Week 11: The Story of the Rutgers Tomato

The red tomatoes this week are (mostly) Rutgers tomatoes, a variety introduced by Rutgers University in 1934 as an improved and locally adapted general red tomato for processing and fresh market. It spread out of New Jersey, where thousands of acres of tomatoes were planted in the Garden State, across the country and became the standard red tomato variety nationwide for some decades. It might very well be "The tomato you remember from growing up."  Being an open pollinated rather than hybrid variety, the seeds were selected and adapted by local farmers to excel in their particular locality, and the original Rutgers strain that started it all is long lost.

However!  In a sealed vault some Rutgers researchers chanced to find original seeds for the parent tomatoes originally crossed (then selected and stabilized) to create the famed Rutgers tomato. For the university's 250th anniversary their plant breeders grew and then crossed those same original seeds, selecting a variety that matched the characteristics of the original Rutgers.

Out of interest in such a historically important tomato, I planted this reconstructed Rutgers as well as Rutgers VFA, one of the strains available in modern seed catalogs. And here, now, this week, I have the results of the trial! The verdict is...well...they are both somewhat lackluster. And disappointingly, the newly released Rutgers 250 is decidedly inferior to the Rutgers VFA! Both are more susceptible to various blemishes and defects than the hybrid reds you've been getting up until now. Fortunately, the Rutgers tomatoes are determinate, meaning they produce most of their fruit all at once, so we won't have to deal with them much longer.