Why do delicious tomatoes come from Jersey?
I stood this Saturday at the farmer’s market looking at the sign over the tomatoes that said, “Delicious because I’m from Jersey!” and I thought to myself when did being from Jersey make ANYTHING tasty? Poor Jersey… always at the butt of all the jokes in Northeast but let’s get real. When I drive down the NJ Turnpike thru Elizabeth to head to Ikea off of Exit 13a the last thing I think of is juicy tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella drizzled with golden olive oil. So what’s the scoop? Why are we all of a sudden surrounded by these amazing tomatoes from New Jersey?
According to the New Jersey Leisure Guide
“New Jersey, the most populated state in the nation, with virtually no large commercial vegetable farmers, was not in a position to compete with the large commercial farms from California, Florida, and Mexico. In Florida they are picked green and gassed with ethylene to give them a redder glow before being shipped. In some cases, they may be picked with a longer vine ripening time but would then have to be refrigerated before they are shipped and refrigeration degrades the taste and nutrients. Tomatoes grown in Mexico where labor is cheaper than in California and Florida are usually tastier because many of the farms hand pick them after a longer period on the vine.
There is good news in all of this for New Jersey farmers in that it created a niche for them to operate in. Without having to concern itself with picking green, tasteless tomatoes that would have to withstand long periods of transport and storage, they were instead able to cultivate varieties of that are stake grown to protect it from soil borne diseases, and picked when soft and vine ripened for immediate sale to the local markets and farm stands for the enjoyment of New Jersey consumers. Of course, the tastier tomatoes were able to command a higher price to off-set their higher growing costs.
In 1968, the Ramapo Tomato was developed at Rutgers University by Dr. Bernard Pollack. This tomato was a very tasty tomato that was ideally suited for east coast soil and weather conditions. The downfall was that the Ramapo variety, although superior in taste to the other varieties on the market, had limited demand, and virtually none from the large commercial farms. As a result of the low demand, the Ramapo seed soon disappeared from seed catalogues. However, in response to public outcry for the Ramapo tomato, in 2008, Rutgers University re introduced the Ramapo seed for commercial production for the small farm/garden market. This initial release of only 8,000 seed packets was aimed at the small, niche farms and the home gardener who were willing to take special care and cost in the growing of Tomatoes to achieve the superior taste.”
So thank you Rutgers for helping Jersey get in touch with a delicious tradition that now provides all of us in the NYC area with delicious tomatoes that arrive red because they were actually ready to be picked off the vine, fragrant, not mealy in texture and full of flavor.