Families turnip for Macombers at Davoll's

Nov 6, 2022

“Turn up for turnips!”

That was the phrase uttered by all who stopped by Davoll’s General Store on Nov. 6 as it held a mini festival celebrating all things Macomber turnip, which is native to the South Coast.

According to Westport resident and turnip historian Bill Braun, brothers Adin and Elihu Macomber were the ones responsible for the creation of this particular turnip in 1876. He said the two brought back a rutabaga seed from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition and planted it next to a crop of radishes.

Cross pollination between the two veggies brought about the white turnip, known for its sweetness. After proving popular in Westport, farmers in Dartmouth caught on to the craze and further made this particular turnip a South Coast icon.

“And it’s been grown in this community for more than 150 years since,” he said.

The turnips are typically present for meals in the fall and winter, which is why Davoll’s manager Mary Ann Buckley said the store chose Sunday to give the Macomber its day in the sun.

“It really deserves the recognition,” she said. “We just wanted to honor a local legend.”

The idea to do a large celebration, Buckley said, came about during one of the monthly poetry nights hosted in the pub. In the summer, one of the readings was “Ode to Watermelon” by acclaimed 20th century writer Pablo Neruda.

“That evening the watermelon took spotlight,” Buckley said. “We shared a toast with melon grown by Ivory Silo and encouraged saving seed.” 

Heading into Macomber season, she said staff thought “how fun would be if we gathered to celebrate seasonal achievements, like the Macomber, through food, song and spoken word and the turnips?’

“And I believe that’s just what this community did,” Buckley said.

Festivities included poetry about the Macomber, the reading of the 2015 children's book “The Turnip” by Jan Brett, the chance for guests to jot down their favorite turnip recipes and the performance of “Ode to Macomber,” a tune written by Buckely with musical accompaniment from Hooly J. Chan. 

“We had fun writing it,” said Chan, who is based out of New Bedford. “It might be a yearly song.”

The song was performed again at the end of the festivities with a group of around 30 patrons, with many kids still singing as they left the parking lot. 

At the center of it all was a giant papier-mâché Macomber named Mary Anne made by Jane Folkman, who oversees the pub at the store. She estimated it took between 30 to 40 hours to make the creation made of newspaper, old pool noodles and an umbrella stand.

At first, the plan was to make a male Macomber named “Mac,” but Folkman said he kept falling apart when working on it in her garage.

“When it became a girl I was honestly more interested in making it,” she noted, adding that work was then moved to inside her house. “I think it's fitting [for her to be a girl].”

Patrons stopping by the store could also enjoy a hearty soup made from the South Coast vegetable, along with a “bloody Macomber Mary” and a Macomber jelly-filled donut from the pub. The filling consisted of the turnip, cider, orange zest, and cinnamon.

It was that donut that enticed Providence resident Muffy Brandt to drive over to Russells Mills village on a Sunday afternoon.

“I saw it on Instagram while eating breakfast and thought, ‘oh that looks good,’” she said. “And it was absolutely delicious.”

Brandt added that this was her second weekend in a row having the pastry and a history lesson, noting that she had an apple cider one at an event in Rhode Island going over “found objects.”

“I guess this is my Sunday tradition,” she said with a laugh.

With the success of this first annual Macomber day, Buckley said she’s already looking ahead to an even bigger one next year.

Even happier was Braun, who encouraged people not just to learn about the turnip, but to grow it.

“Not many people are growing it anymore,” he said. “Because we continue to celebrate it today, its legacy lives on for another generation.”