Remembering The Rutgers Tomatoes

On the road… again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek


Remembering The Rutgers Tomatoes

Thu’s mom, the original Bengal Tiger whose name was Trang Thi Dao, came north with us for the summer in New Jersey, while Footloose Forester visited with his parents and worked a factory job prior to starting grad school in Hawaii. It was the first time Dao had ever been in New Jersey and was delighted that the Rutgers tomatoes of early summer were as delicious as she had been told. A sliced tomato as a side dish was pretty common in the Pellek household during the summer months; and tomato sandwiches sprinkled with sugar was a special tradition. She liked them so much that she would separate out the seeds and set them to dry on a sunny window ledge.

Dad was curious to see her save the seed, but said nothing. Then when he saw her take the dried seeds to the back yard and plant them in a shallow circular bed scratched out of the lawn, he started to pay closer attention. He asked Footloose Forester what she had in mind. Of course, the answer was that she intended to nurture the seed into tomato plants because they were so good. Dad harrumphed as he often did and mumbled that we Jerseyites didn’t grow tomatoes that way—we grew them from small vines grown in pots.




But the seeds germinated, much to his surprise. OK, he said, “ But they won’t grow.” When they grew bigger and started to put out leaves, he grunted skeptically but then announced that they wouldn’t make flowers. They sprouted flowers. Mom was bemused to see Dad go outside daily to check on the tomato vines sprouted from seed scraped from a luncheon plate. As the vines grew taller and stronger; and as the tiny flowers unfurled into delicate white patches of color, Dad became ever more curious. Still, he insisted, the flowers won’t develop.

As the flowers developed, his last pronouncement was that the second-generation Rutgers tomatoes would not produce fruit. The more he challenged what he was seeing before his eyes, the more the bemusement showed on Mom’s face. As the weeks passed, the more the vines began to resemble the tomatoes found in other neighborhood gardens. That included big, firm tomatoes greening in the sun.

Thu, Dao, and Footloose Forester all had to leave for Hawaii before it was time to pick the tomatoes. Dao had started late in the growing season, but we knew there was going to be a crop. Mom assured us that she would pick them; and to let us know how things worked out. As the first frost of autumn came on, Mom picked over 40 tomatoes and finished the ripening process by putting them in a sunny location, just as the dried seeds had begun their venture.

The story of tomato vines from a dinner plate was told and retold many times, especially by Mom who was mightily impressed by Dao’s simple determination and faith in what she was doing.

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