African Queen Tomato

While on a family trip to the idyllic Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee about ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet John Coykendall, an artist and seed collector who supplied the hotel with heirloom vegetables—and me with seeds of African Queen (as well as Miller’s Cove, a pumpkin with the biggest blossoms in the world). Four tomato plants had been given to John in 1986 by an elderly gentleman, a friend of a neighbor’s named John Maderis. Jack spoke in a Southern Mountain dialect—a remnant of early English—with Elizabethan pronunciation and words like dreen for “tiny stream,” and nary for “narrow,” and hit for “it.” But he reverted to plain English long enough to declare that “this’ll make some big old pink tomatoes.” They make some big old potato leaves, too, a funnel for sunshine and flavor.

Jack’s family had cultivated African Queen for generations, with the aid of mules, on steep hillsides of western North Carolina—one of the richest areas in the United States for bean, tomato, and squash landraces (folk varieties). Since tomatoes had been cultivated in the Carolinas as early as the mid-eighteenth century, African Queen may have come directly to the Carolinas with British colonists or, more likely, with slaves from the Caribbean.

Size: 3 ¼” long by 5 ¾” wide

Weight: 2 pounds, 5 ounces

Shape: Beefsteak

Exterior Colors: Tomato pink

Flesh color(s): Blood red

Soluble solids: 6 degrees Brix

Flavor: Excellent; well-balanced, like wine—a taste I wish could last forever

Texture: soft; meaty

Best use(s): Fresh eating; slices juice up before your eyes

Plant habit, leaf type, and yield: Indeterminate habit; potato leaf; high yield

Maturity: Early crop

Origin: African Queen is Jack Maderis’ family heirloom from North Carolina.

Synonyms: Not the same as regular-leafed African Beefsteak

Seed Sources: mariannasheirloomseeds.com, tatianastomatobase.com, tomatofest.com