HSR member and Master Gardener Jeannie Francis speak at Delran Historical Society April 17

Spring has sprung and I am already anticipating the arrival of Jersey tomatoes at the local farm stands. They are the best.

I don’t mean those genetically engineered supermarket mutants that have been miraculously bred to fit three to a cardboard cello-wrapped sleeve.  Most commercially farmed tomatoes are hybrid varieties developed to withstand the rigors of harvesting, shipping, and handling, often looking far better than they taste. You really can recapture that old-fashioned intense flavor and heady aroma of a real Jersey tomato if you seek out “heirloom” tomatoes.

three tomato and two turnip varieties from Dreer's 1880 Garden Calendar
What is an heirloom tomato plant? Definitions vary, but basically it is an open-pollinated plant with valued characteristics. You may find a school of thought that says seeds must be a hundred years old, fifty years old, date from World War II, or before 1950; in any case, the seeds for heirlooms have usually been passed down for through a family for several generations.

Master gardener and herbalist Jeannie Francis raises tomatoes from seeds that she has saved from previous seasons, and she has done it for years. Who does that?

It turns out, plenty of people do who want to stem the genetic erosion caused by commercial growers’ widespread use of fewer hybrid tomatoes, bred for their commercially attractive characteristics. Or maybe she just loves great tasting tomatoes.

308 Main St. - former home of Joseph Campbell

Come to hear Master Gardener, Herbalist, and Plant Historian Jeannie Francis talk about heirlooms, “the True Jersey Tomato and explore the history of the “Garden State” tomato, the importance of local farms, Campbell’s Soup, Dreers, and more on April 17 at 7 p.m. at the Delran Historical Society.

Delran Historical Society meets in Community Room 3 of the Delran Municipal Building at 900 Chester Avenue, Delran. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

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