The Brandywine Tomato: Setting The Standard For All Heirloom Tomatoes

Looking for a big, delicious, fresh heirloom tomato? Look no further than the prized Brandywine tomato!

The Brandywine Tomato is a large, red-pink heirloom tomato cultivar prized among tomato lovers for its delicious taste and consistency when eaten fresh. These big tomatoes grow on long, indeterminate vines with potato-leaved foliage that require vertical stakes or trellises. Brandywine tomatoes are almost exclusively grown by home gardeners and small market farmers rather than by larger commercial growers. The Brandywine is consistently named as one of the best-tasting tomatoes available.

Read on to learn all about Brandywine tomatoes!

Ripe brandywine tomato
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes

The Brandywine Tomato

The Brandywine Tomato is an old American heirloom tomato from Pennsylvania. This prized heritage variety is likely named after the Brandywine river and/or the Brandywine area in Chester County.

Brandywine tomatoes are large fruits with a pink peel and an oblate, flattened shape. The Brandywine Tomato is among the largest types of tomatoes, with some ripe fruits weighing 1-2 pounds.

Brandywine tomato plants are also very large, with vines growing to over 10 feet long if growing conditions permit. The plants are indeterminate, and keep growing until killed by frost or cut away. Most gardeners support their Brandywine plants with large tomato cages, cattle fencing, tall obelisks, or garden arches. Typical hardware-store tomato cages are much too small for Brandywine tomato plants.

Potato leaf foliage of pink brandywine tomato plant
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes

The leaves of Brandywine plants are unlike the leaves of many other popular types of tomatoes. Brandywine tomato plants are “potato-leaved” (see photo above), meaning that the edges of their leaves are smooth (like the leaves of a potato plant). Most other tomatoes have serrated leaves. The serrated leaves are the more dominant trait of the two, and so potato-leaved varieties are rare. If you see a plant labeled as Brandywine that has serrated leaves – leave it at the store! It’s probably mis-labeled.

Brandywine tomatoes typically ripen 70-90 days after the seedling plant is transplanted outdoors into a garden bed or other permanent growing location.

Brandywine seedling tomato plant
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes
Brandywine slicer tomato
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes

What Do Brandywine Tomatoes Taste Like?

In terms of taste, the Brandywine tomato is often considered the standard by which all other heirloom tomatoes are judged.

Brandywine is known for its intense, balanced flavor. These tomatoes have just the right amount of rich sweetness and succulent tartness. Brandywine is one of a number of yummy pink-colored tomatoes, along with others like German Johnson, Pink Ponderosa, Mortgage Lifter, and Anna Russian (heart-shaped).

“An authentic Brandywine has an unmatched succulent texture that melts in your mouth. The flavor enlivens the taste buds, with all the favorable components of the best tomatoes – tartness, sweetness, fullness, and complexity – in perfect balance.”

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier
Brandywine tomatoes
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes

How To Grow Brandywine Tomatoes

Growing Brandywine tomatoes is very similar to growing other types of heirloom tomatoes.

Brandywine tomatoes can be grown at home from seed or can be purchased as potted seedling plants from a plant nursery. If growing from seed, purchase your Brandywine tomato seeds in the winter and plant them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your area (usually this means sowing seeds indoors sometime in February-March). The easier option is to buy seedling Brandywine tomato plants. Whether you’re growing from seed or from purchased seedlings, don’t put them outdoors until threat of frost has passed. Brandywine tomato plants are easily damaged at temperatures below 43°F (6°C).

Once outdoors, plant your Brandywine tomato plants in nutrient-rich soil that drains water easily. These are large plants which should be spaced about 2 feet apart. They grow particularly well in raised garden beds and in large containers like wine barrel gardens. Put the Brandywine plants in a location where their leaves get direct sunlight for at least 6-8 hours per day. Also ensure they are close to a water source so they will be watered consistently (a drip irrigation system is excellent for watering tomato plants).

Brandywine tomato plants are indeterminate, meaning their vines keep growing longer and longer throughout the season. These larger vines require a significant trellis or cage structure to support them. Skip the small standard hardware store tomato cages and opt for a heavy-duty tomato cage, a sturdy vertical plant stake, a large garden obelisk, or even a metal garden arch. Use twine or plant ties to secure the vines to the support structure as they grow.

Heirloom tomato plants like Brandywine are heavy feeders, and can benefit from high-quality organic fertilizer. Start with some homemade compost (or store-bought organic compost if you don’t have homemade). For an extra nutrient boost, try an organic tomato fertilizer, like one of these options:

Brandywine tomato plant growing
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes

Are Brandywine Tomatoes Hard To Grow?

Brandywine tomatoes are not hard to grow, but they are also not the easiest plant to grow either. Brandywine is one of the more inconsistent producers, growing batch of delicious fruits one year and a measly small few the next. Small, hybrid tomatoes like the Sungold tomato are generally much easier to grow. That said, there are a few steps you can take to make growing Brandywine tomatoes as simple as possible.

The first tip is to purchase a potted baby tomato plant instead of starting your Brandywine tomatoes from seeds. Tomato seedlings can be finicky, and require supplemental lighting and occasional repotting. Let the plant nursery do that work for you and buy the baby plants instead!

Secondly, get your tomato planting area ready prior to planting the baby Brandywines. Plant them in a raised garden bed if possible, or perhaps a large whisky barrel garden. Use a nutrient-rich organic potting mix that allows water to drain out easily. Add a substantial trellis for the tomato plant’s vines. Brandywine tomato plants also benefit from consistent water from a drip irrigation system.

Here are a list of the easiest vegetables for beginners to grow in the vegetable garden.

Organic tomato fertilizer
A good organic tomato fertilizer can help your brandywine tomato plants grow extra large!

Harvesting Brandywine Tomatoes

Brandywine tomatoes (and other large varieties) can be left to ripen on the vine, but can also be harvested when they are not-quite ripe. A truly pink Brandywine tomato on the vine can be picked at the peak of ripeness, but should be eaten immediately. Slightly un-ripe Brandywine tomatoes that are not yet totally pink can also be harvested (which protects them from birds, deer, hail, et cetera). Leave your picked Brandywines to ripen on the kitchen counter at room temperature rather than putting them in the refrigerator (which can give them a mealy texture).

The Brandywine Tomato: A Superior Slicer

Brandywine tomatoes are considered one of the best-tasting types of slicer tomatoes. Slicer tomatoes are large varieties bred to be eaten fresh soon after picking. Slicer tomatoes are perfect on tomato sandwiches or in bruschetta. The high sugar content of most slicers makes them better for eating fresh than for canning. Most slicers weigh at least six ounces, although a single Brandywine tomato can weigh a pound or more!

Renee's garden organic seeds - heirloom brandywine tomatoes
Brandywine tomatoes are often labelled as “heirloom” :)

Are Brandywine Tomatoes Heirloom Tomatoes?

Brandywine tomatoes are heirloom tomatoes. The Brandywine is only variety (cultivar) of heirloom tomato (there are hundreds of types of heirloom tomatoes!). The Brandywine tomato and other heirlooms are old varieties that have been handed down for generations. Like all heirlooms, Brandywine tomatoes are open-pollinated, meaning that seeds saved from the fruits will “breed true”. Old, open-pollinated tomato varieties like Brandywine are generally considered to be “heirloom tomatoes” if their seeds been handed down for at least 50 years (or two generations).

Red brandywine tomato plants - burpee
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes

Other Types Of Brandywine Tomato

While the large pink Brandywine tomatoes are generally considered the classic, original Brandywine, there are a number of related types of Brandywine tomato which likely share some genetic relation to the popular pink Brandywine fruits.

“The original Brandywine is pink; there are also red and yellow types. Brandy Boy is a hybrid that produces larger numbers of similar fruit.”

You Bet Your Garden Guide to Growing Great Tomatoes: How to Grow Great-Tasting Tomatoes in Any Backyard, Garden, or Container, by Mike McGrath

Red Brandywine is an heirloom cultivar of tomato with delicious red-colored fruits that are typically a bit smaller than pink Brandywine tomatoes. Red Brandywine tomatoes also ripen earlier in the season, making them a mid-season variety (as opposed to the late-season harvest for pink/regular Brandywine tomatoes).

Yellow Brandywine is another type of tomato with possible relation to the original pink Brandywine. Yellow Brandywine tomatoes have a yellow-orange peel and the same large, flattened/oblate shape. The flavor of Yellow Brandywine tomatoes is sometimes more tart than the pink original Brandywine.

Black Brandywine is a darker purple-red heirloom tomato with Brandywine heritage. Black Brandywine tomatoes are large and have the complex, sweet flavor typical of great purple-black-brown tomatoes.

Brandy Boy is a modern hybrid tomato (not an heirloom) bred to have similar fruits to the original, but to produce more fruits more reliably. Brandy Boy hybrid plants are less large and unruly than the heirloom originals, and also have improved resistance to disease (and earlier harvest). The Brandy Boy tomato received the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2014.

Brandywine tomato
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes

How Tall Do Brandywine Tomato Plants Get?

Brandywine tomato plants are among the largest types of tomato plants to grow, with vines routinely reaching 8-10 feet long. A Brandywine plant can easily exceed 10 feet tall if the main stem is staked vertically and if growing conditions permit. Brandywine tomato plants are indeterminate, meaning that a single plant will continue to grow in height throughout the growing season (as opposed to reaching a terminal height like bush-type plants). They can get quite giant!

Brandywine tomatoes from the garden
The brandywine tomato: setting the standard for all heirloom tomatoes
Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also an engineer and certified permaculture garden designer. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.