My brother says a stew is not a stew unless it contains rutabaga; I concur. Surely that was my thinking when I roamed the patch in the recent fall drizzle, disheartened by the number of perfectly good vegetables going to waste because they were too big to be marketable.
When I was a teen, I developed quite a resentment towards rutabaga (and most others that engendered chores.) In the full heat of summer, the rows were never ending as we shuffled along with perfectly sharpened hoes, weeding out the lamb’s quarters and thistles which often had grown up again by the time we finished the plot.
Later, once the first few frosts arrived, Dad would drive the tractor and wagon out into the field and we would get down on hands and knees to pull the rutabaga out, chop off the root, scrape off the side roots and mud then flip it around to lop off the top. A sharp, heavy knife was essential. Once we finished the cleaning, we lobbed the vegetables onto the wagon and shuffled forward.
Rainy weather caused mud to cling so that each globe gained a pound or so. Eventually, the wagon would fill up and our knees would get a reprieve while we ambled back to the root house to bag the harvest that would have been washed during our walk break. Dad had jigged a small piece of plywood with the appropriate size for the rutabagas he would sell and we would measure some of the perfect looking ones only to find they were too big for commercial purposes-these went into other bags for customers who stopped by the farm for their fall vegetables. Finally, we would empty the wagon and head back out to the field having bagged up about thirty fifty-pound bags for the root house. Not much has changed about the process of harvesting.
Somehow, my resentment towards this month-long job never overpowered my taste for rutabaga – it was always a treat to slice one up and munch away on it while waiting for the wagon to get back. I also liked it boiled then mashed up, served with a bit of butter and salt and pepper. And, of course, I enjoyed it in stews, where it rounded out the flavours, adding a touch of sweetness along with the carrots. It is not so surprising then, that I should wander around in my brother’s field in the rain searching for those purple and yellow globes.
Back home, I explored new recipes to try and discovered many old ones, mostly from Europe. This should not have surprised me – despite the growing interest in vegetables of all kinds, rutabaga consumption is not on the rise. Yet, a half cup serving provides fifty three percent of daily vitamin C requirements, eight percent of needed calcium and a good quantity of vitamins E , B6 and Thiamin – all with twelve percent fibre, five percent carbohydrate and sixty six calories.
A three pound rutabaga provided us with five meals over a two week period and half of the vegetable is still in the fridge waiting for my next inspiration.
Downstairs, in a dark cool corner, my twenty five pound bag could last well into February, though I’ve recently begun to process in bulk for convenience. I boil the rutabaga with carrots-about two carrots to each rutabaga-then drain them and mash them, storing in freezer bags. On a cold night, these can be thawed quickly and eaten as is or added to soups and stews to round out the flavour and add nutrients.
Rutabagas are a cross between cabbage and turnip and they grow from seed, maturing in about ninety days. As a Brassica, these vegetables might be too bitter for some people, though they do sweeten up after a few frosts, so try leaving store bought ones outside overnight. The greens can also be eaten, somewhat like swiss chard. It’s a vegetable that deserves a renaissance: try it with nutmeg, sautéed garlic, feta cheese, apple slices, maple syrup or maybe curry.
Inspired? Try Nidhi Raina’s Bad Boy Rutabaga and Turnip Curry.