Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato is a Rutgers NJAES project with a mission to refocus research and extension effort on the “Jersey tomato flavor” New Jersey is famous for. Part of the project includes identifying excellent eating tomato varieties that were well-adapted to our growing conditions and commercially grown by New Jersey farmers back in the tomato glory days of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.
The program began with bringing back the Rutgers’ Ramapo F-1 tomato in 2008. Ramapo fulfilled part of the mission for the mid- to late season, but one variety does not a Jersey tomato make. The old time Jersey tomatoes were a portfolio of varieties that performed well under our climatic conditions in a different range of soils and ripening at different times of the season. Ramapo is one among several other tasty varieties maturing mid- to late season. An issue with main season maturity is the New Jersey tomato season commences in early July, when thousands of anxious consumers are waiting for their first juicy bite of a Jersey tomato. With a lack of a tasty early season variety, the portfolio is missing its opening act.
Enter Joe Musumeci, now a retired New Jersey seed processor, formerly of Eastern Seed Services, and a Rutgers alumnus. Growing up on a South Jersey tomato farm, Musumeci recalled the early season variety that Jersey tomato growers referred to as “the July 4th tomato”. The Moreton F-1 tomato was Harris Seeds’ first F-1 hybrid release in 1953. “For 6 to 10 years”, said Musumeci “it was Moreton – probably the first hybrid grown on a large scale in New Jersey. Moreton was a soft tomato and was eventually replaced by Red Pack which was later renamed Pik-Red which had less cracking but didn’t have the flavor of Moreton.”
Musumeci knew Harris Seeds had discontinued the production of Moreton F1 hybrid seed. He contacted Harris about the Rutgers project and about re-introducing Moreton seed. Harris provided Musumeci with the Moreton parent line seed.
But, what happened to Moreton that took it out of production? According to Mark Willis, formerly of Harris Seeds, Harris Seeds was sold to another company and in 1991 when the New York facility was shut down and its stock seed moved to California, one of the Moreton parent lines was lost.
Back in their remaining New York mail order facility, around 1994, a former Harris employee showed up with a Ball jar of seed he purchased from the auction of the Harris Company. The seed was the missing parent line of the Moreton tomato. And, according to Willis, as the story goes, the lost seeds were traded in exchange for a life-time supply of fava bean seed. Reinstated around 1995, Moreton tomato was produced until 2004, when large production was no longer profitable.
Musumeci found a seed grower to produce a small batch of Moreton that was reintroduced in 2009 in a cooperative agreement between Eastern Seed Services, Harris Seeds and Rutgers NJAES.
Many gardeners are devoted to Moreton tomato as it is a top performer, especially in regions with short growing seasons. It also performs well when grown in containers.