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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

Garden State

A cornucopia of culinary locales

By ROBIN FRIEDMAN | The STAR-LEDGER | November 3, 1999

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare didn’t think much. If you happen to be a fan of food, however (or a scholar on the origin of names), there are some places in the Garden State that just might catch your attention.

We’re talking about towns with such obvious culinary monikers as Cherry Hill, the Oranges, and Little Egg Harbor. Or spots such as Cranberry Lake and Cheesequake State Park. And a few others as well.

Were these locales, in fact, named after certain foods? Read on as we tour New Jersey’s culinary locales.

South Jersey’s Cherry Hill may not evoke visions of cherries growing wild upon the land. But, in fact, if you guessed that this sprawling suburb once had something to do with cherries and hills, you’re right. In 1961, Delaware Township decided to change its name to Cherry Hill after holding a town-wide naming contest. The name Cherry Hill was meant to evoke Old Cherry Hill Farm, a farmhouse in town that was surrounded by cherry orchards. Needless to say, the farmhouse and the cherry orchards are both gone today, but the name lives on, reminding residents of their sweet history.

How about another fruity region of the state — the Oranges? Well, I’m afraid that if you placed your bet on the Oranges having a similar history, you’ve lost this one.

The Oranges — comprising the towns Orange, East Orange, West Orange, and South Orange — are old Essex County settlements. Newark was the first colony settled in Essex in the mid-17th century. A group of Puritans bought a tract of land from the Lenni-Lenape Indians, roughly the size of the county, for half a penny an acre.

In 1780, the area west of Newark was given the name Orange in honor of the English Royal House of Orange. According to Robert Drury, West Orange’s historian, the Royal House of Orange was named for its coat of arms, which was the color orange. The name definitely had nothing to do with citrus fruits, he says, because England’s climate could not support the growing of oranges. Later, the towns of East Orange, West Orange and South Orange simply added compass points to their names based on their positions relative to Orange.

Moving down to the Jersey Shore, we come to a town called Little Egg Harbor. Its inlet is shaped like an egg, you say? Or, perhaps a simple mispronunciation of some word sounding like egg? None of the above. Little Egg Harbor’s name actually has something to do with bird’s eggs.

Captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, who explored the area in the mid-18th century, sailed into the marshes of this coastal region and found, to his delight, numerous gulls and meadow birds twittering about nests filled with eggs. He called the place Eyre Haven, which in Dutch translates to Egg Harbor.

Next we come to a place called Nutley, back in the northern suburbs of the state. Nutley sounds so unpromising in terms of nuts that most people just assume the town was named for a person whose last name was Nutley. Well, surprise, surprise.

Nutley received its name in 1902. The name came from a 144-acre estate by the same name belonging to the Satterwaites, an English family whose property bordered the Passaic River, where, it is said, there were abundant groves of nuts, especially chestnuts. Sadly, the estate and nuts are both long gone.

Meanwhile, in a nearby region of New Jersey sits the town of Teaneck. Just as unpromising as Nutley, don’t you think? Except that in this case we lose — Teaneck has nothing to do with tea. Rather, Teaneck, another former home of New Jersey’s Lenni-Lenape Indians, means "villages" in the Lenape language. Teaneck, which has nothing to do with necks either, got its name in 1895.

Speaking of more New Jersey nuts, however, there is a section of Blairstown in rural Warren County called Walnut Valley. Very evocative, and very apt, according to Kenneth Bertholf Jr.

Bertholf, author of a 1998 book of the area titled "Blairstown," (Arcadia Publishing) is a fourth-generation resident of the region and the descendant of blacksmiths. Walnut Valley, he says, is named for the huge black walnut trees that once grew profusely in the area. So profusely, in fact, that during the Revolutionary War, the trees were stripped of their wood, and the resulting black walnut lumber was used to manufacture gunstocks.

Bertholf says he fondly recalls picking and eating black walnuts as a child. Folks also used the versatile nuts for dyeing purposes, turning out inky black clothing. Today, only a few ancient trees remain to remind residents of their nutty heritage.

Moving to nearby Sussex County, we come to picturesque Cranberry Lake, which is named, unlike a New Jersey town named Cranbury, using the proper spelling of this tart berry.

Cranberry Lake, located in the town of Byram, is a natural lake 179 acres in size. According to an undated brochure produced by the state Division of Fish and Game, Cranberry Lake got its name from the early days when Indians gathered cranberries by its shores. Lifelong resident Robert Dennis recalls that Cranberry Lake was originally a small marsh that was called Cran-Pond for the many cranberries that grew in its marshes.

Interestingly, New Jersey’s rather prodigious cranberry industry is in South Jersey’s Pine Barrens, not Sussex County’s lakes.

Vineland, a city near the southern tip of New Jersey, is also evocative of the fruit of a vine. And in this case the fruit is grapes.

Charles Landis, who came to New Jersey from Italy, imagined his new home to be a center for vineyards, and so dubbed the area Vineland in 1861.

Leaving fruits, trees, and vines behind, we now come to the dairy portion of our tour.

First stop is Cheesequake State Park — or Cheesecake State Park, as it is called by imaginative young visitors — which, unfortunately, has nothing to do with cheese.

Park naturalist and historian Robert Sommers tells us that our old friends the Lenape Indians, who lived in the area thousands of years before Henry Hudson discovered it, were known as Chichequaas. The Chichequaas were a subtribe of the Lenapes (other subtribes included the Raritans and Navesinks, both rivers today). Hudson was the very first European to visit the area in 1609.

Today, the park, which is in Old Bridge, carries an English pronunciation of old Lenape origin.

The last stop on our tour is Cream Ridge, a small village in Monmouth County’s Upper Freehold Township. Cream Ridge, say residents, is as straightforward as it sounds. The town had a creamery and a ridge. More to the point, rural Cream Ridge’s farms were all dairy farms.

It is unknown when the town came to be named, though as early as 1855 there was a Cream Ridge post office. A 1945 Works Project Administration document cites Cream Ridge as a "dairy area."

Ruth Holmes Honadle, Upper Freehold Township’s historian, says everybody at one time was a dairy farmer in Cream Ridge, though only one dairy farm remains today.

The village’s creamery was in operation from the 1880s to the early 1900s. Today it is a residence.

Holmes Honadle’s father operated a seed and grain mill in the village, and the street she lives on today, Holmes Mill Road, testifies to that fact.

If you’ve been counting, you will have noticed that the odds are mighty good vis a vis New Jersey’s food connection. Seven of the 10 places profiled have a culinary origin with their names.

Not bad for a state that prides itself on good eating.