A Cherokee Purple tomato in the first stages of development.
Cherokee purple is the name of a cultivar of tomato, unusual for the deep purple/red hue of its fruit. It was one of the first of the "black" color group of tomatoes. It is also unusual in being extremely popular for the sake of its flavor, instead of only its unusual color. Cherokee Purple tomatoes are beefsteak in style, with green "shoulders" across the top. They are also notable for having a dense, juicy texture, with small seed locules irregularly scattered throughout the flesh. The comparatively dark interior color is enhanced by the tendency of the seeds to be surrounded by green gel.
This cultivar originated with Craig LeHoullier, who claimed it was a century-old cultivar originating with the Cherokee people. In 1990, while living in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Craig received unsolicited in the mail, from John Green of Sevierville, Tennessee, a brief note and a small packet of seeds. The note indicated that John wanted to share this unnamed tomato with Craig, and that it was a purple tomato that the Cherokee Indians gave to his neighbors 100 years ago. Upon growing the seeds and observing the fruit, Craig was surprised and delighted to find that the fruit was remarkably close to being a true purple in color (pink tomatoes were often referred to as purple in horticultural literature, so the color of the tomato was quite a surprise). The tomato was named in line with the note that accompanied the seeds, and a sample of seeds were sent that winter to Jeff McCormack, founder of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, as well as listed in the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) Yearbook 1991 edition. A few years later, Craig also sent it to Rob Johnston, founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds. Both seed companies elected to multiply the seed and carry the variety in their seed catalogs. Craig sent out many seed samples to SSE members over the next few years. Through these transactions, as well as the availability via the two seed companies, Cherokee Purple has become a very popular, widely grown and well regarded variety. Craig now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Cherokee Purple remains one of his favorite varieties in a tomato collection that numbers well over 1500 varieties.