PAY DIRT
The New Yorker|March 20, 2023
Leafing through the seed catalogues.
JILL LEPORE
PAY DIRT

Which is the beet of your dreams? The Johnny's Selected Seeds catalogue, out of Winslow, Maine, has the reliable if unexciting Zeppo-presumably named after the youngest of the Marx Brothers-which boasts "minimal root hairs." Unfortunately, Johnny's $5.50 packet is out of stock. Happily, you can still order five grams of Zeppo seeds for $4.35 from an outfit called Territorial Seeds, based in Oregon, by scribbling your beet deets on the order form in the back of its catalogue. Like most seed catalogues, the one from Botanical Interests, out of Colorado, sells the Detroit Dark Red ($2.69 for about a hundred seeds), "the standard for beets since 1892," the warhorse, a tastes-good and-stores-well variety bred in Canada and first introduced, in the catalogue of Michigan's D. M. Ferry Seed Company, the year Grover Cleveland won back the White House. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, of Missouri, prints a more than-five-hundred-page Whole Earth Catalog-inspired Whole Seed Catalog, whose four glossy pages of beet varieties include not only the Detroit Dark Red ("deservedly the most popular all-purpose red beet") but a golden whose roots "do not bleed or stain"; a variety called Crosby's Egyptian, whose origins are actually German; a jicama look-alike called the Albino; a cylindrical red root from Denmark that resembles a fat, angry carrot; a ribboned heirloom from Italy which, when you cut it up, looks like peppermint candy; and a monster called the Mammoth Red mangel ($4.00 for two hundred and fifty seeds), also known as the mangel-wurzel, which can weigh up to forty pounds and which you can use either to feed your livestock or to play a medieval sport known as "mangold hurling." As near as I can tell, it's similar to shot put, except with something that looks like a rutabaga.

This story is from the March 20, 2023 edition of The New Yorker.

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This story is from the March 20, 2023 edition of The New Yorker.

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