The Humble Humbug Root

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TurnipsBy Heidi Lewis

Ebenezer Scrooge: What is your business here?
Spirit of Christmas Past: Your welfare.
Ebenezer: My welfare?
Spirit of Christmas Past: Your reclamation, then. Take heed, rise, and walk with me.

Amongst the assemblage of fine winter fare in TakeHome boxes this week are turnips. The very name “turnip” recalls the Victorian era, from Dickensian images of working-class dinner tables with meager provisions, to nursery rhymes with Peter Rabbit in a waistcoat coyly nibbling one.

Turnips, which were wild but became a garden vegetable in Hellenic times, contributed to the Industrial Revolution of 18th-century England. Viscount “Turnip” Townshend introduced turnips into the four-field crop rotation, allowing for more food production. This in turn enabled many farm workers to find work in the textile mills. Turnips were also used as a fodder crop for animals over winter, and likely thereby got their humble reputation. Many a European wartime survivor will react strongly to the aroma of overcooked turnips—often with disdain, but sometimes also with a sense of comfort.

The turnip is a nourishing tuber (Brassica rapus) along with its siblings in the Brassicaceae family—rutabaga (aka “Swedes”) and kohlrabi. Writers such as Michael Pollan and chef Alice Waters, and sometimes even our own grandmothers, remind us to eat with the season and consume root veggies and greens in winter. The root is high in vitamin C, containing as much as orange juice. The leafy greens that sometimes come atop the turnip are delicious and a good source of vitamin A, folate, calcium, and lutein.

The plebeian turnip, which is tastiest after a frost, can be symbolic of resurrection after hardship, and should be lauded for its sustaining nourishment during winter. It’s no humbug!

Preparation: Simply wash, peel, and cook turnips as you would potatoes.

Storage: Store turnips in a cool, dry, dark place for a week or two. If turnips have greens, remove them before storing turnips and prepare them as you would any cooking greens.


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