The Dester Tomato
One of Our New Favorites
By Kathy McFarland
One of our favorite new tomato varieties that we offer this year is the Dester. This large pink beefsteak variety reaches one to one and a half pounds. Its sweet flavor makes it an excellent slicer. The story of how we acquired the seed for the tomato is interesting in itself.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company is located near a large and thriving Amish community that began when the first Amish moved to nearby Seymour, Missouri, in 1968. The Seymour Amish community has grown over the decades and now has two different produce auctions that are open to the public during the growing season. Our employees often visit the Highway C Amish produce auction to purchase vegetables for use in our on-site restaurant or sometimes to purchase plant starts to put into our many gardens.
Baker Creek owner Jere Gettle is always on the look-out for new seed varieties. As I was heading out to the Amish auction one particular Friday, he asked me to look for Dester tomato plants. He had read about a super- tasting Dester variety of tomato and had heard that an Amish lady named Anna may have some for sale at the auction. I inquired about Anna and her Dester tomatoes at the auction but was told that she was not present that day. However, someone apparently told Anna that I was looking for her, because I received a telephone call from her a couple of days later.
She informed me that she did, indeed, have a few dozen of the Dester tomato plants and would perhaps be interested in selling a few of them to Baker Creek. Anna gave me directions to her house, and we agreed upon a time that I would visit her and discuss purchase of the tomato plants. Being fairly familiar with the Amish community, I had no trouble locating her house.
I found Anna to be a charming woman who welcomed me into her home and willingly shared with me information about her tomato plants. (She also shared some of her homemade peanut brittle and gave me a jar of her rhubarb jam to take home!) Back in the the 1970's, she had been living in Geneva, Indiana, and had worked as a house cleaner for Dr. Herbert E. Dester and his wife in Berne, Indiana. During that time, the Desters had shared their favorite tomato seeds with their house cleaner, Anna. The seeds had originally been brought from Germany and were given to Anna in a medicine bottle. She had treasured the seeds, sometimes planting some of them and sometimes saving some, but always keeping the strain going. Anna took them with her when she eventually relocated from Indiana to Seymour, Missouri, in the year 2000.
Anna showed me her well-tended garden in front of her house and the dozens of lush green tomato plants potted in flats on her front porch. After agreeing on a purchase price and paying for the tomato seedlings, I walked away with two dozen Dester tomato plants for the Baker Creek Gardens and one-half dozen for my own personal garden.
Back at Baker Creek, the tomato plants flourished after being planted into the gardens, and they produced abundantly. As a result, we are now able to offer a delicious tomato variety that we love and that is sure to become a favorite of many gardeners.
(Kathy McFarland is a Baker Creek employee and an avid gardener.)