[New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station]
Jersey Fresh Information Exchange
Photo: Jersey Produce

Homegrown Memories

What is it about the fresh locally or home grown fruits and vegetables of our youth? The memories of the smell and taste and the connection to our local surroundings will forever linger in our memories. Do you have a Homegrown Memory to share? E-mail us at njfarmfresh@njaes.rutgers.edu with "Homegrown Memory" in the subject line.

"I worked at RCA in Camden, between 1975 and 1980, just before Campbell's moved their tomato soup operations to California. I still can smell the tomato soup being made in Camden. The smell was so sweet and delicious they could only be Jersey tomatoes.

Campbell’s would offer tomato plants to anyone who wanted them, after the farmers who grew for Campbell’s got whatever they needed. The tomato plants were given out off of a large flatbed truck at the corner of Market and Delaware Ave right in front of the RCA main parking lot, beside the Campbell’s plant. I think these tomato plants were specific hybrids for Campbell's tomato soup and am not sure if they were the original Jersey tomato. But they were delicious in any case."

George P., Denver CO

"One of my most vivid happy memories of growing up in a Northeast Philadelphia row house was waking up on a warm August morning to the calls of the produce hucksters driving down the back alleys crying out "JERSEY TOMATOES.  3 POUNDS FOR A HALF A DOLLA"  "GET YOUR JERSEY PEACHES HERE" Thanks to Rutgers for bring back the Ramapo!"

Carole, Collingswood, NJ

"I am 50 years old and growing up in a small housing plan in the 60's my father always had a garden. He would start his seeds every year and studied the best ways to produce a wonderful product. It worked, he always had the first tomatoes and the tastiest. One other thing he did that was unusual in the early 60's was grow everything organically. We were composting when composting wasn't cool!!!

He planted a tomato in the early 70's that was the best variety he had ever tasted, the Ramapo. He grew them up to maybe the mid to late 80's and then the seeds became unavailable. Unfortunately, my father passed away in 2007 and had been in ill health for a few years. I spent much more time with him as he needed more care. In a way it was a blessing, because when he could no longer trudge up and down the stairs to the basement to start his plants, he taught me the ropes of planting, transplanting, and hardening the plants off in the cold frame. He would tell me about the Ramapo and we knew the seeds were no longer on the market. After he passed away and the new planting season approached, i thought, "i'll google Ramapo Tomato". Lo and behold there it was. Rutgers University had started to produce the seeds again. I immediately ordered them, but that was the year of the blight!!

This is my first year with the wonderful plants of my youth. I also grow several varieties of plants, but the Ramapos are by far the prize. All Ramapos are savored by me-very few are given away. I give away the other varieties, which are also pretty tasty if I do say so myself. One of my favorite ways to delight in the yummy tomatoes--a small ciabatta roll split and lightly toasted, sprayed with spray margarine (always on a diet), then a fried egg, a large tomato slice in 1 1/2 thick slices, and then several slices of crispy bacon (to hell with that diet). as my father would have put it, "that beats a steak any day of the week"."

MaryBeth, Greensburg, PA

"As a Jersey boy growing up in the "woods" of north Jersey, tomatoes and corn were the crown of every summer's kingdom. My small town was called Lake Telemark, up in north Rockaway in northern Morris County. It was a Norwegian village filled with folks who had immigrated to the US. Every one there came from NYC, Union City, or Jersey City, etc.  All of the folks up there had their own gardens.  Being city kids we acted like nutty kids would behave around a lake and trees that went on forever. We all raided each other's gardens for corn and tomatoes. The tomato fights were legendary. But the flavor of those beautiful tomatoes and corn still resonate in my heart. You Jersey folks do not know what you have!! Living for years in Arizona I can make testimony that "no one out west knows what a tomato or an ear of corn tastes like".  My tales of going to my construction job with a paper lunch bag holding two tomatoes and a salt shaker just stuns these folks.  Thank you Rutgers for your work with the Jersey tomato. Whether "thrown or eaten", they were and are the best in the entire world!!!"   

James, Phoenix, Arizona

Make new memories....

"I choose farm markets for restoration on any number of fronts.  The Trenton Farmers’ Market is what my father would call, “The Grandaddy of them All”, showcasing the treasures of our Garden State long before there was that marketing word, ’showcasing’. When I go to the Trenton Farm Market, my ‘trick’ is to make several circuits. I ‘eat with my eyes’, up one aisle and down another. Then with my camera.

I often stop at Russo’s farm.  It’s in the Pine Barrens (Tabernacle), and my source for first blueberries from their own bushes, first strawberries from their fields.  The last spinach of November comes from Russo’s, along with Pine Barrens wines - Chambourcin a favorite.  A major delight is to find bulging bags of applesauce apples outside on a wooden table at Christmastime.  You’ll fold three dollar bills for a year’s applesauce into the slit of a metal box.  You’ll find Russo’s apples so spicy, it is a travesty to add sugar or even a cinnamon stick.  It freezes beautifully, and actually lasts longer than a year.

Words pale beside the jewels arrayed for us by New Jersey farmers. Rejoice that we still have farmers in our midst. My favorite road sign is the yellow and black icon for tractor crossing…
Be thankful for every tractor that still lumbers up one row and down another, turning over rich New Jersey soil for purposes of nourishment and delight — not for yet another crop of McMansions. Do everything you can to preserve farmland: in the voting booth, at your computer writing to legislators, and especially all year round in New Jersey’s vital farm markets.
Otherwise, Rutgers scientists predict New Jersey will be the first completely built-out state, in close to thirty years (if that).  You can alter that prediction by your shopping choices.  And, besides, it is not only gastronomically thrilling, shopping farm markets brings aesthetic delight.
Remember, when spinach was poisoning Americans recently, New Jersey spinach was safe and healthy. The best part is, many of those fruits and vegetables were picked that very morning - it’s as though the dew were still inside those corn husks when you open them for the feast."

Carolyn F. Edelman, Princeton
Read more of Carolyn's travels through natural New Jersey at NJ Wild

"I was born in South Plainfield, NJ in 1957 and lived there till I was seven. This is hard to believe, but every day during the summer, a horse-drawn cart brought Jersey fresh fruits and vegetables through my neighborhood for sale.  The farmer's name was Mr. De San Fillipo. At that age, I was more interested in his horse than his veggies... I also remember that the street tar in front of my house got so hot that it bubbled, and I would sit in the middle of the street and pop the bubbles.  I guess there wasn't any traffic in my neighborhood!  There was a Tasty-Freeze ice cream store a few blocks away that sold soft-serve banana ice cream.  Banana is still my favorite flavor to this day, because of that early Tasty-Freeze experience. They sold little tiny cones for toddlers and I remember we used to buy that size for our dog Twinkie.  She loved banana too!"

Ellen, Summit, NJ

"I grew up on Tri Maple Farm in Hanover, NJ (now East Hanover), a dairy and produce farm.  My dad milked the cows and plowed the fields with his four kids trailing behind him (I was second in line).  We had fresh milk, straight from the cow, warm and raw.  Strawberries came straight from the vines and eaten dirt and all.   Supper was tomato and cucumber salad with corn on the cob.  All planted or raised on the farm.  The funny thing is that most of this ended when we could no longer legally sell raw milk but could not afford the pasteurization costs.  I am glad that the farms are coming back, I have also been proud to have been a NJ farm girl."

Judith, Succasunna, NJ

From far away as Japan, former New Jerseyans still dream of the Jersey Tomato from days gone by....(note: while after all these years the submitter below's English is rusty, his memory of the Jersey Tomato is still vivid.)

"In my childhod years, I live grew up in Medford N.J. in the 70s and I have so many memories related to Jersey Tomatos. The forgetable taste eating the tomato right from the vine.
Also helping friends fram harvest the tomato's as a child and riding on the back of the truck to a near by stand loaded with those old fashioned wood baskets. And having tomato throughing fights with unsellable ones after the work.
It might be hard to share my good old memories to my son because time has changed so much.
But at least, I wanted to share my favorite tomato taste with my wife & son how do not know any thing about the good old Jersey Tomato's. So I would like to challenge growing raising my favorite tomato in my backyard from this year. Also, willing to raise the name of Jersey Tomato from fall away from Japan."

Takashi, Utsunomiya, Japan

"I'm an Army brat but every summer we would go "home" to Asbury Park and spend weeks at my grandparents Gatsby-like house on the Jersey shore. My mouth waters just thinking about them. The tomatoes were so wonderful and beefy that we often ate them like a piece of fruit with a salt and pepper chaser. One of the best parts of summer was the time I spent sitting around my grandparents' kitchen table with my cousins chowing down on fried ripe Jersey tomatoes. My grandmother would serve them up by the plateful with milk gravy over buttered white bread. Yes, the tomatoes were ripe, not green. It is definitely a whole different taste. The milk gravy was made with evaporated milk. The tomatoes are lightly floured, sauteed in butter and seasoned with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of sugar. My grandmother was a farm girl and schooled in cooking whatever was available from the field. This tomato dish is the subject of many memories and conversations with my remaining cousins."

Pam, Indiana

"I used to work for the artist Georgia O'keeffe and would bring her back Jersey tomatoes when I was back east visiting my folks. She had an extraordinary garden, but no Jersey tomatoes! The fresh tomatoes that were sooo wonderful I bought at Cheesequake Farms on Rt. 9 and they were the worst looking tomatoes ... blemishes and all ... but if you smelled them you 'knew' they were the ones! The best!"

Marilyn, New Mexico

"Call it nostalgic, I call it "dreaming of a Jersey Tomato."  They say your sense of smell is your keenest link to the past.  I can still smell the rich metallic scent of the garden soil--soil so deeply brown it was practically black--soil that bared the fruit of the land a.k.a. the Jersey Tomato.  I always believed it was soil of Northern NJ that flavored our tomatoes and we could hardly wait for that first crop to be picked and eaten.  We bought our tomatoes two baskets full at a time from an old couple by the name of Greffelds who operated a small farm in Lincoln Park, NJ.  Those baskets of sweet tomatoes would be devoured in days - usually on the back porch of our home in Pompton Plains with only a salt shaker and 6 homeless cats to lick the juices that ran down our arms and onto our legs.  Each tomato was perfect-- flaws and all - never did we wash or rinse these tomatoes, the dirt we rubbed off and (not wasting a bit) nibbled right to the very edge of any slits, holes or stems."

Ruth, North Carolina

"I've been living (unfortunately) in Chicago, Illinois since 1978.  I am a true Jersey Girl and take advantage of every opportunity to come to New Jersey.  I only get a decent tomato when I come home.  I still remember the tomatoes of my youth (I'm 54) and grew up in Bordentown (Exit 7).  I remember going to Columbus Sale during the summer and buying those wonderful Jersey tomatoes.  I still remember the taste and the smell.  Just a smidgen of salt and a Jersey tomato always made and still makes the best and most simplistic meal."

Joanne, Chicago

"Our family in South Jersey always grew tomatoes from plants provided by a friend who worked for Campbell Soup. They were the same plants provided to the farmers. From the research I did and from talking to former employees, it seemed as if they were a specially developed strain of the Rutgers tomato.

I always remember eating those tomatoes right off the bush from my father and grandfather’s gardens. As an adult I always longed for the taste of those tomatoes. I'm also old enough to remember those trucks rolling down the streets of Camden when I was a little kid. So, I was understandably excited when my grandmother gave me an old cigar box she found in her garage that contained old seeds and seed packs that my grandfather had saved. In there were old bank envelopes that contained tomato seeds he had saved, which had to be the Campbell seeds, since those were all we grew. The only problem was that the seeds were almost 15 years old; one of the last of the plants before the Camden location closed. Would they be viable?

I tried to germinate the seeds and out of about 100, I managed to get about 10 plants. I shared half and grew the others. I tended and fed them carefully to make sure they survived and produced fruit. I also had to make sure the birds and squirrels didn't get to them. Well, by mid-summer I had the fruits of my efforts (and memories) and again tasted one of those tomatoes from my youth and flashed back to my dad and grandfather's gardens.

I harvested as many seeds as I could from those few plants, even though the yield was low, and have continued to grow them each year. The ensuing years have provided healthier more abundant yields. I have shared them with friends who also remember those tomatoes. There is nothing like a garden to bring back fond memories of sights and sounds and tastes."

Ed, Haddon Township

"I grew up in Levittown, PA. Every year my father and I looked forward to the tomato harvest in late July/early August. My mother would say to my father, "Hon, go get me some Jerseys." I never until last year knew what that meant. Those tomatoes had a name, a variety; the Ramapo. We never knew. We just took it for granted that we would have delicious tomatoes every summer courtesy local New Jersey farmers. Today I only know that tomatoes are not "good" anymore. I yearned for the taste of those awesome tomatoes for so many years. Then came the Internet. I found out why tomatoes taste so lousy now from Rutgers. Bingo! Thank you Rutgers for holding on to a bit of Americana that I loved and cherished as a yearly ritual that celebrated hard work, where we came from, and what was truly "good eats." We would make it a point to stop at local farm stands every weekend when we traveled to Seaside Heights for my mother's sake and ours to buy those tomatoes. You dared not come home without some. Then they were gone when the summer was waning. Rats.

Since I live west of the city of Philly now we only get Lancaster varieties. They can't hold a candle to our beloved Jerseys that had their tart, sweet, juiciness. Most other varieties are bland and grown for shipment. It warms my heart to hear of everyone who loved those gorgeous tomatoes, eating them like an apple with a good sprinkling of salt. I did that too with my dad until after a few days when our mouths would crack sore from the citric acid of the fruit. We would eat them until there were no more available. Then the season would be over and we would wait patiently again for the fruit of New Jersey's labor the next year. It was worth the wait."

Donna - Levittown, PA

"When I was a girl, my Dad always planted tomatoes in our back yard. I remember coming home from school one day to find a note from my Mom to say she had to be away for a few hours. "Pick a tomato for your snack. The salt shaker is in the milkbox!" That lovely fresh ripe warm tomato is still bright in memory."

- F.F., Montclair

Photo: Child in Pumpkin Patch.
"One day my cousin and I were enjoying some juicy Jersey peaches when we decided to turn it into a "Messy Peach Eating Contest". With juice dripping down our chins and arms and lots of loud slurping, we were ready to be hosed down by the time we were done."
- B.R., Pleasantville

Photo: Children on a Farm.

"When we went to the farmstand by my grandmother's house, my mother would choose a bushel basket of peaches which we would split up; half for Nanny, half for us. At home for a week or so it seemed that peaches were all we ate. When the peaches got a little softer, my mother would peel and slice them into a huge bowl. Then she would sprinkle them with sugar (as if they weren't sweet enough already) and we would have them for dessert. At my house the peaches never got past that stage, but at Nanny's the final peach dish was a cobbler. It was pretty much just Bisquick, cinnamon, more sugar, and sliced peaches, but it was a family tradition."

- Laurel, East Brunswick

Photo: Man picking apples.

"Every year we go apple picking. Usually several families go together. The children love sampling the apples and taking hay rides. My family usually picks around 100 lbs. Then we make apple pies and applesauce that we freeze and use throughout the year."

- Jane, North Brunswick

"I was out in the desert in Oatman, Arizona driving down into a canyon. I had a Trans-am with T-tops off and eating a Jersey apple, always taking my fresh produce with me wherever I go. I had to slow down cause of donkeys crossing the road and a donkey stuck his head into the car and grabbed my Jersey Fresh apple!!!! He walked off eating the apple very happily."

-Annette, New Hope, PA

Growing up in a big South Jersey suburb, Green's Farm Market was an oasis located on one of our infamous traffic circles. Surrounded by clothing and shoe stores, Green's was an open air stall full of baskets of peaches and tomatoes where the scents of ripe peppers and cantalopes mingled. Out back under a big tree were flats of summer flowers, which eventually made way for pots of fall mums. The traffic circle is long gone, as is Green's, but the little touch of "fresh from the farm" in my suburban world is still with me!

- Cindy, Highland Park