Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Turnip Diaries, Part III: Misery Loves Company
In Part One, Anthony described the close relationship he and Carol developed with their turnips over many dinners last season due to the fact that they only sold two out of the 50 pounds of turnips they harvested from their farm in Gaston. Part Two chronicled the greater success they're having this season in sharing their love of this under-appreciated root.
As we packed up the stall at the end of the last market, we took a moment to chat with Able of Creative Growers. They had a beautiful display of Hakurei type turnips (left), the legendary Japanese salad turnips. By midday, realizing he would be returning home with a good portion of the display, Able told us he started adding a turnip to every bag, hoping customers would try them and return eagerly for the sweet roots at the next market. Several years ago, we used the same strategy when no one would buy our green beans. Such faith in his quality should work.
Last month, Texas pastor Ed Young issued a fatwa of sorts urging his congregation to engage in conjugal relations for seven days, presumably straight, in order to restore family values. Apparently the congregation was having some problems on that score and needed some straightening out, at least in his opinion, the poor dears.
The challenge got us thinking about turnips, rutabagas and upping the ante. Why not a fortnight of turnips and rutabagas on the dinner menu? We need to have a national conversation about these delicious, nutritious and neglected roots, and this challenge should prompt you all to start talking about them nightly. Don't fret if the turnips are all gone by the time you arrive on Sunday [at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market - KAB], we are not so dogmatic as Pastor Young; you can spread the fortnight of feasting over a month or two. Turnips are even a sweet morsel for the Lenten fast.
The Swedes, or rutabagas (right), we grew this year may not be familiar to most. Most Swedes are big, have orangish skin and flesh with a purple neck, especially when they return from the holidays. The Wilhelmsburger and Gilfeather rutabagas have white skin and flesh, with purplish-greenish shoulders. The name Gilfeather when attached to the turnip is copyrighted, so we will stay away from that name. Besides, the plant is a definitely a Swede, not a turnip.
The Wilhelmsburger has slight yellow tinge. Unlike turnips, the rutabagas have distinctly tapered, hairy roots that come to a point. Botanists describe this sort of shape as turbinate, or fusiform, if tapered at both ends. You will note that the turnips typically have a much smoother, rounded root. There is no need to peel them, just shave hairy parts off the bottom and you have a presentable Swede.
The rutabaga is called a "stable hybrid" between the cabbage and turnip. Although rutabagas are used for livestock food, the "stable" refers to fact that the hybrid now breeds true from seed. References to the vegetable appeared in the 17th century, whereas the turnip proper was probably familiar to the artists of Altamira and Lascaux. The German name is kohl-rube, and the French is choux navet, meaning in both languages "cabbage-turnip." Some sources say the plant originated in northern Scandinavia, hence the name Swedish Turnip, or Swede. Other references point to Bohemia. It is entirely probable that the cabbage-turnip cross occurred more than once, and the white-fleshed varieties may be from Bohemia.
Read the other posts in the Turnip Diaries series: Part I: The Wapato Valley, Part II: Chestnuts, Persimmons and Turnips, Part IV: We're In This Pickle Together, Part V: The Spicy Turnip, Part VI: The Turnip Also Rises, Part VII: WWPD (What Would Pliny Do).