For several weeks now, we have been handing out decks of Veggie School flashcards, for youngsters who have yet to learn their basic veggies. This weekend we added sample packets of Crosby Egyptian Beets, for their older brothers and sisters. Each packet contains a couple dozen pods of 4 to 6 seeds each, enough for several containers or half a row in a home garden.
In their day, Crosby Egyptians were one of this country’s most sought after beets among market gardeners. Their early growth cycle, their extended youth, and their ease of preparation for market all brought more money to market gardeners’ bottom lines.
The Crosby Egyptian was first cultivated in the late-1860’s on a farm owned and operated by Josiah Crosby, one of the largest farms in Arlington, located on Lake Street facing east towards Cambridge. The Crosby Egyptian was a much improved version of a beet called the Flat Egyptian, imported from Germany, where beets had been first developed.
The Crosby Beet set itself apart from the Flat Egyptian in several ways that made it a better value proposition for many market gardeners. It liked cool weather; so it could be planted earlier in the growing season and brought to market sooner, when beet prices were higher. It was not as quick to turn tough in its growth cycle. Crosby Beets stayed tender and tasty longer than Flat Egyptians, during most all of the growing season. Finally, the Crosby’s skin was much smoother, which made it easier and more efficient to clean in preparation for market. Altogether, Crosby Beets meant a better bottom line for market gardeners, compared to the Flat Egyptians from which they had been evolved.
Though the owner of one of the largest market gardening farms in Arlington (much larger, for example, than the Robbins Farm), Josiah Crosby was not a seed distributor. He was not set up for that kind of business. So in the early 1880’s he sold the rights to his new beet to James H. Gregory, one of the country’s leading commercial sellers of seeds, based in Gloucester, MA
Gregory added the Crosby Beets to his catalog in 1885, where they became an instant success. In one of his seed catalogs from 1890, Gregory quotes George B. Courtis, “one of our best resident market gardeners” as saying “After trials of many varieties, I pronouce the Crosby’s Egyptian the best for the early market.”
Even today, with their heart-like shape, their smooth crimson skin, and their sweet red flesh, Crosbys are still regarded by many home gardeners as one of the finer beets around.