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Old December 30, 2012   #13
doublehelix's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Central Arkansas
Posts: 191

I did extensive research in that area a year or two ago. The earliest mention of a black tomato from what I found was Filipino #2. and its sister tomato Nagcarlang

After quite a bit of research I began to question the heritage of many of the tomatoes that were being called heirloom. I could not find any documentation to substantiate Cherokee Purple coming from Native Americans. My search actually led me to Fayetteville Arkansas and Dr. Joe McFerran. I had a conversation with him about some of his projects including the ones that he abandoned. One of those projects involved working with the gf gene. Apparently, the University of Arkansas under his direction tested dozens and dozens of varieties during the late 50's through the early 70's. Also from what I found in some of my research is that the main reason for the interest in the gf gene was it's possible link to setting fruit in cool temps. I believe this is why the germplasm ended up so heavily in the U.S.S.R.

The U of A and Dr. McFerran were interested because of its purported ability to set fruit in high humidity. There were several "black" tomatoes created by Dr. McFerran but they never went into production because of poor testing to consumers. It had nothing to do with production or taste. Farmers could not get anyone to buy a tomato that looked like that. Dr. McFerran said they had some test varieties he bred that were outstanding but it was impossible to overcome the look of being "spoiled" and the project was dropped. Dr. McFerran went on to introduce Traveler (Arkansas Traveler), Ozark Pink, AR7985 and Traveler '76. There is also a tomato called Pope, which he was one of the breeders for too.

He also told me he had a cocktail tomato that was pink, sweet and crack resistant. It went to California and into commercial production sometime in the 70's. He could not remember what the name was if any. He only knew it by a test number and could not remember that number either. I have had no luck trying to track it down but is one of my pet projects. The reason I want to find it is that he bred tomatoes to be sold as "vine ripe" and not shippers. This is not a common persuit with most Universtity breeding programs. All of his tomatoes taste pretty good and have some excellent qualities.

Another interesting note about black tomatoes and Dr. McFerran is that he did not recall if his introducing the gf gene into his breeding work came from Filipino #2. It did not ring a bell with him at least.

It is my opinion, and just an opinion, that Cherokee Purple and many other "heirloom black tomatoes" were just escapees from the U of A testing grow outs in the same way as the O.S.U. Black tomato was introduced. I don’t think it really matters whether it came from Arkansas, Russia or is its own mutation and was saved by Cherokees. I am just glad it made its way to Craig and got introduced to the world. I personally find it hard to believe that a tomato as good as Cherokee Purple could have remained a secrete for a century or more. I think it has only been around since about the 1960's or even later and the story was concocted since I don’t believe that the gf gene was present within breeding stock prior to the 1950’s.

It is interesting to note that at one time Arkansas was a very large producer of tomatoes and the state was known for their "Pink" tomato. Most of the pink tomatoes that came out of the state were Dr. McFerran's creation "Bradley". It was a snowy February day in 2011 when I last talked to Dr. McFerran. You would not believe how excited he got when you brought up breeding tomatoes. It was during my last conversation with him that he revealed that the Bradley tomato was not named after the big tomato producing county in Arkansas that shared the name, but was in fact named for his Father. He passed away later that year at the age of 94. He was a very nice man.
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