In Charlie Brown, Linus professed his devotion to the Great Pumpkin. In New Jersey, we honor a different round crop: tomatoes. And there is no better place to taste all the possibilities that a Jersey tomato can be than at the Great Tomato Tasting at Rutgers University’s Snyder Research and Extension Farm in Hunterdon County.
This year’s tasting will be on Wednesday, August 31, from 3 p.m. to dusk, rain or shine. It costs $7 per person at the gate and children under 10 are free. For your money you get to sample dozens of different heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, in many different colors, shapes and sizes. The Rutgers folks hand out a list to help you keep track of all the possibilities, and they share your feedback with growers to encourage them to raise the best-liked varieties.
The tasting festival also offers wagon tours of the farm’s research plots (it tests many crops and growing conditions to take some of the guesswork away for state farmers) and tastings of honey, basil, apples and peaches. The farm’s Melda C. Snyder Teaching Garden will showcase deer-tolerant ornamentals, plants to attract native pollinators, the Rutgers holly and blueberry breeding programs, fruit trees that are easy for home gardeners to grow and day lilies.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy any of the tomatoes to take home, which has always been a source of disappointment in my household. But then, if we did buy them, they would all be eaten before we got them back to our kitchen. Rutgers donates the tomatoes it grows at the extension center to food pantries around the state. This year, the tomato tasting will also be accepting donations of canned food donations for the pantries as part of Rutgers Against Hunger. If you need tomatoes to take home, try the farm stand at Peaceful Valley Orchards nearby.
If you want to help Rutgers know how many tomatoes to cut up for the tasting, you can RSVP online or call 908-713-8980. The farm is off Route 78; the map will get you there.