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  • By Don Wilding

It's Turnip Time in Eastham

For many of us, Thanksgiving means turkey and cranberry sauce. If you’re in Eastham, you’d better add turnips to your list.

But it’s not just ANY turnip we’re talking about here — it has to be an EASTHAM TURNIP.

“It was always the star accompaniment to our Thanksgiving turkey,” the late Don Sparrow wrote in his book, A Cape Cod Native Returns. “The rutabaga or yellow turnip had no place on our holiday table; we had to serve the white, Eastham variety.”

For those wishing to indulge in Eastham turnip heaven, it’s a must for you to take in the Eastham Turnip Festival at Nauset Regional High School next Saturday (Nov. 17). It celebrates what’s become a longtime agricultural tradition here.

So what’s an “Eastham turnip”? Here’s a few descriptions:

  • “Although turnips produced locally are known generally as the ‘Eastham turnip,’ various growers have produced the ‘Bristol White,’ ‘Macomber,’ and ‘White French’ varieties. In past years, some growers have raised their own seed developing their own characteristics, with varieties of purple, green and even pink tops.” — The Cape Codder, Sept. 27, 1951;

  • Charlie Horton of Orleans “passionately believed the (Eastham) turnip is descended from Scotland’s version of the turnip, called a neep.” — Edible Cape Cod, September 2009;

  • “It was transformed into one of Cape Cod’s finest delicacies through generations of growing in Eastham’s sandy soil. Clay soil yields the more bitter-tasting product commonly found in most grocery stores.” — William Donaldson, The Cape Codder, 1986;

Of course, you can’t talk about Eastham turnips without mentioning the late Arthur Nickerson, the “Turnip Man” of Eastham. Nickerson grew turnips in the years before Eastham became a tourist center, and resumed growing the prized vegetable in the 1980s. He once grew a turnip that tipped the scales at 18 pounds, with several more weighing in just under that.

Asparagus was a late spring and early summer crop, followed by turnips, which were harvested in the early fall. As Nickerson said in 1994, ““We were the asparagus and turnip kings of the east, Eastham was.”

Learn more about Eastham’s agriculture in Don’s book, A Brief History of Eastham: On the Outer Beach of Cape Cod, from The History Press.

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