It’s time for tomatoes, vines and buckets full of plump, ripe Jersey tomatoes. Ask us New Jerseyans about our tag as the “Garden State,” and right now is when we most passionately can back up that designation.
Growing up, I never consciously realized when tomato season came around, but I registered it on some level. For a time each year, the tomatoes on our counter were a deep red and more luscious than ever. They burst with color and looked primed to explode — which they were. One bite or cut would confirm that when juice, flavor and everything good in life came rushing forth. In hindsight, I have always associated the unrivaled flavor of an in-season tomato with the taste of summer winding down, crisp weather at the onset of fall and back-to-school, a time ripe with opportunity.
Tasting a Jersey tomato is both blessing and a curse. Your understanding of the spectrum of a tomato’s flavors is forever altered, because no tomato has ever tasted so sweet, fresh and fleshy. Then you spend the rest of the year chomping on shipped, pale, watery-tasting versions; in other words, pathetic excuses for what you now know tomatoes or capable of being.
After reading this article about tomatoes in The New York Times Magazine, I was reminded of how perfect a fruit (or vegetable; I really don’t care what you call it as long as you enjoy it!) can be and overcome with my need to have one. I revisited Lee Turkey Farm, which is the farm adjacent to my neighborhood my family has frequented for fresh produce for years. I planned to purchase some pre-picked tomatoes from the stand, but was caught up in a nostalgic childhood reverie and decided to pluck my own.
I brought the tomatoes home, and we’ve been popping the cherry tomatoes in our mouths like candy. I could point you in the direction of countless recipes that adulate the great Jersey tomato, but my personal preference is more about tomato purity. My favorite ways to savor a tomato are the simplest, because a perfect tomato really needs no special treatment. I like my tomatoes in a bed of lettuce with a light vinaigrette and perhaps some goat cheese, or on top of a piece of French bread first dipped in olive oil, like my family and I ate last night for dinner. For something more unconventional, I did enjoy The Bent Spoon’s heirloom tomato and peach gelato flavor, which contains zero preservatives or artificial flavors and goes far to maintain the tomato’s integrity. And just an f.y.i., Jersey peaches also are delicious…
Maybe I am getting a little worked up about a piece of produce, but what if I told you Rutgers University runs something titled the “Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato Project” (and it’s not run by me)? True story. Also, read the above mentioned article and you’ll be considering tomatoes as the most sensual food in existence.
If you’re in the Jersey area and looking to taste the divine, here’s a resource from the NJ Department of Agriculture to help you locate farms and markets. If you’re not in the Jersey area, well, maybe it’s time to plan a trip!
–Karina for TKGO