Tomato Tasting
Martha Maletta, Home Horticultural Consultant
Dated - August 06, 2004

They come in many sizes, shapes and colors, and the public is invited to sample all…or as many as they are able…of 130 different tomato varieties at the14th Annual Great Tomato Tasting. This popular event will begin at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, August 25 in the Melda C. Snyder Teaching Garden of the Rutgers Snyder Research and Extension Farm near Pittstown and run until dusk. Peppers and melons and – new this year - basil will be ready for tasting. Look for special tomato tasting challenges and lots of tomato information, too.

The Great Tomato Tasting tends to take center stage every year, but a special highlight for many attendees is the guided hay wagon farm tour. This is a chance for the public to see “in action” a Rutgers University-New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station field station. The Farm’s basic mission is to improve the quality of life for all New Jersey residents through research, education and outreach with focuses on sustainable agriculture and wildlife damage control.

Current research projects include many on tree fruit and several on vegetable crops including some investigating organic production. There is also research underway on turfgrass, landscape ornamentals, strawberries, field crops and more. The Melda C. Snyder Teaching Garden, open for a self-tour during the tomato tasting, is part of the Farm’s public education effort. Visitors should be sure to see the special demonstration of various tomato support systems – staking, cages, etc. And don’t miss the bed of deer resistant flowers.

The tomato tasting is free; a $3.00 donation is suggested to cover program costs. To register and get directions to the farm, please call 908-713-8980.

The local tomato harvest is well underway. Whether home grown or purchased from farm stands, how tomatoes are ripened and stored can make all the difference in eating quality. Harvest can make a difference, too. Tomatoes do not need to be left on the vine until eating ripe to be “vine ripe”. Once a tomato reaches what is called the “breaker stage” - about half green and half pinkish (or yellowish) it will fully ripen as well off the vine as on. At this stage the tomato fruit becomes “disconnected” from the plant by a special layer of cells in the stem and there is no further transport of nutrients into the fruit.

In fact, it may be better to pick tomatoes before they reach the eating ripe stage, as do most commercial growers. High temperature - 80 + - during ripening reduces color development and increase softening rate. Pick tomatoes at breaker stage and finish ripening indoors at 65-70 degrees. Place them stem-end up, and keep them off the windowsill where high temperatures could reduce quality. Tomatoes do not need sun to develop color. Picking tomatoes before they are eating ripe can also reduce the risk of damage from critters – birds and others – who find a ripe tomato as appealing as we do.

Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator, which, at around 40 degrees, is much too cold for these tropical fruits. Ripe tomatoes exposed to temperatures lower than 55 degrees rapidly lose quality, becoming tasteless and mushy. If unripe, they will not ripen normally even when brought to higher temperature. (This is why the final tomato harvest of the year should be done well before low fall temperatures persist if the tomatoes are intended for ripening.) If fully ripe tomatoes must be held for a few days, try to keep them at around 55 degrees, If they must be refrigerated for a day or two to preserve them, bring them to room temperature before serving or use them for cooking.

Purchasing tomatoes? Select a range of ripeness if buying fruit for use over several days. A fully ripe tomato will have developed full color and give slightly to light pressure. A fully colored but very firm fruit will need a little time to reach best eating ripe. Serve fresh tomatoes – sliced, diced or quartered, on a sandwich or in a salad – at room temperature and prepare them just before serving since flavor starts to be lost within minutes of preparation.


The Melda C. Snyder Teaching Garden will host a talk by RCE Mercer County Horticulturist Barbara Bromley on Friday September 10, 10 a.m. to noon. Her topic: extending your flower season and using bulbs. Please call 908-526-6293 to register for this free meeting.

On Saturday, September 11, 9 to 11 a.m., “Autumn in the Perennial Garden” at Colonial Park Gardens, Somerset County, will feature a garden tour and discussion of plant care. Attendance is limited and there is a fee. Call 732-873-2459 ex 22 for more information and to register.