Saturday, October 15, 2005

Local Heritage in the Garden: Santa Clara Canner Tomato

On a treasure hunt for famed yellow tomato "Aunt Gertie's Gold", I found the lengthy list of seeds available from Heirloom Tomatoes (, worth a mention on its own, as neighbor for 18+ years took over site after grower passed away). Naturally, I couldn't resist reading the whole list, including many rare and little-mentioned heirloom tomatoes, and found a little bit of local history preserved: the Santa Clara Canner! The entry noted it as "Extremely solid, large deep oblate 8-10 oz red/orange beefsteaks with excellent flavor. Holds together exceptionally well when processed. Started the California canning industry.". Well! Time to do a little research!

A bit of search engine tiddlypum found further mention of this variety. Tomato Grower's classfies it as a 'late' variety (80 days from plants set in the garden), and says "Don't be fooled by the name, as this tomato is much more than just a canner. Its history suggests that it originated in Italy and was used in the California canning industry. ... large harvests ... very good, rich and complex flavor. Fruit is very juicy yet full of solid meat, making it fine for canning but just as good for eating off the vine. ..." Appalachian Seeds describes it similarly, but more succinctly: "Italian heirloom believed to be responsible for the start of the tomato canning industry in California. Smooth flavored with thick walls, these reddish orange beefsteaks are perfect for canning." (Don't be fooled by the '2002' on the top of their web catalog page, they're still around and going strong!)

Our own Santa Clara Master Gardeners' group has included the Santa Clara Canner in its annual spring plant sale for several years. This past year's entry reads, "Used in CA canning industry, juicy yet solid, very prolific, flattened rounded - large fruit. Big robust healthy plant.". Carolyn Male's "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden" even has an entry. Gosh! Am I late to this party, or what?! Regardless, I've got seeds on the way, and this local heirloom will be a lovely part of my garden next year.


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