Oscar Pearson Hard Fruit Tomato
Origin: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Improvement status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~35
Germination tested 12/2019: 75%
Life cycle: Annual
EFN EXCLUSIVE. Oscar Harris Pearson was quite a person. Born in New Hampshire in 1902, he earned his PhD in horticulture in 1928 at the UC-Davis. The next year he married Helen Ruth Monosmith, who had just received her own PhD in genetics from UC-Berkeley. Together, the two talented scientists would raise six children as they pursued a life of science. Oscar's career brought him around the world. For a time he was the head of seed research for Agway. He also spent years breeding for the Ferry-Morse Company, before settling into a job in academia with Cornell University. During the 1970s, he split his time between Cornell and Dakar, Senegal, where he was a consultant for a company called Bud-Senegal on an ignominious (really quite terrible) and ultimately failed project to grow vegetables for shipping to wealthy markets in Europe. In the process, the Dutch company expropriated hundreds of acres of land, kicked out countless families, uprooted baobab trees 25 feet wide, and piped water from very far away (and past people who were suffering a shortage of water). Despite very favorable treatment from the corrupt authorities, the business model and methods of American agriculture proved unsuited to Senegal and the plan to turn it into a winter vegetable patch for Europe was an utter failure. Oscar Pearson's role in all this is hard to piece together from the publicly available records, but within a few years he was apparently settled back into life breeding tomatoes at Cornell. He retired after the death of his wife in 1993, and died himself in 2004, at the ripe old age of 102.
Most noted today for his work with tomatoes, corn, and cabbage, the 'Pearson Improved' tomato is still commercially available. Yet the 'Oscar Pearson Hard Fruit' has managed to slip into obscurity. We believe we are the first to ever sell it. An extraordinary tomato, it is the hardest red tomato you will ever meet. As hard as an unripe green tomato even when fully ripe, these tomatoes won't get soft until they start to rot. But despite being hard, it actually tastes like a good tomato. It's perfect for those who like to bite into tomatoes like apples, if they want to feel like they're really eating an apple! We're selling it not only as a curiosity, which it undoubtedly is, but as a truly useful tomato with lots of potential for plant breeding. While corporate-affiliated scientists splice genes and irradiate seedlings in attempts to genetically engineer tomatoes with longer shelf lives (though thankfully no GMO tomatoes have been released since the mid-1990s "FlavrSavr", which was taken off the market in 1997), 'Oscar Pearson Hard Fruit' was bred traditionally and could become the basis for a whole new generation of delicious tomatoes with longer shelf lives and more durability in handling. Perhaps crossing them with the very long-lasting 'Mallorcan Winter Tomato' (available through Baker Creek's William Woys Weaver collection) would be a good place to start! We believe such breeding work is very important right now, not only for the inherent value of what it might produce, but because it is so important to demonstrate that genetic engineering is unnecessary (despite what the corporate propaganda would have us all believe). The best way to secure a stable food supply for the coming centuries of climate chaos is to return to broad-based traditional plant breeding featuring regionally adapted varieties and a societal commitment to preserving old varietes, landraces, and crop wild relatives, along with the habitats in which they thrive.
GROWING TIPS: Start seeds indoors in March or early April, transplant outside after danger of last frost. Space plants 16-24 inches apart. They will benefit from a trellis or tomato cage. Full sun preferred.