By Doug Oster
I originally wrote about Dan Cummings in 2016. Unfortunately he has since passed away. We were gardening friends for decades. Whenever I was in West Mifflin, I would stop by his house. He loved growing dahlias, tomatoes and lots of other things. When he told me about tomato seeds he had been growing, which had originally been found on a battlefield during WWII, I was intrigued.
Dan was grounds supervisor at CCAC South Campus in the 1970s, where he became friends with Joe Roberts, who enjoyed walking at the grounds at the school.
The two became friends and when Dan visited Joe’s garden he was blown away by the size of a tomato growing on the vine.
“I said, ‘Holy smokes, Joe, that sucker is a monster,’” Dan said back in 2016 while relating the story.
Joe then told him the tale of how he stumbled on to the tomato while crossing a battlefield during WWII. He picked some of the tomatoes, enjoying a fresh snack. Joe loved the big red tomato and saved a few seeds, stuffing them into a pocket.
The tomato’s name has changed several times. First, because one slice of the tomato was enough to cover an entire slice of bread, Roberts named it ‘Sandwich.’ He then settled on ‘Sweetheart’ for a few years.
“In the ’90s I said to him, ‘World War II started in 1939, and it was over in ’45. Why don’t you just change the name to 3945?’ That’s how we came up with the name,” Dan said.
Over the years, the story has faded. Roberts passed away around 2003, and Cummings couldn’t remember where exactly Roberts found the tomato or what branch of the service he served in. But he shares the seeds and story with any gardener interested.
“It’s in memory of him and all the servicemen who fought from WWII,” Cummings said of the tomato, which he started growing in the 1980s.
The giant tomatoes are a reddish orange with a texture that’s both meaty and juicy, with lots of tiny seeds and a wonderful old-fashioned flavor.
“When I plant the tomatoes, I usually make a sign of the cross, bless them and ask the good Lord to make them grow so I can share them with everybody,” he said back in 2018.
He stressed that the plant needs a big cage, anchored in the ground with a long piece of rebar.
“I fly a flag every day in my yard in memory of those who fought and died for us,” he said proudly. “Can you imagine a unit of soldiers going across a battlefield and seeing a field of tomatoes? They took time out from protecting themselves to stop and eat some tomatoes and then to bring the seeds home and to grow them. It’s just mind-boggling.”
I also have some ‘Clint Eastwood Rowdy Red’ tomato seeds from Tomatofest that I will include. Tomatofest is a great seed company, you should order some seeds from them.
For a free packet of ‘3945’ tomato seeds and the Clint Eastwood seeds, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:
P.O. Box 11013