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finally waking up to ‘riesentraube’ tomato

I MUST HAVE CUT CLASS WHEN ‘RIESENTRAUBE’ TOMATO was in the lesson plan. But how could I have missed or slept through what looks to be such a spectacular small-fruited tomato, especially one that’s been around for more than a century? Thanks to my old friend Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (source of the photo, left), which in 1994 became the first catalog to carry this heirloom, for waking me up to my oversight. Noted, and ordered.

I love ‘Sun Gold’ tomatoes, the tangerine-colored cherry, and wouldn’t be without one plant each year, but I’m always wishing there was a red cherry-sized fruit that was a little different—not your predictable ‘Sweet 100’ or ‘Sweet Million’ kind of character. The larger ‘Chadwick’s Cherry’ is someone special, but an indeterminate grower and later to yield. Perhaps in ‘Riesentraube’ I have finally found my dreamboat?

‘Riesentraube’ (which means giant grape, probably for the way the fruits are bunched) is various said to have good flavor—beefsteak-like, says Southern Exposure—in a highly prolific plant that produces several hundred flowers and then giant clusters of 20 or even 40-plus fruits apiece. I can hardly wait, but I must, as it’s not time to start tomato seeds here yet by a longshot. Though some sources say ‘Riesentraube’ is a compact plant, I suspect that those claims are relative to other indeterminate small-fruited tomato plants, which can get very, very large. We shall see.

Each fruit of this East German heirloom, perhaps grown by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 19th century, has a distinctive pointed end—heirloom tomato expert Amy Goldman calls that “beaked”—and is about an inch and a quarter long. In her book “The Heirloom Tomato,” Goldman says ‘Riesentraube’ is actually a miniature plum.

What’s your favorite small-fruited tomato? Is there room for ‘Riesentraube’ in your life?

  1. Erin says:

    That sounds like a lovely tomato! I’ll be on the lookout for it.

    Last year I grew Black cherry because I figured it would be the best of both worlds: a sweet black with bite-size fruit (I love eating tomatoes while standing in the garden), but it just didn’t produce for me. Of course, none of my tomatoes produced well last year so who knows.

  2. I’m addicted to Matt’s Wild Cherry — It isn’t super complex, just bright, sweet, and explosively juicy — very pleasant to munch on in the garden. I’m playing around now crossing it with Black Krim — hopefully bringing in more smokey, rich, complex, black tomato flavors. We’ll see how it turns out.

  3. Amy says:

    I also like Matt’s Wild Cherry. The plants grow and grow and grow — even under the most adverse conditions. The tomatoes are tiny, but flavorful, they don’t crack and look lovely served with Sun Gold.
    I’ve had very poor luck with heirloom tomatoes in general, the plants just don’t survive here. But ‘RIESENTRAUBE’ looks interesting. Maybe time to try something new.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Amy: I am thinking of growing this tomato in a big tub or whiskey barrel, not in the ground, because as you say heirlooms can sometimes be tricky. It’s said to be a compact plant. We shall see…

  4. Amy says:

    Margaret, great idea! Start seeds in sterile medium, fill the tub with fresh soil, and even move it around the yard if we are sun deprived again this summer. Worth a try!

  5. Megan says:

    I was considering getting the Riesentraube this year. After reading your article I think I will! I do not care for most small cherry tomatoes because they are too sweet. Maybe this one will be the trick. Also, I found this variety through Seed Saver’s Exchange!
    Thanks for your always wonderful articles!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Megan. I will be interested to see ow we all do experimenting a little with our small-fruited tomatoes this year. SHould be fun. Glad to have you along, and thanks for your nice words.

  6. JennFL says:

    I grew this last year and I would disagree with the “compact” description, I had it looped onto several neighboring plant stakes. Definitely prolific. I would maybe try to train it around a cage like a cucumber…

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jenn. I went in and fixed that; I read so many descriptions of it that say “compact” but there is no substitute for first-hand experience. I think that those who are describing it as compact must mean relative to other indeterminate small-fruited tomatoes (which can turn into near-trees). :) Thank you for providing some perspective. Hope to see you soon again.

  7. Maya says:

    I think I need to sit down, order some seeds, and quit playing around. While my part of the state is currently under a blizzard warning, I just have not been motivated. But yes! I love tiny tomatoes and Riesentraube seem to be calling my name!

  8. Tammy says:

    I have seen these and almost ordered them a couple of times. The cherry tomato I have had the best luck with here, in the Dallas area, has been the Porter cherry. They really take the heat and just keep on producing. They are a larger cherry than say sweet 100 and have a wonderful flavor!

  9. Barbara H says:

    Hi Margaret, I also grew Riesentraube last year. It was the very first tomato plant to produce fruit for me last summer (zone 6) and it continued to provide fruit till frost. The tomatoes were delicious. The plant was large, and rather sprawling. Due to lack of all day sun anywhere in my garden I grow all of my tomatoes in containers on my driveway….they love baking on the asphalt :)

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Beth. I have bought wooden barrels at my local farm/feed supply (called Agway here) or the garden center; I suspect the big-box stores may also carry, but haven’t looked there. They have gotten more expensive lately (like $40; again, probably less at the big stores) but seem to last forever and can stay out all winter (the barrels, not the tomatoes of course!). I like the ones that are “used” and have actually contained booze, thnen been recycled into planters, but there are new ones, too, that are more perfect-looking.

      I am so happy to know that you are in the fold of gardeners today, and want to say a personal “welcome” about that development. Do come visit and holler when you need help. We are here.

      Welcome, Barbara. I love the first-hand ‘Riesentraube’ endorsement, hallelujah, and also the container experience. I really think I am heading that way, too. I hope to see you soon again, and really appreciate your timely comment.

  10. Beth - Total Mom Haircut says:

    I am trying heirlooms for my first time this year and was thinking of doing them in a large container/barrel like that as well. Where do you find those? Are they sold at garden centers and so forth?

    I’m happy to come back to your blog. Over a year ago I was in the audience of the Martha show on blogging and you were a guest. I remember looking at your blog and talking on my own about how lovely it is, particularly the photos. The subject matter is closer to my heart now though since I’ve started gardening since then. So I’m very new to it, but also very enthusiastic. I hope I don’t kill any heirlooms…

  11. Kerry says:

    Hi Margaret – I’ve grown tomatoes in lots of different kinds of containers, including upside down (really didn’t like that), Earthboxes (liked those surprisingly well), and pots of all types. I’m also a big fan of growing tomatoes in bags. I grew several enormous tomatoes in reusable grocery bags (seriously). I use the plastic kind that you can buy at Whole Foods for 99 cents. They also have a small lunch sized bag that I grew herbs and flowers in. I don’t know why, but plants seem to love these containers. I’m also a fan of using cloth pots for tomatoes, that you can either buy from Gardeners Supply or Smart Pots. They are inexpensive and really work well.
    After reading so many good things about it, I’m going to try the ‘RIESENTRAUBE’ too, though I’m still in my annual state of spring seed-buying paralysis and haven’t ordered any.

  12. Eileen says:

    Last year (my first at growing all heirlooms) I grew Riesentraube. It was the tallest tomato plant in my garden. When my tomatoes got bugs, every single Riesentraube had a bug spot at its base. Still, I sliced off the ends and canned them, and they were wonderful this winter. I don’t know why the bugs liked them so much!

  13. Eileen says:

    “Sun Gold” have fantastic, sweet flavor, and my toddler grandson ate them off the vine all summer. I recommend them highly for getting vitamins into children! It was a sweet ritual to visit the garden every evening and help him pick the newly-ripened ones.

  14. Trish says:

    We are growing the Riesentraube tomato this year…what a wonderful, prolific, compact tomato plant! It is a production machine…..the little tomatoes grow in bunches like grapes. My son has never liked tomatoes, but he loves the Riesentraube for its texture and hearty and sweet taste. We planted five different tomato plants, but the Riesentraube is by far our favorite.

  15. TomW says:

    Been browsing your blog and ran into this article. Thanks for the info. This is a new tomato hunting year for me. I have been growing my favorite heirloom – Stupice – for probably about 20 years already. To that, add my favorite, prolific cherry tomato – Gold Nugget. But my choice for paste tomatoes has come and gone with the seed catalog offerings. However, this year I signed up for the Seed Savers exchange and found many of my older favorites. And I have been reading the various heirloom tomato books out there to find a new selection. Presently I am growing Black Krim (yeah, who can resist). We are having a very slow tomato year here in the PNW but the Krim’s are slowly coming on. Thank goodness for a reported hot spell in the next few days. In general, I prefer the determinate paste varieties so that when the August late blight bringing rains come, I can simply throw a clear plastic cover over my determinate row. Thanks again for the report. Because of it, I’ll probably add Riesentraube to my list next year. Regards, TomW

  16. ona says:

    By virtue of a lucky accident, I purchased a seedling of “Riesentraube” this past season. I had never heard of it before, but wanted to plant something new. This tomato was spectacular. 1 1/2 inch tomatoes (BIG cherries), nice skin, nice flavor.
    Forget the 20-40 tomato clusters that the descriptions advertise. There were so many tomatoes on each cluster (I tried counting–gave up over 100) that I got tired picking them. The tomatoes ripen from the base of the cluster, and continue to bloom and form fruit at the tip of the cluster during the ENTIRE growing season. Every 3-4 days I picked a heaping colander full of tomatoes. I couldn’t keep up!. Even after the first couple frosts (Chicago), the plant was still trying to bloom and was full of tomatoes (green, but what the heck). I made tons of oven-dried tomatoes…delicious.

  17. steve ellis says:

    a question about reisentraube. is it determinate or not, and can it be propagated from cuttings ? i bought two at a farmers market. i’d like to make a few more for a second planting. any feedback?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Steve. Seed Savers Exchange and various other catalogs say indeterminate. I have never propagated more plants from my tomatoes personally, but have read many times that you can even root them in water. Would love to hear how it goes.

  18. charles says:

    i am doing reisentraube this year .so far so good, but still have not been able to eat one as they are still green. black cherry for me didn’t do well last year. greatest success was blondkopchen [yellow cherry tomatoes]. would do those every year buy like to change it up.. next year i want to try a blue variety.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Charles. I’m trying the “black” cheery, too — not very dark-colored and so I am not sold on it either — at least not yet.

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