Pittstown hosts ‘Great Tomato Tasting’

AFP Correspondent

PITTSTOWN (Sept. 15, 2015) — About 1,600 Master Gardeners, academic agriculture experts, farmers, and just plain fans of New Jersey-raised tomatoes gathered here at Snyder Research Farm on Aug. 26, for the annual open house, which has been yearly event for nearly 25 years.
In more recent years the open house has been remade into a highly anticipated event, “The Great Tomato Tasting.”
Dr. John Grande is director of the research facility, which encompasses just about 400 acres on both sides of Locust Grove Road in Pittstown, Hunterdon County.
You name the vegetable or fruit, and it’s likely grown here, experimented on here and improved upon here, with the exception of some really exotic fruits and vegetables grown much closer to the equator.
Dr. Robert Goodman, dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers was on the scene with his wife, enjoying the abundant sunshine, low humidity and temperatures in the low 80’s.
“This is my ninth tomato tasting,” Goodman said, “one year, I think it was 2007, we had a big hail storm and had to cancel at the last minute, this farm was visited by a massive hail storm and yet, a half a mile away, there was nothing,” Goodman recalled.
The annual open house for the Snyder Farm morphed into “The Great Tomato Tasting” about a dozen years ago, said Snyder Research Farm director John Grande.
“We initially called it an open house, but the intent was to make us visible to the public about what we were doing so they could get a tour of the farm and became familiar with all the different studies that are going on here. We used to have the faculty members by each station, but that turned into too long a wagon tour, because each one of them wanted to tell a big long story about their project,” Grande said, adding the point of the open house and now tomato tasting is because staff at Snyder Research want to be good neighbors and encourage them to attend and see what goes on here.
“I think this year we’ll have about 1,600 or 1,700 people here throughout the course of the afternoon and evening,” Grande said, noting that figure includes about 140 Master Gardeners who volunteer to work in various tents called “Plum Tomatoes” “Cherry and Grape Tomatoes” and so forth, who cut up and serve chunks of tomatoes or whole tomato varieties in the case of cherry and grape tomatoes.
The cherry and grape tomato tent alone each represented epicurean delight, as patrons sampled upwards of 30 varieties of tomatoes while they made their way around the sampling station. 
More serious tomato tasters had access to plenty of cups of water to cleanse the palette before moving on to the next sample, but most patrons simply got in line moved from tent to tent, not unlike the atmosphere at a large wine tasting.  
Patrons could also sample honey, hazel nuts and various apples and peaches grown on-site and watch chef demonstrations about how to prepare various tomato-based meals.
Peter Nitzsche, the county agricultural extension agent for Morris County, does a lot of fruit and vegetable research at the Snyder Farm.
“I’m currently working with a breeder who works with sandy soils down in South Jersey and we’re testing some of his tomatoes up north,” Nitzsche said, “and Dr. Tom Norton and I decided on a project a few years ago to remake the original cross that created the Rutgers tomato in the 1930s.
“It became tremendously popular in the 1950s — about 70 percent of the acreage in the country was Rutgers tomatoes. We tried to take a trip through the past and rediscover that cross, and we came up with seedlings, so the hope is to release something new for 2016, which is the 250th anniversary of Rutgers,” Nitzsche said.
“A lot of people liked the Rutgers tomato, so we were hoping to come up with another good tasting tomato and maybe select for more modern growth habits and things so we could then have another tomato for gardeners and small farmers to grow.”