external facebook instagramlinkedin pinterest playsearch twitteryoutube


‘German Pink’: the tomato that started it all

Here at Heritage Farmthe Northeast Iowa home of Seed Savers Exchangethe ‘German Pink’ tomato is perhaps better known as “tomato number one” or “the tomato that started it all.”

Today Seed Savers Exchange stewards approximately 20,000 heirloom varieties, including thousands of tomato varieties. But Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy founded the organization in 1975 with just two—‘Grandpa Ott’s’ Morning Glory and the ‘German Pink’ tomato, a legacy Amy Goldman, SSE special advisor, recounts in her book The Heirloom Tomato (which features the ‘German Pink’ on its cover):

“Diane Ott Whealy’s paternal great-grandfather, Michael Ott, carried the seed with him from Bremen, Germany, on board the SS Main. He set foot on U.S. soil on November 3, 1883; three months later, in West Union, Iowa, he filed an ‘Intention to Become an American Citizen,’” she writes. “One can suppose he planted saved seeds that first Iowa spring, claiming American citizenship for the tomato now known as ‘German Pink’ and for ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ Morning Glory—the two varieties with which Seed Savers Exchange was eventually founded…thus ensuring the survival of their own treasured seeds and those of thousands of other gardeners.”

What makes the ‘German Pink’ tomato stand out, aside from its oh-so-special history? For starters, it’s a true all-purpose tomato, ideal for eating fresh (see recipes below!), juicing, stewing, roasting, canning, and freezing. It boasts a sweet, full flavor, high yields, few seeds, a creamy texture, and crack resistance. And did we mention the large, 1-2 pound, pink fruits are beautiful to behold? ‘German Pink’ truly does check all the boxes.

Seed Savers Exchange may steward thousands of tomato varieties of all sizes, colors, acidity, flavor, and backgrounds, but perhaps no other tomato is as storied (or beloved) as the ‘German Pink’ that grows regularly in the gardens at Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa.

How to grow the ‘German Pink’ tomato

Start ‘German Pink’ seeds indoors six weeks prior to the last frost date for your area. Plant the seeds to a depth of ¼ inch in trays or pots, making sure to keep the soil moist. Transfer them to 3-inch pots when their true leaves appear. After hardening off your plants, transplant them outdoors two to three feet apart in nutrient-rich soil when soil temperatures reach at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the danger of frost has passed. Be sure to provide the plants with some sort of support such as a trellis, cage or stakes. Water your plants at their base to avoid wetting the leaves, which will foster fungal diseases. You will soon be harvesting plenty of the gorgeous, pink-hued fruit. Be sure to save some of the seeds for the following year!

Helena Hackman and Baptist John Ott, Diane Ott Whealy’s grandparents and longtime stewards of the ‘German Pink’ tomato and ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory.

‘German Pink’ tomato recipes

By Diane Ott Whealy

‘German Pink’ tomato

“The first ripe ‘German Pink’ tomatoes in late August in Iowa were always worth the wait. These tomatoes needed no fancy recipe to be enjoyed; we usually ate the thick slices just sprinkled with sugar, served on a large white plate,” says Diane. “Today everyone wants to add feta, basil, olive oil, and other embellishments, but these tomatoes don’t need any embellishment. These two simple recipes for the ‘German Pink’ are still enjoyed in our family today.”

Tomato Sandwiches


  • ‘German Pink’ tomatoes
  • Bread (My mother used homemade white, but today I use a hearty whole grain.)
  • Thick mayonnaise (I always splurge on the thickest, best brand.)
  • Fresh ground pepper 
  • Coarse sea salt

Slice bread, spread mayo on both top and bottom pieces, place tomato slices on bottom slice of bread, and sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper. Add the top slice of bread, slice in half, and dig into a juicy tomato sandwich!

Tomatoes and Cream
Growing up on a dairy farm, we had endless amounts of cream to pour over everything! This simple recipe handed down from my great-grandmother has probably never been served in any five-star restaurant but has been found on many Iowa kitchen tables.


  • ‘German Pink’ tomatoes
  • 1 small cup of thick cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Whisk and dissolve sugar in cream. Pour over a shallow bowl of sliced tomatoes. (I cheat just a bit and add a pinch of salt.) Let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes, then serve on salad plates and enjoy! (Note: This dressing can also be enjoyed over cucumbers, lettuce, or radishes, but add two tablespoons of vinegar to it.)

Diane Ott Whealy poses in her garden at Heritage Farm, where ‘German Pink’ tomatoes are frequently grown.