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The True Black Brandywine Tomato

Looking for a tomato plant that yields an abundant harvest of enviably-tasty fruit, with just a hint of challenge and a whole lot of love in the gardening? Then make room in your garden bed for the True Black Brandywine tomato! Perfect for slicing, cooking, canning, drying, and more, it’s considered by many to be the standard of flavor and beauty for heirloom tomatoes.

Let’s dive in and learn more about this succulent fruit!

Closeup of three Black Brandywine Tomatoes.

History of the Black Brandywine Tomato

The history of the Black Brandywine Tomato is widely contested, particularly by modern heirloom seed distributors. Its development is most commonly attributed to dentist and amateur plant breeder Dr. Harold E. Martin, who is said to have saved the Black Brandywine seeds for himself and a few collectors upon the plant’s commercial release.

The uncertainty of the Black Brandywine’s origins has led to some dispute over whether it is a true heirloom or a cross between Brandywine and Feejee Improved, a brown beefsteak tomato. Regardless of its origins, however, the Black Brandywine has become one of the most popular tomatoes on the market today.

Characteristics of the Black Brandywine Tomato

The Black Brandywine tomato is an indeterminate with the general consensus—despite its contentious origins—being that it is of an heirloom variety. These medium-to-large beefsteak fruits have a purplish hue and an oblate shape, with a firm slicing texture and a juicy core.

Ripening Season

This tomato ripens late, taking about 90-100 days to reach full maturity.

Tomato Qualities

This is a firm, fleshy, and juicy tomato. Its flavor has been described as a “classic tomato taste”, a decedent, well-balanced combination of smokey and sweet, making it a great complement to sandwiches and burgers and an excellent component for salsas.

Tomato Size

This tomato is generally of a larger beefsteak variety, weighing in as much as 14 ounces.

A picked Black Brandywine tomato.

Planting Zones

The Black Brandywine tomato thrives at its best in Zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, and will always be happiest when planted or transplanted outdoors after the final frost of the season and when the soil temperature reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Size and Spacing

This plant likes its space—usually up to 4 feet in span! If you have a trellis, space the plants 2 feet apart; if you intend to let the plants spread their vines out, then space them about 4 feet apart. They average in height usually around 5 feet, but occasionally grow even taller, so it is recommended to have a cage or trellis handy that will help train them up as they grow!

A tomato plant with a tomato cage to support future growth.

Pollination

Like all tomatoes, the Black Brandywine is self-pollinating; however, pollination can be aided by taking a plucked tomato flower and brushing it against another, or using your finger or a small brush to spread the pollen along.

Plant Care

The following sections will provide highlights about tomato care. For a complete guide on optimal tomato plant care, from planting to harvesting and storage, please check out our article on How To Grow Tomatoes: The Complete Guide For the Best Tomatoes.  You may also be interested in our blog post on how to grow big tomatoes!

Sunlight

Black Brandywine tomatoes flourish in full sun and a warm climate, so avoid shading as much as possible. If some shading occurs, your tomato may not reach the optimal deep maroon-and-black coloring, tending toward more of a dusky orange in places.

Two unripe Brandywine tomatoes on the vine.

Soil

This tomato thrives in soil that is acidic (generally with a pH balance of 6.5), well-drained, fertile, and containing rich organic matter (such as clay or loam); however, if you’re aiming for an earlier harvest, you can invest in a lighter, less fertile soil that drains and warms quickly.

Water

Black Brandywine tomatoes require regular watering, particularly during the growing season, to protect against parasites that like to target this plant variety. This leaves you with a couple of options: you can provide a moderate amount of water daily, or water them thoroughly once per week, depending on your schedule. The best practice is to water at the base of the plant rather than from above.

(Note: You will want to be careful of overwatering, which can harm your plants in the long run. It’s recommended to monitor your soil—if the top few inches are dry, it’s time to water!)

A drip irrigation hose watering tomato plants.

Fertilizer

Because of its many delicate needs, this tomato will flourish best with a good fertilizer compound. It is recommended to compost the soil ahead of time using organic matter and to fertilize with a slow-release nitrous fertilizer every 4 to 6 weeks once the plant begins flowering.

Tomatoes require specific nutrients (such as calcium) to produce their best crops of fruit. To learn how to determine what your tomatoes need and when they need it, consult our ultimate tomato fertilizer guide.

Pruning/Pinching

To optimize your tomato’s growth, you really want to limit it to one or two vigorous stems, which you can accomplish by pinching off any excess suckers. You can then tie the stems to stakes with a soft string, twine, or cloth, which provides room for stem growth without restriction.

Pruning and pinching are a tomato care technique that can help your tomato put forth its best yield. But you need to know when to do this and what tomatoes need it. To help you with this, visit our pruning tomatoes guide.

Disease

This variety is very delicate, and therefore subject to many diseases, particularly as the tomatoes take so long to ripen. Consistent watering at ground level will minimizes the risk of fungal infections. To learn how to detect, treat, and take steps to prevent diseases, read our tomato diseases guide. 

Pests

Garden pests and parasites are very attracted to the slowly-maturing Black Brandywine Tomato. Placing plants such as marigolds in your garden patch can help keep bugs at bay; you may also consider netting, which protects plants from birds and harmful insects while attracting beneficial ones.

For information to help you spot, eliminate, and deter 15 different pests, visit our guide on common tomato pests.

A ladybug and its favorite food, aphids, on plant leaves.
Ladybugs are your tomato’s best friend because they’ll devour aphids — a common tomato pest.

When to Harvest Black Brandywine Tomatoes

The ideal time to harvest your tomatoes is when the shoulders begin to darken and the fruit begins to turn soft to the touch. You can begin checking for these ideal signs of ripeness about 90 days after planting. If a frost comes, it’s recommended to harvest all tomatoes whether ripe or not. You can continue ripening them in direct sunlight indoors.

Common Uses For Black Brandywine Tomatoes

What Does This Tomato Taste Like?

The Black Brandywine tomato has a sweet, smokey, and balanced flavor, making it the ideal compliment to many dishes. Some consider it to be the standard for heirloom-tomato flavor, making it a staple for many common tomato dishes.

Wedges of dark red heirloom tomato.

Cooking

Due to its fleshy, juicy nature, this tomato cooks down excellently for tomato sauces, jams, and most of your common stewing tomato-based dishes, as well as providing an excellent element for a salsa or gazpacho.

Eating Raw

The crisp texture, succulent insides, and intense flavor profile of this tomato make it an excellent slicing tomato and a perfect component for salads, sandwiches, burgers, or a charcuterie or fruit-and-veggie spread.

Overhead view of a dark red heirloom tomato.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

This tomato does not have a long shelf life, so if you don’t intend to use your harvest quickly, you’ll want to look into preservation methods! Luckily, this tomato holds up excellently for canning, freezing, drying, and pickling, retaining its sweet, fully-body flavor however it’s processed.

Recipe Ideas

Tomato Bhath

Tomato Rasam

Scalloped Tomatoes

Classic Tomato Soup

Woman making tomato sauce.

Health Benefits of Tomatoes

These tomatoes are a great source of Vitamins C and A, as well as providing smaller amounts of Vitamins B and K and several dietary minerals, including manganese and potassium, which regulates blood pressure.

Where to Buy Black Brandywine Tomato Plants or Seeds

It’s always a good practice to check out your local nurseries, farmer’s markets, and farmstands for plants and seeds that are optimal for your area! You can also purchase Black Brandywine Tomato plant seeds from online retailers or at Amazon.

Where to Buy Black Brandywine Tomatoes

Black Brandywine tomatoes are plenteous and quite common, and can usually be found at grocers as well as farmer’s markets and farmstands. Just keep an eye out for that beefsteak shape, deep red hue, and blush of black across the shoulders!

Wrapping Up the Black Brandywine Tomato

Three unripe heirloom tomatoes.

The Black Brandywine is truly a golden standard for heirloom tomatoes and a hearty addition to any tomato recipe in your cookbook! Are you planning to try your hand at growing this beautiful tomato variety? What recipes do you hope to incorporate the Black Brandywine tomato in? Let us know in the comments!

To read about other kinds of interesting (and delicious) tomatoes, click here for our tomato blog posts.