What’s so special about a Jersey Tomato?
By Ellie Spray
Summer is finally here! And soon the much-anticipated Jersey Tomato will be hitting farm stands across the state. For some of us, memories of a thick slab of home-grown Jersey Tomato, just-picked and still warm from the sun, on soft, sliced bread with a bit of salt and pepper, and a smidge of mayo brings back lazy, hot summer days from our childhood. The sweet and tart juicy tomato we remember was most likely the Rutgers Tomato, a high-sugar, high-acid variety from the 1930”s. But do today’s Jersey tomatoes taste the same?
It turns out the classic Jersey Tomato we remember was not a single variety but actually an array of varieties that did well in NJ’s climate and a range of soil types. The end result was a sweet and tangy, flavorful tomato available throughout our growing season depending on the ripening rate of the variety. A favorite variety, the Ramapo, was introduced by Rutgers NJAES (NJ Agriculture Experimental Station) in 1968. Although having a loyal following, it was judged too soft for long-distance shipping and commercial seed producers discontinued the production of the variety. Rutgers continued to produce small batches of the seed until they finally found a commercial seed producer who was willing to produce an amount they could afford. The Ramapo seed was re-released in 2008, 40 years after its introduction and enthusiastically welcomed by local growers and gardeners alike. Rutgers” “Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato Project” researches what makes a tomato tasty and has brought back long lost favorite tomato varieties along with conducting tomato tastings and communicating with gardeners and farmers on growing delicious tomatoes.
The Jersey Tomato varieties are bred for their taste and not for long-distance shipping, and will not last for weeks after picking. They are vine-ripened when picked and are best eaten within days of purchase. So aside from joyfully anticipating this delicious time of year, given their relatively short shelf-life, we know that donations of these homegrown gems will be plentiful. Within hours they will be on the tables of our recipient agencies and stocking our mobile markets, ensuring that every New Jersey resident has access to the best taste of the summer!