Plant This: Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

A tomato of a different color, this variety is known more for its exceptional flavor than its stunning good looks.

by Kevin Fogle

The Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato had brownish-purple skin and dark red flesh and amazing flavor. 

Kevin Fogle

The Cherokee Purple tomato isn’t one of those vegetables grown for its attractiveness: The cultivar produces 12- to 16-ounce, lumpy tomatoes in a mix of brown and purple shades with some dark green on the shoulders that bring to mind the color of an old bruise. In contrast to the dark-purple, thin-skinned exterior, the flesh of the Cherokee Purple tomato is dark red to pink.

Yes, it’s definitely the ugly duckling of the tomato world. We can only assume the growing popularity of this unique heirloom is due to its amazing flavor, which in my opinion is unparalleled to any tomato in the world: meaty, rich and complex with slightly smoky, wine-like notes and mild to moderate sweetness. Eat it sliced raw, diced in fresh salads or in fresh salsas. In my house, this tomato is also known for making the perfect tomato sandwich: two slices of fresh bread, a little mayo and a fat slice or two of tomato.

The Cherokee Purple dates back to the late 19th century—though likely much earlier—and is said to have originated in Tennessee with the Cherokee people. It’s an indeterminate variety that needs to be well-staked or -caged to hold up over the growing season. Mulching is also a good idea, as it encourages consistent moisture levels even in very hot conditions and helps prevent some cracking of the fruit. They take some time to mature, usually about 70 to 80 days. The fruit should be eaten within a day or so of picking, as they do not store well.

In my experience, the Cherokee Purple seems to thrive in the heat and humidity of the South, and I haven’t had any issues with rot unlike many of my full-sized heirloom tomato cultivars. While moderate to low productivity and a tendency for the fruit crack may dissuade some gardeners from adding this Cherokee Purple to their garden plot, take a bite into one: Its flavor alone should make you change your mind

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