Because it has seeds, a tomato is technically a fruit. But, not in New Jersey. Here there was a decade old effort to make the tomato officially a vegetable. The New Jersey Legislature tried to name it the Official State Vegetable. We already have an Official State Fruit—the blueberry, so the tomato had to be moved over to the vegetable category, but the legislation never passed.
While some might quarrel over whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, everyone is in agreement that Jersey tomatoes are delicious. And they are just right for harvesting from the third week in July through August so our chefs are preparing menus that feature this flavorful, tender and juicy fruit, ahh vegetable.
We understand that because Jersey tomatoes are so tasty our patrons demand locally grown tomatoes. So, you can expect to see fresh Jersey tomatoes—sliced, diced, cooked or raw—on a number of njhotchefs.com special Farm to Fork Week menus, July 24th to 30th.
Jersey tomatoes come in a number of varieties. Rutgers University is credited with the modern day development of the “Ramapo” that many insist is the “real” Jersey Tomato because of its flavor. However, the heirloom beefsteak tomato and the Moreton tomato also have many fans.
It isn’t New Jersey’s soil or weather that makes our tomatoes so perfect. It is the special care and attention they get from New Jersey farmers.
Oddly, tomatoes were once feared to be poisonous. Tomatoes came to New Jersey after a long journey. The plant is believed to have developed naturally in South America and pre-Columbian Mexico. The Spanish conquistadors discovered it there and sailed the plant back to Spain. It eventually found its way to England and from there to New Jersey late in the 18th century.
In those days it was considered an ornamental houseplant called the “love apple” or “wolf peach.” The plant was thought to be poisonous. Eating a tomato, it was widely held, would acidify the blood and cause death.
New Jersey farmers and colonists knew better. In the summer, tomatoes were served as part of the main meal, but not as a dessert, hence the common belief that it was indeed a vegetable and not a fruit. But either way, New Jerseyites knew tomatoes were palatable not poisonous.
It was apparently one Robert Gibbon Johnson who proved to the world that tomatoes were not to be feared. Legend has it that he defiantly stood on the steps of the Salem County Courthouse in 1820 and ate a tomato without ill effects. This was, perhaps, the beginning of the New Jersey tomato phenomenon. Today the “Jersey Tomato” shares national fame with the “Florida Orange,” the “Georgia Peach” and the “Idaho Potato.”
And now a reminder that July 24th to 30th is Farm to Fork Week when our chefs demonstrate creative menu approaches and you can enjoy four courses for just $35 per person. We invite you to check out our member restaurants now.