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Jersey Tomatoes

Chowhounds from the NY/NJ area love these. Are they really any different from good summer tomatoes from home gardens or farmers' markets in the rest of the country? Is this another NY/NJ thing like bagels?

All I can find out is that they are picked vine-ripe and moved to market very quickly. New Jersey, the Garden State. Lots of great agriculture near big cities. Essential for great tomatoes. http://njaes.rutgers.edu/tomato/foodi...

Rutgers deleloped the Rutgers heirloom, a wonderful tomato, and Rutger Improved, another great one. Is this what most growers plant? A good heirloom developed by Rutgers University?
Is this an area where the regular supermarket tomato is an heirloom?

Who knows about the great agricultural State of New Jersey?

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  1. As far as I've ever heard and from my own experience, NJ just has better "tomato country" than NY or the other tristate-ish region areas. Among other things, it is significantly (if not substantially) warmer than upstate NY, and since tomatoes barely grow at all (literally) until the soil warms up above 50F, they have a significant advantage in that regard. When you come down to it, real "farming" is more about geography than anything else which is why, among other things, wine from the tiny but "perfect" vineyards sells for such unseemly amounts of money.... (PS: "running" a farm as a success is obviously more than geography, but that's only got somewhat to do with the quality of the crop itself.)

    1. It may very well be true that NJ has excellent tomatoes but I firmly believe that if you have access to locally grown tomatoes - grown outdoors in real soil and picked when ripe - that will always be the better choice. Tomatoes, in particular, do not like to travel. They are most delicious when freshly picked and eaten before they've had a chance to figure out they're no longer on the plant. Grow your own or buy local. Let New Jersey deal with their own tomatoes.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Nyleve

        I live here in california where everything grows, california is the 2nd producer behind
        florida as for producing tomato`s. but I think your right when you can [pick them fresh
        from your garden no matter where you live. the only thing that I have found out about
        something that is grown better geographicly is the vadalia onion because of the
        chemicals that are in the ground at that area,

      2. As one who lives in NYC and anxiously awaited the arrival of some wonderful NJ tomatoes last summer, I was sadly disappointed - while better than hothouse tomatoes, they were not extraordinary - let's hope this summer is better.

        1 Reply
        1. re: MMRuth

          Yeah, the lousy (for farming) weather last year was really annoying. Unfortunately, we've been getting a lot of rain so far this year too which doesn't bode all that well.... that's what happened last year - everything was generally not quite ripe enough and water-heavy...

        2. jersey tomatoes AND CORN are the best in this country

          our mobsters aren't too shoddy, either...

          thank you very much!

          bill, a lifelong garden stater

          3 Replies
          1. re: kleinfortlee

            As a fairly new transplant to Jersey, I'll buy the idea that Jersey corn is outstanding; the tomatoes,however.....not so much. The others are correct; the best tomatoes come out of your own garden and go directly to your plate/mouth.

              1. re: cowgirlinthesand

                Are they as attractive as Jersey cantaloupes??

            1. As a fourth generation New Jerseyan and an organic gardener I have to defend our state's agricultural heritage! Everything that has been stated is true, your best produce is always what's locally grown and the shorter the time from harvest to consumption is always better,no matter where you live. That being said, NJ is an excellent place to grow most vegetables. We have a moderate climate and generally abundant rainfall. For tomatoes in particular, we seem to have the right combination of hot days and nights that are just cool enough to favor production - most people don't realize that tomatoes struggle to produce fruit where it's too hot. So, that's my spiel, By the way, the Rutger's Tomato is not technically an heirloom.

              4 Replies
              1. re: bropaul

                I agree with everything except your spelling of the tomato that was developed at the agricultural college of our state university. As with the name of the college, there is no apostrophe in the name of the Rutgers tomato.

                1. re: bropaul

                  Heirloom? Not an heirloom? This is one of those varieties that points out the difficulty in the argument over what is and isn't an heirloom. Lots of reputable sites consider Rutgers an heirloom since it open pollinates, is stable and breeds true. Others don't. Same with some others like Mortgage Lifter.
                  I don't have particular luck with Rutgers because my nights are too warm and rainfall is often spotty. Perfect tomato for the Garden State though.
                  That's the funny thing about the heirlooms - they seem to be really regional. I grew up with varieties in South Louisiana that I haven't been able to grow successfully anywhere else.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Heirloom vegetables are generally thought of as old varieties, and are I believe always open-pollenated (versus hybrid, where the second generation will not come true if seed of parent is planted). Such as Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine (which seems to have started the whole heirloom tomato craze, and rightly so in my book -- it's outstanding). A tomato developed in the last 20 years by an Ag college is by definition not an heirloom.
                    So: heirlooms are open pollenated, but not all open pollenated are heirlooms, if they're not generations old.
                    I grow heirloom tomatoes successfully in upstate NY, except I can't resist a super sweet 100 or sun gold cherry tomato plant.

                    1. re: NYchowcook

                      I'm generally in agreement with you, nychowcook, but you're even fudging your words. There is a pretty standard rule for heirlooms: open pollinate v. hybrids but the problems start over which varieties get included on the lists and that's just not worth fighting over. Some hardliners don't consider Mortgage Lifter an heirloom even though it's been around for generations.
                      There just is no one standard list. Too many varieties of tomato and too much disagreement over individual varieties.
                      Like you, I grow what is successful in my own garden and tastes good. My Super Sweet 100s have never been inside the house - they're for snacking while I work.

                2. i vote for grow your own.

                  then again, i live in FL where i can grow everything except cold/cool loving plants.....

                  isn't there a hidden country side of NJ (like an upstate NY) where all things bucolic abound? cows, cheeses, veggies......

                  if there is, hold on to it and protect it with everything you have or else land developers will take it and your state will be...worse than people imagine.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: hitachino

                    Recite all the Jersey jokes you want, but it is not called "The Garden State" for nothing. And I most definitely miss a nice Jersey Tomato. And the corn. And the peaches. ... Overall, since I moved Midwest 5 years ago, I've been disappointed in the quality of produce out here. Blah is the norm, and I don't understand why, since most of Illinois and Iowa and Indiana and everywhere else it seems, is patched together with dark-soiled farm after farm after farm ...

                    1. re: ML in Naperville IL

                      "Recite all the Jersey jokes you want, but it is not called "The Garden State" for nothing. And I most definitely miss a nice Jersey Tomato. And the corn. And the peaches. .."
                      ~~~~~~~~~~~~
                      Agree on ALL counts, ML. I'm in the Boston area now, and I miss NJ corn the most. And peaches should only be bought at a local farm that grew them, IMO. They always seemed to be better in NJ as well.

                      I will say, however, that I will take Maine wild blueberries over NJ blueberries ANY day. :-)

                  2. I was born and raised in NJ and, yes, it does have something do with the soil (and climate and rain). I just don't know what that thing is. That area of NJ does very well many different kinds of berries. And the Tomato is a berry. That area of NJ grows more Blueberries than anywhere else in the Mid-Atlantic and NJ grows more cranberries than anything else, including Tomatoes and Potatoes.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: DougRisk

                      I passed up on buying Jersey tomatoes for years. When I first moved to the MidAtlantic region and saw Jersey tomatoes, their appearance was among the worst I had ever seen - assymetrical shape, bruised appearance, thin skin, etc. ... quite different appearance from the uniformly and symmetrically round beautiful looking tomatoes shipped in from California, with the thicker skin.

                      I got the courage to try one, and it was like a concept dissolved instantaneously as the sweet rich and fruity taste lit up the taste buds and everything else inside my mouth. I couldn't believe that something so unappealing looking could taste that good, and so much better than the California shipped in tomatoes.

                      But ... in recent years, the taste in these Jersey tomatoes has not been as flavorful as in past years. I have heard from several people that some of these tomatoes are now being "bred" for shipping and have sacrificed the original taste as the tradeoff for a heartier tomato that can withstand shipping across larger distances.

                      I have been tempted to try the "ugli" brand of tomatoes. One thing for sure - it's hard to find inexpensively priced tomatoes in the market these days. Once in awhile, I am able to get "on the vine" tomatoes for 99 cents per pound. The best looking tomatoes that are known for the best taste seem to be priced as no less than $1.99 per pound.

                      I've almost gotten to the point now of not buying tomatoes unless they have some taste. I'd rather not eat a tasteless tomato regardless of its relatively lower price as compared with the more expensive tomatoes with taste.

                      I think there should be some sort of rating or tasting labeling for these items - if there is little taste, they should have a label on them , something like "warning - no taste inside, eat at your own peril" or ... "for a real tomato taste, add tomato seasoning salt." For the last few years, the California tomatoes that get shipped into supermarkets here in the MidAtlantic region are tasteless. Once in awhile the small Roma tomatoes have some taste. More locally grown "on the vine" tomatoes occassionally are quite good. I've seen tomatoes imported from Israel and they look real good.

                    2. Soil & climate, soil & climate make the Jersey tomato superior. Growing tomatoes here in Maine, as one would expect, is a labor of love. What we get though is far superior to superior to supermarket stuff. My brother, who lives in Las Vegas, and I coincide trips to visit our mom just to arrive at Tomato Time. I drive back with my loot and can one imagine someone boarding a plane at Newark Airport w/ 2 huge shopping bags full of Jersey tomatoes? A testament in itself.

                      1. I grew up in NJ on the original Rutgers tomatoes. I live here now. I do not find that the tomatoes are as good as they were in my yout. They're good, but not as good, even when I'm buying them just picked at the market or when I grow my own. I don't understand what has happened with tomatoes. Even the "heirloom" varieties don't blow me away except on rare occasion. What is still good is the corn, strawberries, asparagus, and the blueberries. It's asparagus and strawberry season now, and only one month until the blueberries,corn and tomatoes come. One thing about NJ is that quality fresh mozzarella is always available, and there is nothing like a moz and fresh tomato sandwich. The last few years have produced outstanding blueberries. I hope this year will be the same. We need some rain though. It's been pretty dry although they do irrigate the fields.

                        1. It's all the radioactive decay from the landfills in Newark.

                          Jersey tomatoes really are great - due to climate, soil, everything else folks have already said. But they don't travel well. Living in Boston I opt for locally grown tomatoes that are possibly just as good. I'm not sure - they might even be better, but nostalgia is tainting my tomato-tasting buds.

                          1. I was born and raised in Middlesex County. EVERYONE -- and I do mean EVERYONE -- had tomato plants in the back yard. It's not like zucchini in Iowa (where you have to lock your car doors in August lest bags of zucchini find their way into your front seat) -- nobody shares, because they don't have to, and because people eat them like apples, maybe with a bit of salt.

                            They're fantastic. And yes, we grew the original Rutgers cultivar, and also Big Boy. I went back a few years ago and they were fantastic -- but they simply die when they travel. Cold kills them -- if you could walk from backyard to backyard in August you would see tomatoes lined up on kitchen windowsills, because people know not to ever put them in the fridge -- and cold is exactly what's needed to transport.

                            Now that I live in California, I buy heirloom tomatoes at the markets, because they're better than both Jersey tomatoes shipped in (remember, cold bad) and Rutgers cultivar tomatoes grown in California (wrong soil, not nearly hot and humid enough).

                            -- Das Ubergeek, who is just WAITING (with a baseball bat at the ready) for somebody to ask what exit the best tomatoes grow near

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              jfood from exit 136 the moved off 78 checking in DU

                              Grew up in an Italian 'hood and always had great tomatoes, no idea if heirloom or not they were usually from "Tony's Garden" or "Tom's Garden", whatever. jfood grew tehm for ten years, always great. Tried corn one year but did not have enough ears to pollinate properly.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                I can drive to NJ in less than 2 hours. They sell Rutgers plants at garden centers in this area - Washington, DC and the Chesapeake Bay area. I have never had any luck with it at all. Other varieties grow so well that I can tomatoes for the winter and still have plenty to give away.
                                Rutgers is a homebody. Doesn't want to leave NJ.

                              2. Jersey tomatoes are the best! And, it seems the further south you go in NJ, the better the tomatoes. Not sure why, however. I never, ever buy a tomato at the grocery store during the summer. Even those NJ tomatoes that my mom sometimes buys at the 'Shop-Rite' in NJ, do not taste anything like those from your local farmstand. The OP are correct. They do not travel well, so if you're buying them at the grocery store in NYC or elsewhere, it's not the same.
                                I have been growing my own for a few years. Last year's crop was not so good, and the tomatoes were a bit mealy because of all the rain. This year I have in 9 plants, different varieties. Nothing better than a tomato sandwich on Pepperidge Farm white toast, with Hellmans Mayo, salt and pepper. It's really nirvana. I have lived in several states, but none of them can come close to the Jersey tomato. Love the peaches in July as well.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mschow

                                  The Rutgers variety seems to be the perfect tomato for your NJ climate.
                                  What other tomatoes do you grow? Why mess with perfection? Do the others grow as successfully? Not all tomatoes grow as well in every place in the country.