Vivian Howard Picks Her Favorite Tomatoes

So, you’re about to make Vivian Howard’s delicious stewed tomatoes (check out the recipe on Before you do that, you have to choose your tomatoes, which might be the hardest part of the recipe! 

Most tomato connoisseurs have their favorite heirloom tomato variety and Vivian is no different. In a memorable episode of “A Chef’s Life” where tomatoes were the guest star, Vivian called tomatoes “my favorite ingredient.” With North Carolina farmers growing such a wide assortment of summer’s finest crop, we approached Vivian with a difficult question: What are your favorite heirloom varieties of tomatoes...and why? By the way, the term “heirloom” refers to a traditional variety of a plant that has remained the same for many generations. After a little contemplation, these are the heirloom tomatoes Vivian prefers when tomato season is at its peak.

Cherokee Purple
Vivian puts forth a bold challenge. “I invite anyone willing to argue there’s a better slicing tomato on the planet than Cherokee Purples. Unfortunately for my opponent, the argument must include a taste test because words don’t matter in this fight. Cherokee Purples taste old school like they traveled here on a time machine and missed all the selection and modification that made grocery store tomatoes hard, bland, and lifeless.”
Vivian is not alone in loving these burgundy beauties. It is easily one of the most popular heirloom varieties known for its plumpness and funky shapes. The size and “slicability” of Cherokee Purples make them perfect candidates for the classic southern tomato sandwich, which features white bread, mayo, and, of course, thick slices of your favorite tomato.

German Johnson
Vivian says, “because they are a little less juicy and more substantial than Cherokee Purples, they’re my absolute favorite for canning.”

German Johnsons are firmer and a little less perishable than Cherokee Purples but still bring that tomato essence. “Much like Cherokee Purples,” Vivian notes, “German Johnsons generate large thick slices that make them sandwich stars. They are a low-acid, heirloom variety, and for people like me who eat at least one tomato sandwich a day during the summer, that’s good news for the belly. I vote them my second choice for slicing.”
Cherry Tomatoes
Vivian has a sweet spot for these little darlings. “These are like little orange tomato candies,” she gushes. “They're so tomato-forward that if they were bigger and therefore sliceable they'd absolutely outpace all other varieties as the centerpiece of my tomato sandwich. Alas, they’re tiny and slicing them for much of anything is a pain, so I love to make BLT salads with them using croutons and a pesto-mayo style dressing.” Vivian also loves making what she calls, “a killer quick tomato sauce for pasta and a tomato soup that reminds me of Campbell’s in the best possible way.” Cherry tomatoes are also prolific and easier to grow than most slicing varieties, so if you’re new to gardening or don’t have much of a green thumb, they’re pretty forgiving. 

Although eating stewed tomatoes by themselves is never frowned upon, Vivian offers a few dishes that pair well with your stewed tomatoes in her opus of a cookbook, Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South. According to her, stewed tomatoes provide balance to a variety of recipes, and, they’re quite good for you, too! Tomatoes are high in a nutrient called lycopene, an antioxidant linked to important heart benefits including protecting against high blood pressure and stroke.

Read more about the associated health benefits of North Carolina-based produce, and find exclusive Vivian Howard recipes, on