DIGGING DEEPER

Rutabaga demystified!

From Shareholder Sobin Hiraoka

What is is this strange looking root? If you are of Scottish origin, tatties and neeps should be familiar to you.  Tatties are known as potatoes to the rest of us, and neeps is referred to as Swede, Swedish turnip, or rutabaga.

Rutabaga, “Brassica Napus,” was first found growing wild in the hinterlands of Sweden in the early 1600s but there seems to be a debate as to its origin, with some claiming Russia as the birthplace of this root.  In any case, it’s widely used in northern Europe by the Finns, Swedes, Norwegians, Dutch, English, and Welsh.  The root can be prepared similarly to potatoes and the leaves like spinach or chard.  Rutabaga has high levels of potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and vitamins C, K, and B.

As part of our winter CSA, you can expect to see one of two varieties in your share – either “Gilfeather” or “Joan”.

Gilfeather rutabaga was cultivated in Vermont by John Gilfeather in the late 1800s, and he referred to his creation as a “turnip” to conceal its true identity, going so far as to cut off the tops and rootlets before distributing his prized vegetable so that it couldn’t be propagated.  Gilfeather is an egg shaped, white fleshed (vs more common yellow), mild flavored variety that is sweet and tender.  Due to these great qualities, this heirloom was added to Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste and is listed as “Gilfeather Turnip”.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Slow Food, it’s a global movement whose main premise is “food that is good, clean, and fair for all,” an antidote against industrial agriculture.  Our farmer, Laura, was invited to attend Terra Madre in 2006, which is Slow Food’s international gathering of leaders, supporters, and small scale farmers and producers held in Turin, Italy.  In support of their mission, Slow Food created the Ark of Taste, which they describe as a “living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.”

“Joan” is the other cultivar that we grow, and it’s mentioned as a refined version of the “American Purple Top” variety, but with a more uniform and round root.  The flesh is yellow, typical of rutabagas, and the taste has a pleasant sweetness to it.

Katherine Deumling at Cook With What You Have has been testing rutabaga recipes for years  and the result is a cache of amazing recipes.  She notes that rutabaga does well in soups, curries, & stews. Be careful when roasting as this can sometimes increase the bitter flavors.  Nutmeg, rosemary, and thyme are good herbs that pair well with this root.  She has 15 great recipes that use rutabagas in mashes, hashes, soups, slaws, salads, gratins, and curries.  Bon appetit!