Jersey Tomatoes

Hybrids and Heirlooms

Some say that the Jersey tomato is just a memory; a juicy legend from times gone by, when tomatoes weren't born to run across the country in tractor-trailers. Recently, heirlooms have taken the choice spots in discriminating vegetable gardens. Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, Golden Girls, Japanese Trifle Blacks, Mortgage Lifters, and a host of others have gained favor over good-old Ramapo and Rutgers, which are hybrids. The difference? Heirlooms are locally adapted, seeds from the best plants chosen for each succeeding generation. Hybrids stem from a purposeful cross of two parent varieties to obtain a new super child. Your grandfather's hybrids concentrated on heartiness and flavor, without regard to firmness, appearance and stability in a crate. Actually, flavor has more to do with ripeness than pedigree.

Our state university created the Rutgers variety for New Jersey's biggest tomato plant, the Campbell's Soup Company, in 1934. Though it would be considered extremely soft by today's definition of tomato firmness, the juicy fruit—which provided great flavor, brilliant color, and no cracks—became a favorite around the world. But the original line is long lost; all the seeds sold today are derivatives. The Ramapo, also developed at Rutgers, in 1968, has also disappeared from seed catalogues. Fortunately, researchers at the Rutgers Agriculture Experiment Station (NJAES) have been busy bringing these old favorites back to the vine.

The annual Great Tomato Tasting at the Snyder Research Farm in Pittstown is scheduled for Aug. 30, 2023. NJAES Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers offer over sixty heirloom and hybrid tomato varieties (as well as apples, basil, peaches, and honey), chef demonstrations, guided educational wagon tours, and professional advice for gardeners.

140 Locust Grove Rd., Pittstown • 908/730-9419

This story was first published: Summer, 2013