Of the hundreds of varieties of tomatoes grown by home gardeners or commercial growers, there are a few standards that have become household names. One of those is the ‘Rutgers’ tomato – a leading home garden and processing variety of the 20th century. While the Rutgers tomato is no longer commercially grown for canned tomato production, it is still a favorite among home gardeners and widely available from seed catalogs and garden centers.
The development of the Rutgers tomato is a lesson in the history of the early 20th century industries of canning and agriculture and a chapter in the story of the famed Jersey tomato. Introduced in 1934 by Rutgers vegetable breeder Lyman Schermerhorn, the variety was named for the university where it was developed. The name, however, belies the tomato’s origins, for the original cross was made at the Campbell Soup Company in 1928, with leading processing tomatoes as the parent varieties. In cooperation with Campbell’s, Schermerhorn selected the best plants from the cross and for the next six years conducted field tests on New Jersey farms and made further selections until in 1934 the most superior selection was released as the ‘Rutgers’ tomato.
At the time of the tomato release, the tomato canning industry was predominant in New Jersey, which went hand in hand with local tomato production. In the book Souper Tomatoes, author Andrew F. Smith described the industry as it first gained a foothold in New Jersey in the late 1800s, “Most farms in southern New Jersey from Trenton to Cape May cultivated tomatoes…Wagons and carriages of every description filled the roads on their way to the canneries. The roads were virtually painted red with squashed tomatoes that fell from the wagons. Most towns had one or more canneries.” [Read more…]