I’ve been in southern New Jersey since Saturday, but even before then I was debating the merits of the state’s claim to the “Garden State” moniker. By which I mean I was disagreeing with an aunt, via Twitter, about how Jersey corn compares to Iowa corn (sweet corn, not the stuff we produce for animals and ethanol).
I didn’t even need to try this year’s vintage of Jersey corn, I said, to know it was inferior to Iowa sweet corn, even in an admittedly down year for Iowa sweet corn.
But now that I’m here again, I understand why calling New Jersey the “Garden State” is completely appropriate. Let me explain.
When I have had a garden in years past, the idea has always been grand: a plethora of fresh, amazing produce that can be fantastic eating and then bounty enough to be canned for fall and winter. This is the dream that is also “Jersey fresh.”
Reality is much different: beetles, rabbits and squirrels render inedible whatever meager fruit appears on our plants. Some never ripens, others cross pollinates to produce some freakish hybrid, and it’s never in a good way. Always extreme disappointment.
And so it has been with New Jersey produce: nice idea, poor execution. I’ve had some hard “Jersey fresh” tomatoes and starchy “Jersey fresh” corn that isn’t even in the same league as Midwestern fare. (The wife reports that the peaches have been good. The blueberries aren’t bad, either.) But this isn’t the Heartland. It’s just the Garden State.
At least they have scrapple. And cheese steaks.