I’m speaking of the annual group sojourn to the Jersey shore — 127 miles of coastline where the salt water heals your wounds, the smell grilling pork roll eases your nerves, and the Jersey tomatoes are as sweet as candy.
Speaking of Jersey tomatoes, I admit that I have never really applied any kind of critical thinking to the subject that would challenge my homegrown faith that they are simply the greatest version of that particular vegetable anywhere on planet Earth. It is simply an article of faith among native New Jerseyans.
The New York Times touches on this subject with a look at the return to mass cultivation of the Ramapo tomato — a variety that was the “original” Jersey tomato. The Ramapo itself is fairly nondescript when compared to sexier heirloom varieties, with their unsightly bulges or purple streaks. The Ramapo tomato is just red and round.
But this talk of varieties just distracts from the larger question. Just what the hell is it that makes the tomatoes in New Jersey so goddamn good? It’s probably the soil.
“It can’t be the soil, because we’ve got sandy soil in the south of the state, and more clay and loam in the north,” said Pete Nitzsche, a Rutgers agent in Morris County. “What we’ve got here is a memory of how tomatoes used to taste.”
OK. So maybe it’s Freudian.
Or maybe not. Consider this, which may answer the question once and for all:
“Someone will probably have my head for saying this,” said Gary Ibsen, an organic tomato farmer in central California. “But to my mind, what the Jersey tomato has going for it is the legend, and the loyalty, and the rest of it is just the pronounced flavor of any tomato that’s picked ripe and not shipped around the continent.”
In other words, the reason Jersey tomatoes are so good is that the people of New Jersey demand locally grown tomatoes. Whether that demand is fed by pride or loyalty or self-delusion or childhood memories doesn’t matter one bit. The result is that the tomatoes at the nondescript farm stand on the Route 72 causeway to Long Beach Island are better than any tomato I’ve ever had outside the state.
And they’ll stay that way as long as people believe Jersey tomatoes are special.
I’m a believer.
The Return of a Lost Jersey Tomato [New York Times]