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Thorburn’s Terra-Cotta

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About Thorburn’s Terra-Cotta

‘Thorburn’s Terra-Cotta’ tomato is a very old American heirloom, that was introduced in 1893 by J.M. Thorburn & Company of New York. This tomato was almost forgotten, but in 1993 seeds of ‘Thorburn’s Terra-Cotta’ came into the Dr. William Wiys Weaver’s ‘Roughwood Seed Collection’ as a part of a parcel of seeds given to him while lecturing in Salem, New Jersey, USA. As Dr. Weaver writes, it was a ‘gift from an old farmer who was selling his ancestral property to a developer and wanted his heirlooms to find a new and safer home. Including Atlantic Prize and Turner’s Hybrid (aka Mikado), his gift was a treasure trove of South Jersey tomatoes that seemed to have fallen out of a time machine.’*

This is what Dr. William Woys Weaver writes about the history of this tomato:
‘When J. M. Thorburn & Company, New York seedsmen, went into bankruptcy in 1921 after being in business 119 years, most of the firm’s accumulated seed stock simply disappeared. Companies like Thorburn used to maintain vast seed libraries in order to dip into them for breeding purposes, thus the annual catalogs only reflected a much smaller list of things that were available for sale. Thorburn had access to some of the best seed collections in the world and used those connections to introduce unusual varieties not seen in other American seed lists. The firm introduced the Terra Cotta Tomato in 1893. In fact, it was featured in a chromolithograph that served as the frontispiece for the 1893 catalog. (…) the tomato is unusual because of its color. Thorburn claimed it was unique in many other ways too: flavor, keeping qualities, and a good shipper. The list of pluses was long and glowing. I had long assumed that the Terra Cotta Tomato was extinct like so many other unusual heirlooms from the 19th century, a victim of that 1921 bankruptcy sale that cleaned out the company’s assets overnight. Happily, I was proved wrong, but the road to genetic recovery was a bumpy one, and only now, some 19 years later, can I say with a degree of certainty that the unusual Terra Cotta Tomato still lives.’*

Indeterminate, regular leaf plants. In the middle of the season, it produces a very good yield of beautiful, dark orange/brown colored beefsteaks with some green shoulders and copper or terra-cotta-colored flesh. Later in the season, when it is getting colder, production tends to decrease. Midseason, about 75 days to maturity.

* William Woys Weaver, Heirloom Recovered: The Terra-Cotta Tomato,

Culinary Use
Flesh Color
Fruit Color
Brown / Green / Orange
Fruit Shape
Fruit Size
Leaf Type
Plant Type
Solanum lycopersicum
Heirloom / Open Pollinated

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