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True Cape Roots

Eastham turnips—those savory, violet-tinged staples of the holiday dinner table—have origins deeper than the soil

Photo by Dan Cutrona

In the years that followed, the group of farmers harvesting Eastham turnips began to grow. Art had Raymond’s seed, and he gave some to “Jolly” Roger Taggert at the barbershop next door to his service station on Oak Road. Roger gave some to Bob Wells, who grows Eastham Turnips today at his farm on Redberry Lane. He passed some on to Peter Staaterman at Longnook Meadows Farm in Truro.

Bob also got seeds from Judy Scanlon in Orleans. Judy, in turn, got her seed from David Raphaelson. “He got his seed from Nickerson, but not voluntarily,” she says. “He bought some of Art’s turnips and stored them for the winter and put them out in the spring.”

More than a few growers wish Nickerson wasn’t so proprietary with the seeds. But Audrey Bohannon, another of Art’s daughters, says her father just never had enough seed to share. He was always saving it, just in case, and it was such hard work to produce that he didn’t give much away.

“I’m not being greedy,” Art said on the 1982 tape. “It’s a fact that I can only raise so much, and there’s a lot of work in raising seeds. If I give it to one, I’d have to give it to everybody, and then I wouldn’t have any myself to produce.”

Judy sees things differently. She thinks the best way to increase supply is to share the seed. “I want the seed out there so people can grow this turnip,” she says. She sells seed and seedlings at her farmstand on Monument Road in Orleans, and seed from stock she donated years ago is now for sale online through the Vermont Bean Company. Roger says you can also find similar seed through Johnny’s Selected Seeds online and Harris Seed Company.

Whether these seeds actually produce Eastham turnips is up for debate. Art Nickerson always said you can’t grow an Eastham turnip in Wellfleet or Orleans. “It’s the sand, the soil, that gives us the taste here. That’s what I’ve always been told,” Roger says. “These turnips we raise in Eastham have a different taste than anywhere else.”

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