It’s been 10 years since one of the most renowned varieties of New Jersey tomatoes was relaunched — after having dropped out of our salads and off the face of the earth.
In general, New Jersey tomatoes are justifiably famous for their size, flavor and juice. But when Rutgers University developed the Ramapo tomato in 1968, it was somewhat of a miracle plant: fast-growing, crack-resistant and immune to diseases. Bernard Pollack of Rutgers’ New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) had spent eight years breeding it to be the perfect Jersey tomato. Gardeners — and gastronomists — loved it.
And then it disappeared.
By the late 1980s, seed companies had completely phased out the Ramapo. They were more interested in marketing new tomato varieties that were firmer, more durable and could withstand being shipped cross-country. But they weren’t nearly as tasty.
Ramapo loyalists got upset and even started a letter-writing campaign demanding the return of their favorite tomato. For a short while, NJAES produced and distributed small batches of the variety to appease them.
Decades after the last Ramapos went off the market, vegetable agents at Rutgers sought to reintroduce the plant. In 2008, they identified a facility in Israel that could produce large enough quantities of the seeds to resurrect the Ramapo variety. The seeds sold out within three months of hitting the market — and were quickly restocked.
Today, the Ramapo lives on, in grocery stores, farmers markets and backyards. Since its reintroduction in 2008 — and the associated launch of the Rediscover the Jersey Tomato program — three more varieties with the “delicious tangy old time Jersey tomato flavor” have been introduced: the Rutgers 250, the Moreton and the KC-146. Fortunately, tomato season is just around the corner.