impressive. But that's another rambling. Alberto from Virginia (if my memory serves me) would trade me seeds of his currant tomato for rat-tail seeds. Done.

Alberto had two types of currant tomatoes, one that shattered it's fruit (drops to the ground when ripe) and another that holds the fruit. He sent me the seed of both and I grew large seed crops. I sold both types for many years and companies who got the seed from me also sold the two kinds for a while. I've noted though that the one that drops it's fruit isn't in commerce anymore.

Why, people ask me, would you want a currant tomato that drops it's fruit? Why indeed! The labor involved with picking currant tomatoes for market is considerable. We developed a technique though, of planting the shattering currant tomatoes on mounds with landscape cloth sloping downward from the base of the plants. Shake the bushes every couple of days and scoop up the tomatoes that roll down to the base of the cloth. So simple.

While the currant tomato is a crunchy sack of seed offering a nice texture to salads, flavor is not where they excel.  In fact, before the currant tomato was reintroduced into commerce as an heirloom variety (after an absence of maybe 75 years or so), it was most often grown by 19th century gardeners and used to make a fruit jam.

This is one of the true currant tomatoes, the world's smallest tomato. Pea sized. More primitive than others, it's fruit shatters and falls to the ground when ripe or near ripe. Crunchy in salads imparts a great texture but not sweet or flavorful. We are developing harvest techniques that take advantage of the shattering characteristic since currant tomatoes are tedious to harvest.

Currant Tomato Crosses

The currant crosses is a group of small cherry tomatoes with currant tomatoes in their parentage.  A diverse group indeed, they can be found in many colors and tend to be the tomatoes that excite my palate.  Grow currants next to a modern high brix cherry tomato and then save the seeds and savor.  Currant tomatoes have an emergent stigma that will collect any available pollen an insect happens to bring, very much like the heirloom potato-leaf tomatoes that have the same tendency to outcross.

In fact, many cherry tomatoes obtain their long truss charactoristics from L. pimpinellifolium.  These trusses can be a foot long and contain dozens of tiny tomatoes.  The true currant tomato comes from the coastal region from Equador into Peru and has some inherent variation.  The currants that I've grown are generally rampant sprawlers with wirey vines that take off when the weather becomes hottest.  Currant crosses can have the same kinds of characteristics or not.  Many of the crosses we develop here at FBF are unintentional.  The currants and currant crosses reseed (zone 7) and we let many grow to sample and simply select our favorites.

Red and Yellow Currant Crosses are common and many have been selected, named and in commerce because of their nice flavor and texture.

TOMATO (Lycopersicon esculetum) family: Solanaceae

Grape and other "Cherry" Tomatoes

Grape Tomatoes?

I read somewhere that grape tomatoes are the newest development in tomatoes!  When I was growing up, we called these plum tomatoes, not like the canning plum tomatoes, but miniature plum tomatoes. Because they are produced in abundance, they were used to make sauce just like their larger cousins.  Not particularly sweet but rich in tomato flavor.

There was a red plum and a yellow plum available in seed catalogs from the 1800's and then Charlie Rick ( a renown tomato breeder at the University of California -Davis until his death a few years ago) sent me a Pink Plum, which he said was one of his favorite tomatoes.   Dr. Rick was a plant explorer, and the authority on tomato genetics. He traveled throughout South America, Central America, Mexico, the Galapagos and the Caribbean looking for new tomato species and variants. Through his work, and the wild tomato genes he introduced into traditional canning tomato varieties, the California processed tomato industry was born and thrived. One day David Cavannaugh from the Seed Savers Exchange showed him a tomato they grew at Heritage Farm from some seed we were selling at the time , a bizarre green fruited variety that split open like a fuzzy capsule when it ripened (which I obtained in a batch of seed from New Zealand several years earlier).   He sent me a nice note and we began to correspond with one another.

Pink Plum was a little rose beauty from Cuba that he said he used to make a nice sweet tomato sauce.

I noticed that, much like current tomatoes, these little plum tomatoes produced more variation after being grown alongside of cherry tomatoes and current tomatoes. They cross easily. Sweetie, Sweet 100 and Gardeners Delight were very similar cherry tomatoes that were available through by seed retailers in the 1980's. They were sensational because they were sweet, really sweet. They were the perfect snacking tomato. A tomato kids could love. Suddenly, the plums became sweeter. It's not too difficult to imagine how the popular hybrids like Santa and Juliette were developed.

Small 1" oval red, yellow and pink for sauce and salads, consistent shape and size so that they match well. Today, these would be called grape tomatoes but these don't have the super sweet flavor of the modern grape tomatoes.  Sprawling vines.

Cuban Plum

Very productive indeterminant vines, loaded with clusters of deep rose plums an inch or so in length.  Good sauce plum, not particularly sweet.

There were also pear tomatoes (no, not the pear shaped canning tomatoes), little inch or so long mini pears with a distinct neck like a bosc pear. These too have been known since the 1800's. Distinctive, ornamental and fun to grow, this group consisting of many distinct lines of yellow, red and pink fruit and are often ignored by gardeners and hybridizers.

Very small pear shaped fruit in red and yellow, interesting currant x salad pear tomato cross from Mexico, pronounced neck and much smaller than other common little pear tomatoes.  Great in salads, hearty flavor, crisp and crunchy.

Mexi Pear Mix

Last Modified:  August, 2007