New Jersey’s always been famous for its tomatoes — and the end of August is usually the best time to find them. But the state is only eighth in the country for tomato production, last year producing 63.8 million pounds on 2,900 acres.
Eighth may sound like a strong finish, but for a state known internationally for the red fruit, it’s a surprising showing. Yet consumers sometimes complain that while far superior to any supermarket tomato, even the freshest farm-stand tomato can’t match the taste of Jersey tomatoes of their childhood. There are reasons for that. Nowadays consumers prefer perfectly round and unblemished tomatoes; modern shipping methods demand a very firm tomato (picked before it’s ripened); commercial growers seek out high-yield varieties; and fertilization techniques have changed. The Ramapo tomato, once one of the most popular New Jersey varieties, was dropped from seed catalogues about 20 years ago because of its relatively low yield.
In an effort to return to that special taste, researchers at Rutgers University have brought back the Ramapo tomato and are looking at other issues like fertilization and soil to rediscover that unique New Jersey flavor. Those who wish to taste some of those rediscoveries for themselves should attend the 20th annual great tomato tasting on September 1 at the Rutgers Snyder Research & Extension Farm.